Children are not adults in
miniature. They have a developing
physiology and therefore,
different capabilities for
exercise. Can children train?
Absolutely, but young athlete training
programmes should not just be scaleddown
versions of adult training. Rather,
they should be highly individualised.
The key is to know when, how and how
much a child should train.
Make it fun
The purpose of training for young athletes
should be to provide them with
the skills that will let them undertake
training programmes later in life with
greater ease instead of starting from
scratch during adulthood. A lot of general
motor skills are learnt while kicking,
throwing or catching a ball, climbing
a tree or jumping into a sand pit.
Kids should not have to forfeit these
activities for a couple of dumbbells. This
is exactly where coaches need to be creative
when designing programmes for
kids, ensuring they are safe and fun.
Children from 8 to 12 years respond
well to games, so their programmes
should be structured around a prize
that will be awarded for their efforts.
So whether it be through turning a skill
(i.e. dribbling a soccer ball between
poles) into a race or rewarding the kid
who completed the skill the fastest, or
the one who completed it with the least
mistakes, or the one who persevered
and tried the most, kids will always perform
their best when there's something
at stake. Make them work in a team;
they'll try their hardest then.
Another good training programme
for this age group would be "circuit"
training -- a course made up of different
exercises (like squats, push-ups,
pull-ups) at different points. This is usually
used to help young sportsmen develop
general ball skills for soccer, cricket
and hockey. Wheelbarrow races (in
which two kids partner up -- one is in
a push up position with his feet held by
his partner and has to "walk" a prescribed
distance on his hands; then they
swap, go back, and tag their next teammates)
and 30 m races with kids running
backwards are great for balance.
The child should get 2-3 minutes rest
after the circuit is complete, drink lots
of water to stay hydrated, and go
through the circuit twice or thrice more,
depending on his or her fitness level.
Jungle gyms, with monkey bars,
ropes to climb and sand pits to jump
into are other fun things for kids. The
onus is on the coach to be creative and
ensure kids' safety comes first.
To prescribe an exact age for kids to
start resistance training is very difficult.
Children develop emotionally, physically
and mentally at differing rates;
therefore a seven-year-old who follows
instructions and is disciplined may be
just as ready to start resistance training
as a 13-year-old. Obviously, they will
be at varying stages of physical development
and this is where a qualified
professional comes in, tailoring the programme
to provide the right type and
intensity of training for each child.
Strength training from puberty
onwards is highly beneficial for boys in
particular. Puberty provides a great
window of opportunity for them to
develop strength because of the increasing
testosterone levels. If regular training
is maintained, the large possible
gains at this time can last into adulthood.
Teaching (willing) kids correct
lifting technique with light loads (i.e. an
empty barbell or body weight exercises)
at a young age, puts them in good
stead for greater future development.
Deciding how often kids should exercise
is also difficult, since their training
should change depending in part
on the games they play. Kids playing
tennis, for example, would train differently
from those who cycle. The aim
should be to use 2-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions,
depending on the weight the
child can lift safely and effectively. At
least 48 hours to 72 hours should pass
between resistance training sessions .
This gives time for repair and recovery
and ensures that no neural fatigue
is carried into the next session.
Although girls will not make the same
advances as boys in this regard, due to
the lack of natural testosterone present,
strength training can be highly beneficial
for them as well. This is due to
the positive neurological adaptations
that take place resulting in more efficient
recruitment of muscle fibres and
muscle groups, thus enabling the individual
to produce more force.
For 4 to 8 year olds
Prepubescent strength training is the
foundation of future proficiency in this
discipline. The coach should use prepubescent
strength training to introduce
the child to the activity and from
the outset, ensure strict parameters of
correct technique and lifting posture
are adhered to. Light loads should be
used at this time and progression should
come in the form of gradual increases
in the number of sets of an exercise and
frequency as opposed to heavier loads
that may hinder technique.
The main focus should be fun. Piggy
back rides, wheel barrow races, frog
hop races, and one leg races are great
for building neural perception, leg
strength and balance. Climbing ropes,
monkey bars and squats i.e. general
body weight stuff with guidance given
on form, are some of the exercises this
age group can do with ease.
Not many kids will be mentally and
emotionally mature enough at the age
of 4-8 years to train in a gym using
weights or to work towards specific
goals like Olympic weight lifting.
However, there are kids who will fall
into this category and teaching them
the basics from a young age is of paramount
The controversy:is it safe for a child to take up weight training?
Children can benefit a lot from strength
training. But they learn most of their general
motor skills by kicking, throwing or
catching a ball, climbing a tree or jumping
into a sand pit. Picking up dumbbells in the
gym should not be a replacement for these
Puberty is a good time for children to
start weight training. Teaching (willing)
kids with light loads can help in their future
However, a lot depends on the child's
biological age and maturity. Only a qualified
professional can create a regime that
matches the child's development. A coach
is also required to monitor technique, form
and intensity. The amount of weight a child
lifts will depend on his or her age.
Strength training as a child is the foundation
of future proficiency in the discipline.
But it's important for the coach to ensure
correct technique and posture.
Progression should be in the form of
gradual increase in the number of sets
and frequency, not heavier loads.
The aim should be to use 2-4 sets of 8-12
repetitions with weights the child can lift
safely and effectively. There should be a
48-72 hour gap between sessions.
The coach should add games like wheel
barrow races, frog hop races, and one leg
races that help build neural perception,
leg strength and balance.
Strength training at puberty is highly
beneficial for boys in particular because
of the increasing testosterone levels.Glyn is a physiotherapist with Elite
Athlete Performance and trains children.