Fundamentals of Youth Training

"Children can start weight training at any age as long as there is proper supervision, the youth has been educated in the proper technique, and the equipment being used is adaptable to their size and shape. "

Fundamentals of Youth Fitness Training
“Fitness Is the Way to Life”

by Leonard M. Framson PT, MFS, CSCI, YFT, CFNC, YFS

Children can start weight training at any age as long as there is proper supervision, the youth has been educated in the proper technique, and the equipment being used is adaptable to their size and shape. 

There are programs out there that involve training children as young as 7 years old that have found that they responded favorably physiologically with certain gains in muscle strength, muscle mass, and power, as well as exercise performance.  It also helped to enhance their psychological well being by making them feel more physically competent and self-confident.  In order to start a child in youth weight training, he/she must have the emotional maturity to accept coaching and instruction.  There must be adequate supervision by coaches or adults who are knowledgeable about strength training, and the special circumstances involving prepubescents. 

Weight (strength) training should be a part of a comprehensive program to improve motor skills and the individual’s fitness level.  There should always be a proper warm-up period of 10 to 15 minutes and a proper cool-down period of the same duration.  The program should emphasize dynamic concentric and eccentric muscle contractions, and the youth should perform all exercises through the full range of motion.  The amount and the kind of resistance beneficial for a youth depends on the child’s stage of biological development, the ability of the cardiovascular system to handle increased stress, and in case of strength-endurance exercises with weights or resistance, on anaerobic fitness.

The approaches than can be taken in designing a client’s beginning fitness training regimen are:

  1. The client or if a youth, the client’s parent or legal guardian fills out a PAR-Q Medical History Questionnaire for a preliminary screening resource to determine the level of risk to exercise.

  2. Once cleared for exercise, evaluate the client’s training status taking into account his/her level of preparedness, injury history, and training background.

  3.  Conduct a variety of tests such as strength testing, cardiovascular assessment, flexibility assessment, balance assessment and do a postural screening.

  4.  Evaluate the results.

  5. Talk to the client and/or coach or family to determine the primary goals of the training.

  6. Do exercise selection taking into account movement analysis and exercise techniques and determining training frequency.

  7.  Set-up the exercise in a specific order.

  8.  Instruct proper breathing, warm-up, and cool-down techniques.

  9.  Determine the training volume and the length of the rest periods based on the client/athlete’s training status and their goals of training.

  10. Educate clients each time to make it more of an active education than a sit and listen to education to keep it interesting and fun.

 

Over the years there have been many fitness principles that have been taught and used by fitness enthusiasts from beginner to advanced, but one of the most straight forward and simple principles to use when doing resistance training with the youth is known as the FITT Principle.

The FITT principle consists of four components:

  1. Frequency of Exercise:  How many times should the individual exercise during the week?

  2. Intensity of Exercise:  How hard should the individual train during the workout?

  3. Time to Exercise:  How long should the exercise session last?

  4. Type of exercise:  What does the exercise session consist of?

 

The scope of this section is directed to the beginner, and with that as the focus we need to keep in mind the individual’s level of both physical and emotional maturity.  Start light and progress safely and appropriately with trained and excellent supervision. 

If done properly with a comprehensive training program, muscle imbalances can be corrected and prevented from the start while enhancing the individual’s motor development, coordination, and level of fitness. 

Many times individuals that are going through growth spurts can benefit from proper training during this time period to allow the muscles to develop at a more appropriate pace while the bones are growing so that the muscles don’t have to play catch up.

 

  • Children have immature skeletons. Physical activity stimulates healthy bone growth in the youth; however certain precautions need to be taken. The bones of the youth do not mature until 14 through 21 years old, depending on the individual’s physical maturation rate.   In boys absolute muscular strength (the greatest amount of force an individual can produce) grows consistently between the ages of 7 – 19.   In girls, strength gains are incurred on a consistent level until about the age of 15, when a period of stagnation occurs and strength gains plateau, and in fact begin to fall.  In girls, exercises during childhood can have a critical effect on bone health that can last a lifetime.  Children and adolescents are susceptible to different types of injuries than adults and are vulnerable to growth-related overuse injuries.  Precaution should be used if an injury occurs around a joint and should be checked out to rule out the possibility of a growth plate injury.

  • We must keep in mind that children can not and should not be trained in the same manner as adults.  A lack of motor control (a function of the Central Nervous System) will affect the child’s ability to perform weight-training exercises safely.  It is therefore the maturity of the CNS that is the ultimate determining factor. The same training methods that we use to motivate adults don’t work with children.  The youth or child differs from the adult anatomically, physiologically, and emotionally. The youth is still physically maturing. 

  • Growth and development also influence the capacity to learn motor skills.  Rapid growth during puberty makes it difficult to achieve stability in basic coordination skills.  Many times the early maturing athlete will out perform the late maturing athlete, but the late bloomers most often will outperform the early bloomer in high school, college, and if possible post college.

  • When training the youth athlete it is important to realize as noted above that sports performance enhancement training relies on the maturation of the nervous system including the brain as well as development of the musculoskeletal system.  Introduce coordination training while the individual is in the pre-adolescent phase, and the individual’s level of coordination and proper muscle balance will be enhanced. 

  • Stress proper technique during the exercise training, and make sure the individual stays properly hydrated. 

  • The personal trainer must know the developmental phases in children in order to properly train them.

  • The program should be professionally planned and properly monitored so the individual can progress at a safe pace.

  • There are pre-pubescent, pubescent, and post-pubescent phases of maturation and training.  Certain factors apply to each in order to design safe and effective training programs.

  • When working with the individual there are certain Bio-motor abilities that need to be addressed:

    • Strength is defined as the maximum force that can be generated by a muscle during a single muscular maximal contraction. 

    • Flexibility is defined the range of motion of a joint or group of joints in regard to the bones involved in the joint or joints, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joint capsule, and collagen fibers.  Dynamic stretching to enhance flexibility is more beneficial and more functional than static stretching.  Dynamic stretching is more appropriate for proper warm-ups and injury prevention.

    •  Agility is the ability to change direction of the body at a quick pace while being able to maintain one’s balance.  An example of this would be the soccer player who has to suddenly change his/her direction on the field of play and could involve lateral movements as well forward movement and back pedaling.

    • Speed is the ability to move rapidly with a quicker reaction time and movement time.  It could be with rapid upper extremity movements, lower extremity movements, or a combination of both.  Speed training for running would be a perfect example.

    • Cardiovascular Endurance by definition is the ability for the individual to perform activities for an extended period of time which would raise one’s heart rate.

    • Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to do repeated contractions against sub-maximal resistance for a given period of time. This is in contrast to muscular strength, which is the greatest amount of force that a muscle or muscle group can exert in a single contraction as noted above.

  • Fitness professionals, coaches, teachers working with the youth population need to keep the programs fun, and exciting.  Children join exercise programs to be with their friends and have fun.

Coaches work with the youth to help them to develop a thorough, efficient, and effective performance enhancement training program that will address various fitness components discussed above consisting of strength, flexibility, speed and agility, cardiovascular endurance, and muscle endurance, as well as encouraging them to eat healthily. 

The main goal of the performance enhancement training programs is to increase an individual’s fitness level so they can perform at their optimal level of function with the specific task at hand.  It is the goal of the personal trainer/fitness coach to increase the individual’s biomotor abilities while reducing their body mass and increasing their lean muscle mass.

When adults think about exercising, they think in terms of going to the gym and lifting weights or going and doing some form of cardio, swimming laps, riding a bike, doing an elliptical, taking a walk either by themselves or with their co-workers during their lunch break, walking their dog in the morning or the evening, running on a treadmill, doing Zumba, or some other form of structured training program either in their homes, a fitness center or out on a field somewhere.  When the youth are thought of for fitness and exercise it usually involves soccer leagues, lacrosse leagues, little league baseball, Pop Warner Football, hockey, Dance classes, gymnastics, martial arts, etc.   

If your child is playing in your yard and running around with friends, he or she is exercising.  When your son or daughter jumps up and down on your bed when they are little, they are exercising.  Fitness comes in all forms.

We as personal trainers, parents, coaches, adults need to encourage the youth to be physically active.  A physically active child should have greater strength, flexibility, muscle endurance, cardiovascular endurance, agility, and by being more physically active and therefore fit, will be less likely to become obese. 

Guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure that the individual is properly instructed and educated and performs the exercises   with the proper technique and proper posture while being properly supervised and spotted

  • Make sure that the training area is safe.

  • The youth warm-up period should be between 10 to 15 minutes in duration.

  • The exercise program should consist of exercises addressing the upper extremities, lower extremities, and Core consisting of the scapula stabilizers and core stabilizers.

  • Training should be done two to three days per week encompassing the total body program.

  • Circuit training (using upper body/ lower body) or Push-Pull Training (alternating flexor extensor of the same body part) to allow greater recovery and efficiency.

Depending on the sport or activity, an athlete utilizes either one side of the body versus the other side or more emphasis is placed on the lower body more than the upper body or the upper body more than the lower body, or even the anterior musculature versus the posterior musculature (front versus back).  The recommendation is to train the entire body bilaterally symmetrical to prevent muscle imbalances which would lead to injury.  By training the body as a whole from the core to the extremities and anterior versus posterior musculature, one’s coordination will be enhanced and therefore athletic and functional performance.  Total body performance enhancement training is the key to developing and individual’s biomotor abilities.

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