Keep Kids off of Machines!
Brian Grasso explains why we should limit the use of machine-based training with young athletes.
Whenever I come into contact with a coach or trainer who preaches the virtues of machine-based strength training for young athletes, the same argument is typically offered - machines are safer for kids because they eliminate the dangerous aspects of traditional free weight training. This is a dogmatic mindset and is not founded on any scientific or functional principle. It is a classic case of blaming the exercise or activity rather than the execution. Having young athletes train on machines for strength development can lead to injuries and a whole host of other concerning factors.
Strength and stability
All sports are dynamic and require a great deal of systemic strength and stability to perform. Moreover, the strength/stability interplay needed to perform virtually any sporting activity is based on the body (or its parts) working as a unit; the way nature intended. By isolating specific muscle groups via machine-based training, you are eliminating the body's natural capacity to provide both mobility and stability in an interrelated manner. This can essentially limit a young athlete's ability to effectively produce a force on the field of play while at the same time providing stability in other crucial areas of the body. By disturbing this innate mobility/stability balance, you are decreasing the ability of the body to protect itself during dynamic and unscripted movements experienced during a sporting event. Coaches and trainers who incorporate machine-based training into the routines of young athletes to promote weight room safety are, in essence, increasing the risk of injury on the field of play. One of the primary goals of a good strength and conditioning program is to prevent injuries during a sporting event or season. Coaches and trainers who insist on using machines for training purposes are then suggesting that trading sports safety for weight room safety is somehow a good deal.
Here is a look at some of the finer points of machine training:
Functionality in both sport and life is based on healthy movement, certainly not isolation. In that, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) plays a vital role. Often noted as a type of stretching exercise, PNF is a diverse and intensive concept that involves movement-based stimulus following spiral or diagonal motions (to reflect the oblique nature of most muscle angles), with the primary goal of developing motor learning through precise movements. Machine-based strength training, with its isolated format, is not functionally similar to innate patterns of motion that a young athlete would use on the field of play and is quite disruptive to basic physiological factors of movement such as normal timing (which refers to the naturally occurring timing of the phases of movement during a given motion).
Even with cardiovascular training, it is less than optimally productive to have young athletes use either stationary bikes or treadmills found in most health clubs. Possessing optimal speed, agility, or any other reactive locomotor ability is based mainly on hip and trunk flexibility and strength. Both cycling and treadmill running serve to limit the hip range of motion and can cause decreases in the dynamic flexibility within the hip complex. Young athletes are better served to incorporate rigorous sprinting or movement-based interval training (such as fartlek) into their training routines.
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About the Author
Brian Grasso is the President of Developing Athletics, which is a company dedicated to educating coaches, parents, and youth sporting officials throughout the world on the concepts of athletic development. Brian can be contacted through his website at www.DevelopingAthletics.com