Most sporting activity takes place upright or moving. Teenagers spend most of their days sitting down. Lifting weights while sitting or lying down removes the need to brace and support and control. Sitting down is ideal for isolating muscles and getting bigger. High School athletes need to brace and control their body, which is essential when playing a sport. Teenage athletes should be looking to connect and synchronize different parts of their bodies when lifting weights. Standing while lifting weights will allow you to work your target muscles and several other muscles throughout your body, including your back, core, hips, and legs. Standing will also improve your overall balance and stability. Teenage athletes should be looking to connect and synchronize different parts of their bodies when lifting weights.
This article will explain why and give examples of exercises that help achieve athleticism.
Why Do We Lift Weights?
There are many reasons why people lift weights: to get bigger muscles, to rehabilitate from injury, to compete, to look better, to socialize, to work off some frustration. These are valid and provide many people with healthy, enjoyable lives.
For these people, exercises that isolate body parts and use machines or benches to help lift more weight are common and useful to help them achieve their goals. The biceps curl is an example of an isolated movement. It has one job, and it does it well: make the biceps stronger. Many gym instructor courses teach these exercises, and physical education students learn how to do them as they know which muscles perform each action. The triceps are responsible for straightening the arm, so the students are asked to perform the triceps extension exercise.
So far, so good.
But, what about people who are lifting weights to get better at their sport? Do the normal exercises help prepare you for multi-directional movement at speed and often with an opponent trying to stop you from getting to the ball first?
Maybe. If you start from a very low strength base or return from injury, working individual muscle groups will strengthen your muscles and tendons and build some mass. This will help you cope with the stress of training in your sport.
Coordination Is A Good Thing
However, if you are a fit and healthy teenager, why not use exercises that link body parts and are performed standing up?
Sitting or lying down when doing arm exercises removes the need for the legs and trunk to brace and control the body: the bench or machine is doing that for you. Yet, the legs and trunk need to brace and control the body when you use your arms in sport.
Muscles do not work in isolation: the biceps and triceps work together when throwing a ball or swinging a baseball bat. One shortens, and the other lengthens. Powerful hitters and throwers use their legs and trunk muscles together to generate power. The arms are the conduit rather than the catalyst. Training each component separately is unlikely to improve the coordination necessary to generate applicable force.
An easy way to demonstrate this is to throw a ball as far as you can with your best arm. Then do the same with your other arm. There will be a big difference in distance covered (except for young children who have yet to develop throwing technique). And yet that distance can not be explained by a difference in strength between left and right. The difference is from the coordination of the muscles that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This video shows a sequence of standing dumbbell exercises that I used when working with teenage golfers.
Golf Dumbbell Exercises
Golf is a standing-up sport and requires the coordination of legs, trunk rotation, and arm swing to control the speed and path of the golf club.
Athletes can bench press a lot more than they can press standing up. It is even harder to lift heavy weights when standing on one leg. Standing on one leg requires balance and control. This inability to ‘lift heavy’ when stood up is sometimes perceived as bad. But do teenage athletes need to ‘lift heavy’?
In this warm-up sequence, you can see how a single dumbbell combined with movement can be used.
Lunge n’ Press
Younger athletes can use a water bottle and progress from there.
Doing exercises that require balance, control, bracing and coordination automatically reduces the weight you can lift. It does not mean that you become less strong.
It means that we have to change how we think about ‘strong.’
18-year-old Emma Raducanu won the U.S. Open by hitting tennis balls fast and accurately while standing up and moving. She hits tennis balls harder than older men who lift more weights in the gym but don’t play tennis. Most of us would not get a racquet on the ball if we faced her on the court. She has tennis power.
Combing leg and arm movements when lifting weights does require technique, skill, and coordination. But so does sport.
So stand up!