Following our article "Stop Telling Your Kids It's OK To Lose" - Rick Walker reached out to me to express his support for the general theme of the piece. I knew who Rick was through a number of mutual friends. My brother Matthias had told me about his 13 year old son Casey, who had set 4 new powerlifting records in Pennsylvania in 2016. When Rick expressed interest in writing a guest column for wild/STRONG, I jumped at the opportunity. One line Rick used when discussing the topic stuck with me - "we gauge success in this household by Division 1 Scholarships." I love his hardcore attitude towards athletic success for his children, and I hope you enjoy this article. - SW
A blank stare was on his face as he watched the loaders and spotters do their work. He was in the hole. The next lifter up. I helped him tighten down on his belt and wiped his forehead with a towel. His hands were already chalked and I can still see the dust falling slowly from them as he opened and closed his hands. I didn’t have to speak, but I did.
“This is your third squat. Go out there and shock the fucking crowd. Show these people that you aren’t just some flash in the pan!”
He just nodded and watched the lifter before him get buried. The bar was loaded to 297.2lbs. Before me stood my 122lb, 12 year old son. Mentally and physically years beyond his actual age.
“You nervous?” I asked. No answer. Just a slow shake of the head back and forth and a laser focus on the bar being loaded.
“Bar is loaded for Casey Walker!” was announced over the speaker system. He clapped his hands together and I whispered in his ear on the way out to the platform.
“This is nothing. Just like the basement. Bury it, screw the floor, drive your head into the bar, freight train the hips.” I took my place kneeling behind him as he adjusted the bar across his back. With each back and fourth slide chalk dust rained down. I screamed "BIG AIR" just before he unracked the weight. A couple steps to adjust his feet and he was down and up like a rocket ship. New 12-13, 123lb class World Record and the beginning of what would be his second World Title and 4 more World Records. Only a mere 7 months before he totaled 661.5lbs at 105lbs. Here he was now in October, putting up a 799.1lb total at 122lbs. He became an instant hit and meet directors dubbed him “The Legend.”
When I met my son Casey he was a 4-year old boy who had, only 8 months before, experienced the incredible tragedy of watching his father die in a hospital bed. Though he was only 4, he was broken. He was quiet. He was scared. He trusted no one. He wouldn’t let his mom out of his site. A new man in his life 9 months later was not only wrong in his eyes, it was scary as this new man was covered in tattoos and big. It took my wife and I 2 years to get him to begin opening up and being happy again. It took me another year to get him to start exercising and getting involved in athletics. From that point on, his life began to change for the better.
Parents, in general, look at physical training as some sort of taboo thing. They have zero issues throwing their 6 year old out on the wrestling mat or strapping a helmet to his head to go out and slam his body into other kids, but the thought of lifting weights sends them into a panic.
“It stunts their growth!”
“It will hurt their backs!”
“It will ruin their bodies!”
“It is so dangerous!”
First of all, stopping drinking the Kool-Aid and realize that it isn’t 1950 anymore. The vast majority of studies coming out are showing no danger in your son or daughter participating in weight training at a young age. But if you are still that concerned, then consider this: more children suffer concussions in football and overuse injuries in other sports then they have ever suffered in the weight room. Period. Your child is safer lifting weights then he or she is playing soccer, football, baseball, or even riding bike.
Of course, it is hard for parents who are living vicariously through their own children to grasp this because let’s admit it, if you are lazy and don’t do shit, you certainly are not going to make your child workout. They get plenty of exercise at practice right? They should just jump from sport to sport and never realize their true strength potential. Right??
If this is your thought process, you are an idiot. Plain and simple. And no, I don’t apologize for calling you an idiot because you somehow justify your small child getting slammed to the mat or hitting another child head on in football, but cannot justify working out. As a matter of fact, please keep doing this with you kids because all you are doing is making it easier for my sons to kick your son’s ass should they cross paths on the football field or wrestling mat.
Let’s address some of the facts, shall we? First of all, you should know this: if you child doesn’t have a lick of athletic ability, no amount of lifting is going to make them an All-American or a D1 athlete. You are either born with the ability to run fast and jump high (fast twitch) or you aren’t. Just because the kid down the street workouts and can run a 4.4 40 yard dash, doesn’t mean you’re fat and slow son will do the same just from lifting weights. So it isn’t a magic pill. Erase that thought from your head. However, it will help them some and it will certainly make the already fast and explosive much faster and more explosive. I have been blessed by the Aesir that I have 3 boys who are wired with fast twitch. They have been jumping and sprinting since they could walk and Casey smoked me in hill sprints by the time he was 11. It is just the luck of the draw and my super fast swimmers that got to the egg first. But, it will do something very important for the slow kid and the fast kid, and that is INJURY PREVENTION. Lifting weights strengthens not only muscles, but bones and connective tissues. Training the traps and neck helps prevent concussions. Quite simply put: if you want to decrease the chances of your child getting hurt in sports, have them lift weights.
So we have addressed the myth and squashed it. Want more proof?? My 13 year old is 5’4” and 140lbs. He squats 290 for 8, deadlifts close to 400, hang cleans over 200, bench presses 180, and jerks 180. He has been training with weights since he was 8 years old. No injuries, no stunted growth. Just really really fast in track and on the football field, and a 2-time World Champion with 8 World Records and too many National, American, and state records to count. My 7 year old twins train with bodyweight and light weights. They competed in wrestling for the first time this year against much more skilled opponents. With only 4 total months of wrestling under their belts they placed 3rd, 1st, 1st and 2nd, 2nd, 1st in the 3 tournaments they did this year, respectively. They didn’t have more skill, they were stronger and faster and more brutal on the mat. Experience goes out the door when your opponent can move you at will and wants to punish you, plus has the gas tank to wrestle 8 minute rounds in a sport where juniors wrestle 3-1 minute rounds!
So after all the bullshit, let me get to the part you really care about if you want to help your child succeed as an athlete. Your son or daughter should be doing some type of exercise as soon as they can walk steadily. This may seem crazy, but as soon as my children were walking, they were carrying around 8 pound dumbbells, hanging from bars, and squatting broom sticks. They naturally began to lift the dumbbells and maneuver them in different ways to where they were eventually pressing them over their heads by 18 months of age. This was, in fact, working out, but to them, it was just what they did. Anytime they walked from point A to point B in the house, they had to take a dumbbell. Soon that transitioned into bodyweight exercises by age 3. They began to do modified push-ups, sit-ups, assisted pull-ups, hill sprints, sled drags, and other bodyweight movements. This allowed them to move their body through space and learn how their bodies worked to move weight.
By age 6 they began to do regular push-ups, sit-ups, dips, and pull-ups. Goblet squats with assorted sized kettlebells were worked in, as well as water and medicine ball lifts (similar to lifting an atlas stone). They also did burpees, sprint starts, jumping jacks, up-downs, and hammer swings. Added into this was more hand to hand combat, aka grappling, again teaching them to move their body, and an opponent’s body through space. This training was 5 days a week with 2 rest days worked in where they would stretch and play.
By age 8, a full transition into the weight room begins with a heavy emphasis on the main movements. Squats, front squats, hang cleans, jerks, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead pressing, rowing, biceps work, dips, and neck and ab work. This may seem like a lot, but do a 4 day a week cycle and start off with 2 sets of 10 with a weight that they can handle with ease. This begins to build those neural pathways to the brain to perfect form. At age 8, form and technique are key to a lifetime of training and competing. Let them slip up and use shitty form now and you will never break them of it! The brain needs to make the pathways to the nerves, and it will remember bad form as well as it remembers good. Keep in mind, it can take up to an over 1000 perfect reps for the brain to start to do the movement correctly, so drill drill drill! Keep it light, do 10-20 reps, and drill perfect form. If, at any time, the form breaks, stop the movement and begin again. At this time in the child’s development, there is no need to max out, so save it for later!
By age 10, despite what any doctors might spew out of their mouths (and by the way, most doctors know shit about exercise!), they can begin to train heavier and start testing the limits of their bodies. Increased weight means stronger bone, connective tissue, and muscle development. Begin to add more sets and less reps. Work on flexibility and add more speed drills. If your child is handling this workload without issues, now is the time to add in jumps to increase explosiveness in the athlete. Plyometrics, especially with weight, are a great way to build power in the entire body. Move to a 4 day split and on off days, add in a day of heavy sled drags or pushes, a day of hill sprinting, and a day of plyometrics. There is no need for your child to run 5 miles. It has been shown time and time again that sprinting sessions, with short rest periods, carry over well to overall conditioning of the body. My 13 year old never runs distance, but when he does a timed mile run in gym class, he always turns in 6 minutes or less in the mile without much effort. If they are wrestling, or competing in some other combat like sport, I like to do the conditioning first, then an hour or 2 of grappling on the off days, but the weight training days stay the same. The key is to constantly get stronger. This may seem like a lot of work, but kids have a great ability to adapt to workloads and recover much faster than those of us pushing 40.
I will not waste your time laying out a routine for your kid because I do not know YOUR kid, but I will say there are some great coaches out there you can turn to. This very site is a wonderful resource and contacting myself, or Seth, can steer you down the right path. DO NOT rely on your son’s football or wrestling coach to know what is best for them. Walk into any high school football weight room program and you will see a lot of bench pressing, curling, and fucking off. If you are still lost, search out Jim Wendler’s website and check out his “5-3-1” workouts. My 13 year old consistently follows “5-3-1 For Football” all year long, through every sport season, and consistently gets stronger and bigger. Don’t make it rocket science, just fucking train.
Hopefully some of you got some good information out of this and hopefully it pissed some people off. I know there are a lot of anti-lifting zealots out there and I really enjoy pissing in their Wheaties from time to time. Especially when my sons defeat their sons on the mat, or my son turns in a 27 second 200 meter or puts cleat marks up the back of a linebacker he just hit head on and ran over.
Like I said earlier, the more of you who refuse to allow your children to train, the easier it is for my children to destroy your children on the field of battle!