With six years as a strength and conditioning coach at the professional level under his belt, Ted Rath knows his way around a weight room. Although he enjoys designing the workout routines for the current crop of Detroit Lions football players, Ted also stays abreast of the fitness trends that are influencing younger athletes as they look to develop their bodies and improve their athletic performances.
2019 Update: Ted Rath is now in his second season with the Los Angeles Rams as their Director of Strength Training and Performance and his tenth season at the pro level. He’s also gained popularity at being Ram’s Head Coach Sean McVay’s “get back coach” on game days to keep the McVay off the field and from running into officials.
In the process of working with both pro athletes and developing amateur athletes, Ted has come up with a list of five things that many young athletes are doing in the weight room that are actually hurting their athletic outputs.
1. Creating muscle imbalance
Young athletes have a tendency to focus on the muscles they can see in the mirror. While this is a natural inclination, Ted warns that this leads to athletes overdoing it when it comes to exercises like bench presses and squats, and not balancing out the workout with enough pulling exercises.
“Whenever you overtrain certain muscles and neglect others, the weaker muscles are going to give out,” Ted said. “This leads to injury. I would recommend that young athletes setting up a basic workout plan do two pulling exercises for every pushing exercise. That way they work both sides of the body and reduce the likelihood of an injury.”
2. Ignoring foundational exercises
With so much workout equipment now available and so many weightlifting movements promoted online, athletes have many different exercises to choose from that all allegedly do the same thing. Unfortunately, they don’t. While there are plenty of secondary movements that can be used to assist the development of a muscle group, Ted insists that all athletes can benefit from building workouts around what he considers to be the foundational lifts.
“These young athletes should be doing both front and back squats, chin-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts (preferably with a trap bar), and a dumbbell bench press since the barbell bench press is actually an inefficient move,” Ted said. “These movements will build the foundation and help athletes become better at other movements later on.”
3. Not doing bodyweight exercises
Thanks to technological advancements, kids are able to enjoy a quality of entertainment indoors that prior generations could not have imagined. Ted says this has young people spending more time indoors than in previous eras, and the result is children that lack the basic balance and body awareness that come from learning to interact with the world at a young age.
“Athletes should always start with bodyweight training,” Ted advised. “They need to learn how to jump, how to land, and how to control their bodies in space. Pushups, squats with no weight, situps and abdominal work can help them develop the body awareness they need. They can learn to control their bodies though simple exercises like that.”
4. Using bad technique
Ted Laments that he sees far too many professional athletes who are experiencing problems with connective tissues and vertebrae, and all of it was preventable. Unfortunately, they learned improper technique in the weight room when they were 15 years old and never fixed the problem.
“If you’re technique is off for one workout, you can get past it, but if it’s every workout, you’re creating issues,” Ted warned. “Slow down, worry less about the amount of weight you are lifting, and learn to do the movement properly.”
5. Doing other people’s workouts
The internet has given athletes the ability to watch other people’s training videos and copy what they’re doing. Not only are kids occasionally learning bad technique from watching these videos, but Ted contends they’re learning exercises that they shouldn’t necessarily be doing at all.
“If I handed down our Detroit Lions training program to a high school program, it wouldn’t make any sense because they don’t have the facility we have, the kids aren’t the same age as our athletes, and they’re not the same type of athletes,” Ted explained. “We’re different from the Chicago Bears, and our training program is based on our athletes. In fact, our training changes year to year because each year we have a different team. Even as professionals, we have to adjust some of the things we do based on the age and composition of the team.”
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