As Parents we all want the very best for our kids. Giving them great food & plenty of exercise is a fantastic start. Instilling the value and benefits of healthy living and giving great encouragement can positively shape a child’s attitude towards fitness and health for a lifetime. So, what do you do when you suddenly realise that your special boy or girl has the potential to be the next David Beckham or Serena Williams? What training can junior athletes do? What could cause them harm?
We’ve all seen the photo’s of children looking like bodybuilders which just doesn’t sit right in our minds. I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of children pushed too hard, too soon by over zealous coaches, often causing childhood burnout. We’ve included a few simple tips on how to help your young athlete progress safely.
- Avoid repetitious, high impact work – too much high impact work, several times per week at a high intensity can cause damage to the bone growth plates, resulting in injury. Keep impact work short and high quality, emphasis always on great form. Allow plenty of rest between sessions. Studies show children get enormous benefit and great recovery from short, sharp sprint type activities. 10 sets of 10 seconds can reap huge gains.
- Vary exercise intensity – Not just with impact (see above), repeated hard training sessions at a single prescribed intensity can be detrimental. Ensure that sessions have programmed periods of low, moderate and vigorous intensity exercise. This also helps to keep children mentally engaged and stimulated.
- Vary activity type – Even if your child wants to play football for England, playing matches 24/7 can lead to injury and burn out when still young (think Michael Owen). Ensure training sessions have plenty of variety, using different muscle groups e.g. skipping, crawling, rolling, these give children a great all round platform whilst minimising the risk of overuse injuries.
- Use all 3 planes of motion – in many sports you have to run forwards, backwards, side to side, throw, catch, pass, have great kinesthetic awareness and so on. By only training the muscles in a straight line you are limiting athletic development. Consult with a conditioning coach about multi-planer speed, agility & quickness training for kids.
- Strengthen their core before their arms and legs – We’ve all seen children with long limbs who look very uncoordinated with every move. Whilst some may not be naturally athletic, others may simply be suffering from having weak muscles in the midsection, or “Core”. For these children, making their arms and legs stronger could lead to injury/posture problems later down the line. Strong arms and legs with weak core is like trying to fire a cannon from a canoe!
- Use circuit style training to gain strength – Body weight type exercises performed in an 8-10 stage circuit, using big moves such as squats/push ups and alternating muscle groups is a great way to develop strength in young athletes. Integrate core exercises in to the circuit and pay attention to form at all times.
- Keep weights light – As Strength & Conditioning coaches, we don’t mind admitting that we are not fans of seeing children lifting weights. However, in certain circumstances and under expert guidance they can be beneficial provided they don’t exceed 1-3kg and the child is 8 years plus. Light weights can help to target specific weak muscles which simply can’t be effectively worked by body weight exercises. Still not convinced??? We then ask this…how heavy is your child’s rucksack that they carry to school each day? Often much more than 3kg!
- Adequate hydration, food and sleep – Refer to our earlier blogs re children’s sports nutrition and hydration. We simply can’t emphasise the importance of getting it right. Sleep is another often overlooked factor. Remember, exercise is a stimulus, the hormonal effects of the training take place when sleeping. If a child is exhausted upon waking, an extra rest day won’t hurt. It also reduces the risk of injury.
- Get injuries attended to ASAP – Don’t be afraid to take your child to a Physio, Osteopath or a Dr when injured. You are NOT a bad parent if they get hurt doing what they love, on the contrary positive intervention is the very best way to keep your children safe and to get them on the road to a full and speedy recovery.
- Insist on Professional coaching – Having your child coached by a guy with huge muscles isn’t always the best or safest way forwards. Ask your child’s coach for a resume of his/her experience. Ask to see certification/s which show professional competency. If possible have a look at other “Star” pupils before you sign up your child. Being qualified to coach adults is not the same as it is for children, they are much more than simply mini – adults! Keep them safe!
With correct coaching children can have a healthy interest for a lifetime. Great coaches are out there getting extraordinary results with children just like yours…and ours! We wish you the very best for your children and yourselves on their journey. If we can be of any help on all aspects of health, fitness and nutrition for kids (and adults!) simply pop in to see Marc or Vanessa at M.A.S.K. Personal Training.