PLEASE NOTE: We are undergoing a name change. Unleashed Training is now Sprint Ninja. We still offer high quality strength and conditioning along with personal training, with our specialty being sprint training.
Exercise for children is one of those new-age topics of conversation and a major money spinner for corporations trying to cash in on “what’s hot”. When I was a kid I played sports, did martial arts/boxing, rode my bike, played with toy guns pretending to be Arnie in Commando and played “catch-and-kiss” with the girls I went to kindergarten with (eeew cooties).
I was a fit kid and my parents, with limited means, fed me all kinds of kids favourites like Broccoli, peas, corn and carrots along with steak, oranges to take to school and takeaway food only once a fortnight on pay-day. Oh and forget the school canteen, I was one of six kids, it would have cost my parents a fortune to provide the money for lunch at school.
It was also a common trend to play cricket, touch football or just wrestle with other neighbourhood kids after school. I even had friends that would ride their BMX bikes with me to the local BMX bike track where we would attempt to perform stunts, sometimes for 8-10 hours on a Saturday. Then there was the monkey bars at school. This is where I developed upper-body strength and the ability to do 10 pull-ups by age 10.
Contrast that with the “evolved” and modernised child of today. The allure is not BMX bikes, street cricket, kicking a football and looking forward to fortnightly junk food. Today it’s long hours for parents, convenient packaged snacks with hidden sugar, X-Box games, internet, DVDs and sometimes far too much homework.
Exercise for children was never even considered when I was young. The only time kids in the 1980’s and before did organised training and exercise was when they were competing in a sport of some kind. All other physical exercise was performed incidentally by having fun.
Today is a different story with the new way of life for many families. When I was young it was discouraged to allow a child to do any form of formal exercise, especially strength training. But what were we doing when we played on the monkey bars? That was strength training. I mean I still visit local kid’s playgrounds and use the monkey bars and other equipment to do callisthenics training. Exercise for children has always been around, it was just disguised.
Now days children are not getting the same stimulus and are thus not developing necessary strength and muscular development that is essential for growth and development. Playtime has significantly reduced in volume for the majority of kids. For this reason exercise for children is a valid concern and something that should be incorporated into schools and parenting activities.
How to Incorporate Exercise for Children
Putting together a fitness training program for kids is different than fitness programs for adults. Adults undertaking fitness programs often have goals that involve either a specific sport, rehabilitation or a body composition goal like weight loss. With kids we need to be a little more careful. Kids don’t think in terms of how much they weigh or how good they look with their shirt off. We need to direct the focus away from the pressure-inducing fat loss, vanity mentality.
Kids see things in the immediate sense, they tend to live in the moment. A child will not be capable of planning for the future and thinking about reaping rewards from their training efforts long after the first session. A child needs instant feedback and instant rewards. This is why we need to ensure the training is immediately compelling.
The first and most preferred option is to visit old times from when kids had the most fun with physical, hands-on games and play. Look at the fittest and most athletically gifted children. It is likely that most of them engage in sports they love to play or play games that don’t even feel like exercise while they are doing it.
Children need to be eased into any change in habits and lifestyle if they are to be consistent and lasting. As a parent, teacher or anyone else dealing with kids you need to gradually re-introduce active games and encourage things like riding bikes, playing casual sports with friends etc.
Another great way to establish exercise for children is to enrol them in sports that they are most suited to. When I played rugby and did martial arts I inevitably wanted to get better and be a better player/practitioner than the other kids. Not only did the sports themselves get me and keep me in shape, my drive to be better and impress my friends and family resulted in training outside of the sport itself.
Begin with sports that suit the child. Don’t enrol a flamboyant young boy who likes dancing into a rugby team. Likewise, a rough and tumble kid would be better suited to heavier sports involving more competitive behaviour.
Take the right approach and the child will stick at it and will have fun along the way. Most kids don’t even think about the fitness benefits or how much they weigh, they just look forward to the fun and excitement associated with the sport. The fitness is a by-product, a very sneaky one.
There are many organised activities for kids to participate in. These activities do not need to be organised sports, however they are focussed on fun and the absence of external pressures.
Such activities could involve scouts, game days, youth club activities etc.
Exercise for Children: Focused and goal oriented fitness
Older kids and those with specific goals like losing weight or getting fit to be selected for the high school basketball team are the exception to the rule that kids should engage in playful and informal fitness training. This approach is one for children that have a specific target for getting and staying fit rather than an external goal coming from their parents or peers.
A children’s exercise program needs to be relatively general and foundational in nature with no real need for isolation exercises or highly specific athletic conditioning. Remember, it is natural for humans to be involved in athletic activities, even if it’s just for work or providing food. Keep it simple, start gradual, allow adequate recovery and preferably seek the advice of a professional.
Strength, cardiovascular development and overall physical ability are as important in kids as they are in adults. Kids are capable of basic strength movements and the expenditure of large amounts of energy. All kinds of fitness training are suitable for children provided they are approached intelligently.
Exercise for children is beneficial and necessary for the correct growth of a child into adulthood.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.