Weight training equipment and advice for a pre-teen athlete
December 22, 2011 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Weight training equipment and advice for a pre-teen athlete?

Our 11-year-old son, who plays football and basketball, has expressed interest in weight training. Can you advise some inexpensive equipment we can buy for him to do this at home? We don't have room for a big piece of equipment, so if there is a basic set of hand weights or free weights that make sense and won't break the bank, I'd appreciate suggestions.

A gym membership isn't feasible for both logistical and financial reasons, although I was thinking I'll need to hire a trainer for a couple of sessions to teach him safety and help him develop a workout.

Anything else we should know before we embark on this?

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by Sweetie Darling to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What is your budget?
posted by Loto at 9:41 AM on December 22, 2011

I don't know if this is no longer the prevailing wisdom, but when I was younger I heard that you aren't really supposed to do weight training while you are still growing.

I would suggest a trainer to teach him some exercises he can do using his own body-weight as resistance (stuff like push-ups, dips, and pull-ups).

Generally I would suggest an emphasis on cardio at this point as he will get more results from that with less wear and tear on his body.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:47 AM on December 22, 2011

I'd go with a pull-up bar. BobbyDigital has it - weight lifting at that age shouldn't be the focus.
posted by rich at 9:52 AM on December 22, 2011

The Benefits of Weight Training for Kids : NYT

There is a lot more information on this subject than their used to be. The idea that cardio somehow causes less wear and tear is also very flawed. Good, safe weight training will help make the kid more resilient and he's at a great age to start.
posted by Loto at 9:53 AM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

For budget, I'm not sure if this is realistic, but $100ish to start?

BobbyDigital, I think I remember hearing that too, and will definitely check in with the pediatrician.

We have a nephew who's a few years older, on a middle-school team where they must have access to a weight room - I think this is where our son's interest started. So I'm wondering if getting him a small set of hand weights he can use to do bicep curls, etc., might satisfy his curiosity. I definitely don't want to overinvest at the outset, although he's been talking about this for about six months.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:54 AM on December 22, 2011

Weight training is highly beneficial for kids. Their growth plates will undergo far more stress in sports like football, soccer, wrestling, gymnastics, etc. than they ever will with weightlifting or powerlifting with proper form.

Check craiglist for second hand barbells and plates - I've heard you can frequently pick up barely used stuff for next to nothing if you're lucky to encounter a relapsed couch potato or a local gym closure/refurb.

Olympic equipment (thicker, long barbell and weights to fit the end pins) is the more future-proofed product, but more expensive. Standard barbells and plates are fine up to a point, but if he ever wants to progress past hobby level (lifting 500lb+, which is well withing most healthy teens' ability after a couple of years) he will need to upgrade. A decent 45lb, 7ft Olympic bar will serve for life, and he can even pass it on to his kids.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:11 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

When my two boys were about your son's age (~5 yrs ago), I contacted the high school football and lacrosse coaches and asked for their advice. The result was two-fold. First, my boys were invited to a session at the high school when the varsity football team was working out. (It was at 6:15am). They loved it. Got to see the big fellas in action and got training on how to use the machines and free weights, and as it was a public school district facility, they were invited to use the weight room after school when it was supervised by trained staff. Two, the lacrosse team instituted a workout schedule for middle schoolers to come to the high school and work out aerobically and with weights. It was sponsored by the local youth lacross league too.

I am not sure what to get specifically regarding weights, but I suggest you contact the high school basketball and football coaches to see if they would offer guidance.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:17 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Weight training is great for kids. But proper weight training equipment isn't cheap, and he's going to need someone to show him how to use it properly. (BTW, dumbells are MUCH harder to learn to use, and MUCH more likely to cause injury.)

I have and recommend something like this. It's not pretty, but it doesn't take up a lot of room, is in your budget, and can effectively work the entire upper body. Body-weight exercises are just about the best workouts you can do, anyway.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:19 AM on December 22, 2011

That's definitely doable with the help of craigslist or Amazon.

Really, the only thing you need to start is a barbell and some weight plates. He's a young kid, he isn't going to be moving a ton of weight so the quality of the bar isn't all that important at this point. Once he hits is nearly teens he's probably going to need an upgrade, this is when kids start to really shine in the weight room. The pull-up bar is also a good addition. Since the weights will be so light you can safely make your own stands from 2x4s and cement to hold the bar when he is learning how to front/back squat.

There's no reason for a kid to be doing isolation stuff like bicep curls either, he's not going to be "building armor" until he hits his early/mid-teens. What I'd recommend for you is to learn as much as you can so that you can help him. Books like Starting Strength do an excellent job of explaining the mechanics of the lifts. Anything by Dan John is worth reading because of his emphasis on avoiding injury while training.
posted by Loto at 10:21 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

This site should have some good ideas: http://www.crossfitkids.com/index.php/FAQ/
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:21 AM on December 22, 2011

Rereading your response, I'll say this as well: Bicep curls are just about the most useless exercise one can do. They add nothing to sports ability or strength, and won't change how you look. They're great for pro bodybuilders and experienced lifters, and pointless for almost everyone else.
posted by coolguymichael at 10:22 AM on December 22, 2011

Weight training is great for kids, assuming they learn proper form.
posted by dfriedman at 10:38 AM on December 22, 2011

I'm guessing you should probably avoid your pediatrician when it comes to this topic. They're likely to have internalized bad or outdated advice about the benefits of weight training.
posted by downing street memo at 10:57 AM on December 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

A bench and some weights.
posted by quodlibet at 10:57 AM on December 22, 2011

I'd suggest having a look at this article by Olympic gymnastic coach, Christopher Somner:


Sorry for not hyperlinking but I'm on my Mum's insane computer and it it's really difficult to make it do anything - I know it's not what you're asking for but in brief, Somner suggests that at the age and size your kids are they are ideally placed to take up gymnastic exercises. If they "grow with them" they'll repay incredible dividends in health and strength when they're older. Maybe show them the article and what they think.
posted by dannyl at 12:11 PM on December 22, 2011

I second the recommendation of Starting Strength as well, it's a brilliant book, but you really need to get them to a proper gym to learn good form. It's the sort of thing you need an experienced eye on.
posted by dannyl at 12:13 PM on December 22, 2011

I would definitely recommend weight lifting. I started around that age and never regretted it. If anything, it started a good life long habit. I would actually look into getting him one or two sessions with a personal trainer to learn how to do free weight exercises for the entire body. Make sure the trainer has experience working with kids and knows to work only with free weights. This will allow him to learn good form. Once he has good form, some good free weights around 10, 15, 20, and 25 lbs will let him do a lot.

That said, for working out some of the best exercises I do are without weights. Push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups are my bread and butter. For my core I have a pilates ring and some of those exercises are more torturous than anything I ever did with weights. If he wants to have good abs, that is the way to go. He can do all of those workouts while watching TV, which was my favorite way to work out and not feel completely productive. Also, make sure he is stretching. Weight training without stretching leads to bad strains and pulls if the muscle is too big for the tendons and ligaments.

As far as costs, Craigslist is a great way to find second hand weights that have little to no use and abuse. I have even seen some full barbell sets on there for a tenth of what they really should cost. If you buy new, a pilates ring is about $15 on Amazon, a nice workout mat can be anywhere from $25-$50, and free weights go for anywhere from $1/pound to more. The more being for vinyl and foam coatings, which can be really nice to cut down on the noise made if he's doing this around the house.

All of that said, this is a great idea and should be really encouraged.
posted by Nackt at 5:44 PM on December 22, 2011

Kettlebells. I like the JFit brand. Price ranges from $30 for a light weight one to $60 for a heavy one, but much less than a bench/plate set-up. Have him start with them outside though, and away from any windows or breakable things. There are a ton of good books and videos out there on how to work with KBs well. "Enter the Kettlebell" by Pavel Tatsouline is a classic. KBs are great in that the exercises are scalable, and you can start with one or two light ones and scale it up as he grows and gets stronger.

I also second bodyweight exercises, and have recommended "You Are Your Own Gym" by Mark Lauren before. It has a ton of exercises that you can do with very minimal equipment, like a desk and a pull up bar. A lot of them have different levels of difficulty, so he can grow with them as well.
posted by permiechickie at 7:06 PM on December 22, 2011

This is all really helpful - thank you so much. I've decided not to try to accomplish this by Christmas, so I can take time to read some of the linked articles and think through the best approach. I may have (not so) Little Darling read this thread too. Hooray for MeFites.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 10:02 AM on December 23, 2011

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