The Weight-Room Experience

Even though I was playing on an undefeated championship high school football team, I loathed going to the weight room. Working out was too much like work. I did it because I had to, and I did the minimum to get by. We were winning anyway, so what did it matter? Lifting is still a stressor for me, although I always feel better once I’ve completed a session. I want to make sure that the athletes I help have a completely different foundational experience:

A week in to summer break before my sophomore year in high school — we were only a three-year high school at the time — the lifting program started.  I had never lifted before in my life, and had no idea what I was doing.  The weight room at Longmont High School is a converted auto-shop room, complete with garage door.  I walked in to the concrete block structure to the sound of blaring heavy medal and weights slamming on the ground and clanging against each other.  Some of the biggest people I had ever seen were pushing obscene amounts of weight around, grunting, sweating, and just generally being teenage boys.  I saw most of them were doing what I now know to be bench press.  I found an empty bench, noticed most of the other boys were starting with 135 pounds, and loaded up the bar accordingly.  I watched briefly: Bar goes down, bar goes up.  How hard could it be?  I lay on the bench, heaved the weight off the rack, and immediately dropped it on by chest.  I could hardly breath.  If anyone noticed, they didn’t show it. Panicked I tried to press the bar off my chest.  As many people are, I was a little stronger on my right side than on my left.  I was able to get the slightest movement out of my right arm which caused the bar to dip on the left side.  The silver lining to all this is I did not know enough to put collars on to keep the weight from sliding off.  The weight on the left side, slowly at first, and then quite rapidly, slid off and bounced off the rubberized floor.  This caused the right side to drop dramatically, sending the bar sideways off my chest and on to the other bench.  Fortunately the bench was unoccupied at the time.  I immediately decided the weight room was not for me.

I still hear similar, if a bit less dramatic, stories from kids who lift with their high school teams or take what is commonly called “Iron-Works” Class.  There is one instructor for 20+ kids. There is a tremendous amount of weight banging, dropping and noise making.  90% of the activity revolves around Bench, Squat and Cleans.  Little attention is paid to form and huge emphasis placed on increasing 1-Rep Max.  As a result, form is sacrificed for function.

Some kids love it.  They love the culture.  But in my experience, many, possibly most, do not.  They find it intimidating, they get bored with the same thing over and over, and in many cases they get badly injured, doing the minimum amount of work possible.   As a result these kids are driven away from weight-lifting and start to view it as a “must do” rather than a “get to do.”

The solution, simple if not easy, is to Coach the Individual.  For those kids who love the “Iron-Works” environment, properly teach and include more of the Bench, Squat and Clean.  Encourage a bit of grunting, and the occasional dropping of the weights.  But for those who do not, teach to their strengths:  Focus on body control, stability, personal improvement, self-confidence and process goal setting.  Change the experience and create a life-long love for fitness.

Do you have any weight room experiences to share?  Do so in the comments and as always thanks and remember to share with someone else who would enjoy this story and sign up to receive notifications when new articles are published.

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