April 2021
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Youth Fitness and Exercise – Beware the “Rise of the Machines!”

As you can imagine, we’re pummeled with marketing and advertising for the “newest,” “most cutting edge” and “next generation” of equipment for youth fitness.

What’s odd about this stuff is that it looks like “Mini-Me” versions of the same crappy, dangerous machines that parents and adults are getting unfit and unhealthy on in their “health clubs!” Fixed position, uni-planar, single movement “fitness” equipment that nearly always creates injury patterns in the people who use them.

Yes! Building muscle will help you lose body fat! Yes! Regularly performing resistance training will help build muscle! Yes! These machines were “engineered” to maximize (isolated) muscular output! (and maybe for use at Gitmo?) Yet a strange thing has happened to American adults, even those who use these machines to “get in shape!”

They’ve become so dependent on them that they’re no longer capable of performing strength building exercises without the artificial “intelligence” provided by these contraptions! So when the time comes to apply their newly developed “strength,” they either get injured or realize they aren’t nearly as “strong” as the numbers on their exercise machines would indicate!

Add to this the fact that more back, shoulder, knee, ankle and hip injuries are caused by the use of these torture machines in a year than in the NFL in 10 years, and it makes me wonder. It makes me wonder why we’d shove our children onto this junkyard fodder in the first place!

We know that “free-form” functional exercises, those that mimic real-life and sports movements, not only result in better movement patterns (think injury-resistance), they burn more calories and build more muscle! That’s right, functional integrated training stimulates the development of a far greater number of muscles than isolated, fixed position machine training.

Let’s look at a very popular exercise machine for both youth sports and adult fitness, the leg press. Plate loaded, selectorized (think weight-stack-and-pin) or otherwise resisted, it artificially stabilizes the body as the exerciser tries to perform hip and knee extension. The design creates higher levels of lumbar strain during the eccentric lowering, or negative phase of movement. Extreme hip flexion at the bottom of the leg press prevents proper glute activity and puts a tremendous amount of stress on the knees.

Squatting done correctly increases knee stability. The leg press reduces knee stabilization, increasing the risk of serious injury. Additionally, many exercisers, especially young athletes, load far too much weight on the leg press, in a misguided effort to increase leg strength. This can result in spinal injury and, potentially, permanent damage to knees, back and hips.

Good squat form may be a challenge to master but squatting develops far higher levels of functional strength. Here’s a great bonus: squats help athletes develop total body, multi-planar strength and power, compared with the limited strength developed on fixed position, artificially stabilized exercise machines designed to “isolate muscle groups.” (More on this fallacy in the future!)

Speaking more generally, most exercise machines are simply not designed to support the adolescent body, let alone pre-pubescent kids!

Seated overhead press machines are typically designed in a way that places a great deal of stress on the lumbar spine. These forces far outweigh those produced during standing overhead pressing, when the core stabilization system is more readily recruited for spinal stability. Athletes often end up in severe lumbar misalignment in an effort to lift higher weights.

Leg extension and leg curl machines fix the body in the sagittal plane (think straight-ahead) and create hip flexion and shear force at the knee (leg extension) or extreme lumbar extension (lordosis) and hip flexion (leg curl.) Both seriously reduce the body’s ability to stabilize the knee and spine.

How then should children exercise in order to avoid the onslaught of the machines? Ground-based training, with an emphasis on bodyweight stabilization exercises first, with progression to bodyweight/implement based strength training, integrated along with speed, agility, balance, flexibility and power training, is the key to youth fitness and sports training success!

Better fitness levels for everyone? Higher levels of sports performance? And all of this while drastically reducing injury and extending athletic careers? Yes, yes and yes!

The strategy is simple…resist the “rise of the machines!” Your future depends on it!Contact us today to learn how to become part of the “Resistance!!

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About Author
Phil Hueston, IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist, All-Star Sports Academy, Toms RIver, NJ – “Master Trainer and Motivator of Athletes!” Contact us today for a free one week trial!

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