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Middle school students lift for future

In some school districts, once young athletes enter junior high, they go into the weight room as part of the training for their sport. At Superior Middle School, young athletes are also heading into the weight room, but for them, the workout isn'...

In some school districts, once young athletes enter junior high, they go into the weight room as part of the training for their sport. At Superior Middle School, young athletes are also heading into the weight room, but for them, the workout isn't a mandatory part of their practice.

"They initiated it," supervisor Mel Mattson said of the weight lifting club. "It says a lot about the quality of the kids."

That's not to say, however, that there wasn't a little grumbling after a hard workout when the students began training. Mattson said the students were naturally sore after lifting and complained about a few drills, but now the students know their workout and actually seem to look forward to it.

About 20 kids are currently taking part in the weight lifting program. This is technically the fourth year SMS has had a weight lifting program, but for the past two years, Mattson said they really didn't do much.

This year, participants have gone about their tasks with verve.

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Practice begins with a warm-up. The kids do sprints, quick feet drills and a varying number of other exercises. The students then move on to their core lifting workout. They do three core lifts each practice and are also encouraged to do an abdomen workout each day. The six core exercises done are the towel bench, box squat, hex bar (dead lift), bench press, parallel squat and cleans.

"We started out with PVC pipes to try to get technique down," Mattson said of the clean and jerk. "They're getting good at it, but it's one of the harder lifts there is."

As to proper form as a whole, Mattson said most of the participants saw demos of each lift during their physical education class. Corrections to technique are still being made, though.

"We tell them to stay at light weights until they get comfortable with the lifts," Mattson said.

The group also does auxiliary lifts, and each week there is a rotation with a different focus. For example one week might focus on a shoulder workout, and the next week may focus on strengthening the back. Students pick three exercises from a group of about six auxiliary lifts to supplement their core lifts.

Once they know the lifts, the students know what their workout is going to be each day. With the lifts learned, practice lasts from one to one and a half hours, three times a week.

In addition to gaining skills and strength, weight training can also help athletes avoid injury. Since the induction of the Bigger, Faster, Stronger (BFS) program, which includes weight training, by the school district in grades 2 through 12, fewer muscular injuries have been seen at the higher levels. No injuries have resulted from the SMS weight training program.

Another essential element of the weight lifting club is tracking one's development. At the end of a five-week rotation, students can see their progress, the records they've set each day, and overall weight lifted.

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"We started them off really light so they could get through the lifts and see what the program is about," Mattson said. "I would say every one of the kids who is here regularly has made some great gains in all of their lifts, and I think it helps not only their strength but their confidence."

The confidence participants gains comes from the knowledge that they have improved on a personal level. The weight lifting program is designed only to be competitive at an individual level. There are no power lifting meets or set standards for student to reach; they work at their own level. Still, some competitiveness does seep into the program.

"This is just for their individual gain," Mattson said. "Yeah, there is a little bit of competitiveness between them to see who can make the biggest gains or who can lift the most, so they put the competition in themselves.

"They always like to see what is the most they can lift compared to when they first started. They really work themselves in this program, which is a nice feature of it. They see where they're at and where they want to get to."

Indeed, all of the students in the program are participating to reach their own goals, some of which may have to do with moving into high school programs next year.

"They know at the high school, they have brothers and sisters, and they've seen what they have to do and they want to get a jump start," Mattson said. "The program is designed to increase speed and power, which is going to be essential in all the sports.

"When they walk up there next year, they'll have a pretty good idea of what these lifts are and how to perform them correctly. I think it's constantly refining. Even the kids at the high school are learning little things they can do to improve technique over the course of time."

But participants of the SMS weight lifting program should have a head start on others and require less refining of their technique.

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"They'll walk in and they'll say, 'Oh, I know what the towel bench is' and 'I know what all these lifts are,'" Mattson said. "They can start in on a program instead of having to be directed on how to do the lifts, and it will save them some time."

Emily Kram covers sports. Call her at (715) 395-5018 or e-mail ekram@superiortelegram.com .

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