Are you stronger than a seventh-grader?

August 20, 2016

Jagger Gray is a normal 12-year-old from Pennsylvania. He likes to hang out with friends, listen to music and go to the beach. His favorite pastimes are riding waves on his skimboard and going hunting with his dad. At face value, Jagger is like every other 12-year–old who will be entering seventh grade in the fall. But what sets him apart from other kids his age is his work ethic, his ability to focus and his love for lifting weights.

I first met Jagger three years ago when his dad brought him in to train with me to help him get into better shape for his baseball and wrestling seasons. At the time, he was only 10 years old, and I had serious questions about what I’d be able to do with him. But it wasn’t long before I realized he was a sponge and soaked up anything I showed him with a competitive spirit that made him want to constantly improve. Every time we did a set or exercise, he would ask me, “How much was that?” or “Is this a new record?” This showed me he took pride in what he was doing and wanted to get better each and every day.

The first summer I worked with Jagger we started with basic movements to build a good foundation of proper form and strength. Because he was so young and didn’t fit in most machines, his workouts consisted mostly of dumbbells, preset bars and body weight movements. This helped build his coordination and ability to control the weight, teaching his nervous system and his body the proper way to lift and perform new exercises.

Last summer I began adding basic weight training to the program. Since he was much bigger, he had the option of using machines as well. We started doing dumbbell squats, dumbbell chest presses, leg presses, lat pulldowns and a combination of core and body weight exercises too. By the middle of August, Jagger was hitting new strength records on a regular basis, but it was time for him to go back to school and I would have to wait another year before continuing with his training.

This summer we were able to step it up and use the full-size Olympic bar for squats, bench press and power cleans, and it’s been a great success. Jagger has already set numerous records and is far ahead of schedule for what I expected to accomplish, and he has currently squatted 115 pounds for five reps and benched 115 pounds for sets of five as well. His body is showing no signs of slowing down, and his strength continues to increase weekly. More importantly, his discipline and ability to attack tough workouts is as good as any client I’ve ever trained. Not once has he ever complained or tried to get out of doing something tough; instead, he will normally ask for more or do a couple extra reps on his own without me asking.

Conventional wisdom says kids under 15 should not lift weights, but I strongly disagree and believe, with the proper guidance, weightlifting can be a great vehicle for future health, discipline and self-confidence, and Jagger Gray is an excellent example of this theory. I have watched him grow both physically and mentally, and one of my favorite things is seeing what he will look like at the start of each summer and envisioning where we can go in the future. Jagger is a great fitness role model for other young people to follow, and even though I am his coach, he has taught me many life lessons in the process.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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