Pre-workout supplementation would have to be the biggest market going. In almost every conversation I have with someone about training they end up asking “what pre-workout do you take?” My answer is always the same “I don’t take any pre-workout as such”. I then get a weird look like I am way behind the times.
Pre-workout I like to take brain nutrients such as fish oil, acetyl-l carnitine, ginko, and the like. I rarely use stimulants, but if I do, I use caffeine. I don’t like to use commercial brands “super pump 5000”, for example. They contain a lot of chemicals that have been shown to be neurotoxic and can also contain substances that are banned in sport.
The reason I try to limit my use of caffeine is so that when I do need to increase performance I have the biggest increase possible. If you use caffeine daily or drink several cups of coffee a day, the benefits in performance will not be as dramatic as if you use it sparingly because your body will be adapted to it. This is why you should only use caffeine for competitions or important workouts. There is no point taking it for forearm and calf day, save it for a massive leg session.
Caffeine has many benefits when it comes to increasing performance. The two main benefits I use caffeine for are increased strength and for delaying the onset of fatigue. Caffeine has been shown in some studies to increase strength 20-25% but these studies must have used untrained individuals who didn’t consume very much caffeine on a daily basis. In my observations and those of other strength coaches, the increases in strength are more around the 5-7% mark, still a very good increase in performance.
The way caffeine helps delay the onset of fatigue is its impact on motivation and the way it decreases the sensation of pain. If you feel extremely tired or unmotivated to train caffeine can help you get a quality workout in. It was shown in a study done on rugby players who were sleep deprived. The group that took caffeine had a quality of workout the same as if they were rested whereas the group that didn’t take caffeine couldn’t lift as much as normal.
Another couple of benefits of caffeine is that it can improve sprint times, reaction time and concentration. Due to this and the above mentioned delay of fatigue and decrease in pain sensation it is good for athletes in high intensity sports. It has been shown that caffeine can enhance muscle force. Caffeine can also decrease DOMS, so it is good to use if you need to repeat efforts or back up for competitions that have a short turn around. If you use BCAA’s while training the results can be even more effective.
To see the benefits of caffeine you have to use a fairly large dosage, unless you have never used it before. Optimal dosage seems to be around the 3mg/kg body weight range in most studies with the upper limit being 10mg/kg of body weight. Generally I like to use 3mg/kg of body weight for endurance and higher dosages such as 7mg/kg for strength. I learnt this from Charles Poliquin. Taking more than 10mg/kg of body weight doesn’t have any additional benefits. Again optimal dosage is an individualised thing.
You get about 90-100mg of caffeine from 1 cup of coffee. To get the benefits of caffeine reported in studies, that would mean that if you weighed 100kg you would need at least 3 cups of coffee. I feel the simplest way to get the required amounts of caffeine is to take a caffeine pill. The added benefit of this is that the brand we use combines tyrosine and phenylalanine to the caffeine which supports the adrenals and helps prevent the crashing feeling you may get from taking caffeine. Taking 2g of vitamin C post-workout will also help clear the caffeine from your system allowing you to avoid the jitters some people experience when taking caffeine. I do personally at times so again I must thank Charles Poliquin for this great tip.
The time of day I use caffeine is in the morning because if I take it any later than 12pm I struggle to sleep. Personally I stick to the same rule when it comes to coffee. This is something you have to find out for yourself.
So to sum up caffeine can help:
Increase strength and power
Decrease the sensation of pain
Delay the onset of fatigue
Improve sprint times, reaction time, and coordination
Strength training is seen as a dangerous activity for kids to participate in by many parents. Their concerns are warranted as they only want what’s best for their kids. The problem is their concerns are based on many myths and misconceptions that they have heard through the media or misinformed coaches, or coaches that just don’t know about strength training so they write it off as useless and dangerous.
While there are risks to strength training it is no different to playing any other sport, riding a bike, or skateboard. If you learn optimal technique and follow some specific guidelines the chances of injury are quite small. Probably more so than other activities as strength training is performed in a controlled environment.
The important thing to note as a parent is to see a qualified strength coach. Just because Johnny’s dad looks jacked doesn’t mean he knows anything about technique or program design. The same goes for most personal trainers. Many of them can’t lift properly themselves or have no idea about planning of training. They simply make people sweat and half of them just steal programs off the internet that aren’t customized to their client’s needs. If you see one of these types of people to train your kid’s then strength training may be dangerous.
The first question many people ask is “what is a good age to start strength training?”
There is no minimum age for a young athlete to start resistance training. Most kids are performing some type of resistance training when they play, whether it be jumping, running, climbing, skipping, or hopping. You don’t have to lifting maximal weights to be performing resistance training. As a general rule between the ages of 8-12 it is good for kids to perform jumps and throws and start lifting weights 2 years before puberty.
The most important factors to take into consideration are whether or not the child is mentally and emotionally ready to follow coaching instructions and handle the stress of a training program. The desire of an athlete to participate in a strength training program will determine whether or not it will have any benefit. If a young kid doesn’t understand why strength training is important or isn’t mature enough to follow a program then it will more than likely lead to burnout. No young athlete should be forced to lift, especially if it is beyond their capabilities (physical and emotional).
If you have young kids, say 4 or 5 years old, and they like to hang out in the gym and play around doing squats with a broomstick mimicking you, then let them. Don’t go correcting their technique or anything like that, just let them figure some stuff out for themselves. When they are bored they’ll move on. The most important part is that they are in a healthy environment, later on when they are older and ready, they will ask to train with more structure.
When designing strength training programs for young athletes it is important to take into account not only their chronological age but also their physiological age. Physiological age is the most important.
Safety is always a major concern when the topic of strength training in young athletes is brought up. Most injuries are caused by poor lifting technique, poor spotting technique or lack of, and accident (trips, falls, faulty equipment etc.). To prevent injuries proper instruction and supervision are a must. Poor program design is also a cause of injuries, particularly overuse injuries. An example of this is the young bloke who joins the gym and does nothing but bicep curls and bench presses (some never grow out of it). This is why you need to work with a qualified professional as mentioned above. Another reason is that most kids play 2 or 3 sports and adding in strength training just increases their total volume, again leading to overuse injuries if not planned properly.
Injury to children’s growth cartilage has been a valid concern. For this reason it is important that children’s programs don’t focus on maximal strength work. It is more important to develop perfect technique in the early stages of training. It is recommended to wait until after puberty, which is when growth plates ossify, before working on maximal strength. All 3 growth-cartilage sites are more prone to injury during growth spurts in adolescence due to increased muscle tightness across joints.
All injuries related to growth plate fractures in youths involved overhead lifts and lifts with near maximal weights or maximal weights. This is why I don’t recommend maximal lifts for young athletes.
When we work with young athletes we don’t load then up with squats, deadlifts, or even bench presses for that matter. We work on physical limitations through corrective based exercises and in the gym we focus a lot on body weight exercises such as chin ups, push ups, dips etc. progressing into split squats, leg curls, step-ups, back extensions, DB presses etc. In that time we work on squat and deadlift technique using a broomstick and progressing to an empty bar. So we are building a foundation while teaching optimal technique and motor control.
We like to use kettlebell squats standing on boxes to train the legs without loading the spine as we believe you shouldn’t load the spine before puberty. Also we avoid deadlifts using back extensions and reverse hypers instead. Again we only work on technique with a broomstick to teach the movement not strengthen it.
When working with young athletes it is important they understand that rep ranges are only a guideline. The set should be stopped at technical failure not absolute muscle failure. This means the last rep of a set should look like the first. When programming rep ranges for young athletes we like to work in the functional hypertrophy range, say anything from 4-8 reps. The reason for this is so we don’t load the kids up with maximal weights but also the gains from resistance training are primarily neural in nature and don’t seem to come from hypertrophy. This means the strength gained is more from coordination and learning the movement not from gaining muscle mass. It isn’t until after puberty when hormonal changes take place that hypertrophy can be significantly achieved. This rep range allows enough reps to be completed to learn the movement but not so many that fatigue sets in and increases the chances of technical breakdown like a set of 12-15 reps may do.
On average, gains in strength of 30-50% have been observed in children with programs lasting 8-20 weeks (Kraemer). Sports performance can also be improved but only if the program is designed effectively (like any age) allowing carry over to the playing field. Training adaptations are still specific to children just as they are to adults. This is why I don’t like excessive amounts of conditioning work with kids as it ruins their power output when they are older. Using modified strongman activities and sprints is a better option in my opinion.
Reduction of injuries is another benefit of resistance training for young athletes. Kids should prepare their bodies to handle the sport they play, just the same as adults do. Playing the sport doesn’t necessarily get them into shape for that sport because the sport itself doesn’t always improve muscle and connective tissue growth or strength. Improving range of motion and addressing other weaknesses can also help prevent injuries during competition of the chosen sport.
Developing healthy habits through resistance training will also help the kids throughout their lives. While increased sports performance, reduction of injuries, and long term athletic development are great, the benefits of children enjoying their time training are just as, or more important in my opinion. Improved blood pressure, improved bone mineral density, and all the other physiological benefits to resistance training are great but the psychological benefits are just as important. With the way society is at the moment with all the social media I believe it is important for kids to grow up having a positive self-esteem, understanding the reality of what to expect from training, and being comfortable and confident in who they are and what they do. Resistance training can help develop these attitudes.
If you follow the above guidelines resistance training won’t stunt the growth of your child, they won’t get too big and muscular, it won’t slow them down, but it may reduce injury, increase sports performance, and set them up with healthy habits that could last a lifetime.
Here is a video of a young Chinese weightlifter to show how far some people are willing to go to be the best. While this may be considered dangerous and pushing the boundaries for some people, it is interesting to see the strength levels and the technique of someone so young.