How to Train Kids in Weightlifting

When 10-year-old Caitlin won her first national weightlifting championship, Mark Khamboonphet was ecstatic.

“I was on cloud nine,” said Khamboonphet, the owner of CrossFit Forney and Caitlin’s Coach. “We’re a CrossFit gym. We’re lifting against kids that only weightlift, and they do that three to five times a week. We lift one day a week.”

In fact, all but one of the CrossFit Forney kids that competed at championships placed in the top ten. Khamboonphet didn’t have any intention of training his CrossFit kids in weightlifting, but after one of his athletes found success, the rest of the kids followed. “The kids started saying ‘when do we get to lift weights?’” he recalled.

At the Box, a CrossFit kids class happens twice a week, with one day focused on movement proficiency. For months, Khamboonphet said he pounded foundational movement with a PVC, only allowing kids to grab 5-pound OSO barbells when they were ready.

“Eventually their technique became significantly better than the average adult, and then the next thing you know the kids are lifting as much as some of the adults, if not more,” said Khamboonphet.

There are several key things Khamboonphet does when it comes to teaching the kids weightlifting.

First, he gives them three positions — avoiding technical terms — they work on with a PVC pipe for 20 to 30 repetitions apiece. Second, he will have each athlete step out in front of the class and perform the lift, enabling the rest of the kids to speak up on movement correction. He also has labeled the bars not by weights but by color. So the kids know if they move from the green to pink bar, they are progressing upwards.

When it comes to having the kids compete, Khamboonphet said it’s all about setting correct expectations. “The kids have to feel successful,” he said. “In order for them to do that, you have to set your expectations for them that day or for that meet.”

For the first lift at a competition, Khamboonphet said the kids lift for him. For their second, they can dedicate it to anyone — teammates, parents, etc. And if they make the second, their third is for themselves. For example, when Caitlin stepped up to hit her third lift at the national championships — having already won her age group based on the weights previously lifted — Khamboonphet said it was key to make sure she knew it was OK to miss the lift. He had to set clear expectations for her so she wouldn’t be upset if she missed it, putting into perspective that she’d already won.

As for the parents, Khamboonphet was worried at first about their objections. Now he tells parents that unlike soccer or baseball — which can’t guarantee a goal made or a homerun hit — he can guarantee their children will get stronger. “In my opinion, this is a way bigger confidence booster for children; every week they get more confident because they’re getting better at something every week,” he said. “Get your kids functional.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.
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