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Fitness Corner -- Early Exercise

Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley is back for another installment of his Fitness Corner column.

Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to

Here is an archive of past columns. Dan and Ray have also made the club's strength and conditioning manual available. Click here to download it.

And heeeeeeere's D-Boy…

*I have an 11-year old grandson. Is it too early to get him on a weight program and what kind of program do you recommend? *

* -- Fred Lewis*

Our advice is to wait until your grandson is physically more mature. The hormonal balance in an 11 year-old is too low to generate significant strength gains. If your grandson began a structured lifting program now he would show some steady improvement for a few weeks. The literature attributes this initial progress to the "learning effect."

You aren't going to pound your grandson into submission during his first workout. You would select weights that were reasonably easy for him to perform. Each workout you would gradually add more weight. This increase in weight can be credited to your grandson learning how to better perform each exercise (learning effect), not getting stronger.

Eventually your grandson would level off and begin using the same amount of weight, for the same number of reps, workout after workout. There would be no change in strength until he grew older and matured some physically.

Once the novelty wears off your grandson would soon learn that lifting weights isn't fun. Matter of fact he'll soon realize it's hard work with very little to show for it. He will likely lose interest and quit. It will probably discourage him from starting a strength program when he is older, physically more mature, and capable of generating meaningful strength gains.

Instead of an organized strength program, encourage him to be physically more active and educate him about good eating habits. Refer your grandson to a new web site recently introduced by The Center For Science in the Public Interest. It is a web site designed to teach kids about the value of good nutrition using games and quizzes. It's educational and fun.

I have two sons and both were high school and college athletes. I asked them to wait until they were 14 years old before they began any structured strength-training program with weights. Both were freshman in high school when I started training them.

Initially both made some good gains and eventually they leveled off. Their gains became more significant as they grew older. They made better gains at fifteen years old than they did when they were fourteen. Even better gains were made as they matured more.

Growing up they both spent a significant amount of time around the Redskins locker room and weight room. Periodically they would ask if they could perform some exercises. I didn't encourage it or discourage it. It should be the same with your grandson.

I spent time showing my sons how to properly perform exercises with their bodyweight. They performed one-legged squats, bodyweight squats, sit-ups, negative only sit-ups, properly performed leg raises, chin-ups, negative only chin-ups, modified chin-ups, dips, negative only dips, L-seat dips, pushups, modified pushups, and negative only pushups. For variety I would periodically use some manual resistance exercises.

I don't want to send the wrong message to you or your grandson. Exercise is good for the body at any age. Without exercise or activity, our muscles will die. Too many of today's children are over fat and inactive. Lifting weights, if properly performed, is not bad for anyone at any age. I truly believe however, that children should wait to engage in a structured and strenuous weight program until they are old enough to generate muscular gains.

* I am interested in becoming strength and conditioning coach. My question is regarding education. What type of education is required to become a strength coach? *

*-- Chris Mann *, *Halifax, N.S. *, *Canada *

We'd recommend an undergraduate degree and graduate degree in Physical Education. There are benefits to majoring in Physical Education but it is not a must.

As a P.E. major you will be required to take a core group of courses to meet curriculum requirements. Once you have met those requirements, take as many additional courses as possible in Anatomy, Exercise Physiology, Motor Learning, Biomechanics, Kinesiology, and especially Nutrition. Classes in Speech, Writing, and anything to do with computers and audio-visual aids are also a plus.

You can have a great education but lack the interpersonal skills to teach, communicate, and ultimately motivate. You don't develop these qualities in the classroom. These qualities are the most important traits for any successful strength coach.

Work experience in the profession will best provide you with the ability to apply the theoretical information you learn in the classroom to a practical setting. It is a must that you gain work experience. Volunteer if you must. It will be the most valuable learning experience you will encounter.

*What advice do you have for a person interesting in becoming a Strength Coach or a Personal Trainer? *

-- James


We receive resumes almost every day from young people inquiring information about becoming a strength coach. Twenty-five years ago our advice was different than it is today. Many years ago college and professional teams were just starting to create new positions. Opportunities were available. Today there are literally thousands of unemployed qualified candidates.

Contributing to the surplus of qualified unemployed strength coaches are the new college majors being created to accommodate interest by students wanting to become strength coaches. Each year hundreds of students enter the market and few will ever have the chance to become employed as a full-time strength coach at the college or pro level.

It's not because they don't have a passion for the profession, or aren't qualified. It's because there are very few opportunities. There just aren't that many full-time jobs available. There are only a few openings each year and those positions are quickly filled.

We've counseled and warned many young students of the perils of entering the job market as a future strength and conditioning coach. We'd never tell someone don't do it. We do however recommend preparing for an alternate career. The odds of becoming employed as a (paid) full-time strength and conditioning coach aren't good.

You also asked about becoming a personal trainer. There are obviously many more personal trainers than strength and conditioning coaches. There are only two professional organizations for strength and conditioning coaches and one of those also caters to personal trainers. There are many organizations for personal trainers.

We'd suggest you check out IDEA here or telephone 800–999–4332. It is the grand daddy of all web sites for personal trainers. There National Convention is in Washington, D.C., February 14 – 16.

On their web site they list two new tools for personal trainers. The IDEA-PFT Recognition System and the Online PFT Locator. We'd suggest you look into this if you have an interest in becoming a personal trainer.

IDEA states, "For years, there has been great confusion regarding the different certifications and the public has no way of evaluating (personal) trainers. Literally anyone can call themselves a personal fitness trainer without proof of education, certification, or experience."

IDEA provides a list of accepted certifications. I am very familiar with one of the organizations on this list. The National Strength Professionals Association (NSPA) was founded by a good friend of mine, John Philbin. His organization is an excellent source for a wide range of information to include high intensity training.

If your goal is to become a strength and conditioning coach we'd recommend you invest some time in preparing for an alternate career. If you are unable to reach your goal, becoming a personal trainer is an option. Ray and I wish you the best of luck.

         </span>Go Texans!
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