Back to Back Issues Page
Volleyball Training Journal issue 017
September 10, 2008




Are weight machines appropriate for kids?

Many studies have concluded that there is no real danger in kids performing strength based training programs using machines done under the proper supervision using the appropriate guidelines.

The concern shouldn’t be so much whether or not machines are safe for young athletes, but whether using machines is a good idea in the first place.

The reality is that movements in sports are based on the functionality of movement.

Teaching proper execution of things like lunges, squats, and even deadlifts are critical to developing the complete athlete.

It's very important to teach youth athletes to exercise using their own bodyweight. Learn how to move first before you load a ton of weight on the bar. Every repetition counts and the more reps you do with good form, the better off you'll be when you do start lifting heavy loads.

When training kids, these movements are taught through a process called ‘Guided Discovery’ where young kids are given basic instructions and they're allowed to perform these movements so their nervous systems can learn the movement.

My new 12 week volleyball strength program includes the exercises important for developing the strength base necessary for youth volleyball.

A couple more problems with machines…

1. It is very hard to train unilaterally when using machines (one side of the body at a time).

In volleyball, like most sports, the majority of movement is made while balancing and stabilizing on one foot at a time.

For example, when you move to the left and lunge to play a ball, you are stepping putting weight to one side of the body. Single leg strength and stability helps you to stay balanced and controlled when making a play on the ball.

The unilateral strength and balance you develop from unilateral exercises - (single leg deadlifts or single leg squats) is one of the most crucial components to developing athletic strength.

2. It’s difficult to train the transverse plane (both for developing force and stabilization strength).

The core is designed to work horizontally or diagonally. Our body is designed for rotation and most machines don't allow for it.

Most machines provide too much external stability which leads to biomechanical dysfunction and weaknesses in your chain of movement.

Most machines provide support (stability) and help guide the movement.

This extra help the machines provide doesn't allow you to train important core muscles you need and you aren't forced to train your body like you need to.

This is the advantage of free weights over machines…free weights force your core to work hard to control the weight.

This machine pre-guided help doesn't translate well to sports because movement in sports isn't pre-guided.

Most machines train useless force production.

When a young volleyball player is just starting out, it’s important to promote mobility, stability and balance in conjunction with force.

Young athletes need to learn how to move, stabilize, and produce force through various planes.

Is the strength that you gain by performing back squats using a smith machine different than the strength you gain from barbell back squats?

With a smith machine, the bar is helped to balance by the machine. This helps you control the movement making the exercise easier and therefore you are able to lift more weight.

Even though you will get stronger using the smith machine, the strength you develop won’t be as functional. When you barbell squat, there isn’t a machine to help you balance and guide the weight. You are using more muscles (core stabilizers) to help execute the movement correctly.

Most force production in sport is unilaterally based (taking steps forward when you approach to hit, lateral steps before you jump to block).

Single leg exercises such as one leg squats and one leg deadlifts help keep athletes from developing unilateral overuse injuries.

Add dynamic flexibility activities into workouts on a regular basis.

Dynamic or range of motion style flexibility is proven to be far more important to athletics than traditional static flexibility.

Back to Back Issues Page