This article is Part I of a series by Dr. Kwame M Brown. There will be more to come, including details about programming and resources for our members.
I spend all day around preschoolers and parents. We have a great preschool here at Lee District RECenter in Franconia, VA and the teachers here are all about play! I don’t regularly work formally with the preschool children, but interact with them and play little games with them throughout the day as they bang on my window, or I see them in the hall, or play hopscotch with them on the sidewalk outside. Our teachers are wonderful all by themselves and don’t really need me that much.
I am often asked how to do fitness programs for kids at this age. The answer I often give is that the programming is easy: Combine outdoor play (mostly) lots of pretend play and obstacle courses. For older toddlers, you can begin adding simple tag games, crawling or hopping relays, and very simple throw, catch and kick games. There are tons of great activities available on the web for this age group.
The hard part: the teaching!
With this group you have to be in equal parts:
Engaged / Energetic
Authoritative (for safety only)
Running a fitness program for older children and teens is as much or slightly more about the personnel as the program. Running youth fitness programs for the preschool age is overwhelmingly about the personnel more than the program.
If you consider yourself a fitness professional, or a highly qualified coach, you may not be successful in running preschool program. If you, on the other hand, consider yourself a play partner, you can be incredibly successful. Kids will ask when they will see you again. My assistant and I have kids who run and jump into our arms when we see them! They know that we are having fun being with them. They know that we’re not there to get performance out of them, but to enjoy their play experiences alongside them.
Learn to Train Kids from 6 – 18 (Athletes & Non-Athletes Alike)…
There is no real danger in kids performing machine based training under the proper supervision and appropriate guidelines. Many studies done the world over have concluded that strength based training programs done on this kind of fitness equipment is very safe for young children (again under appropriate guidelines). My issue is not whether or not kids CAN perform this kind of training, my question is WHY they need to.
Back tracking for a second, I have watched (as I’m sure we all have) a very young baby struggle to get to their feet. In terms of strength output, this equates to a near maximal load. No one seems to be concerned about it until that child becomes eight or so years old and wants to lift weights… Then people want to call the police on you because you had the ignorance to let a child perform strength training! The bottom line is that kids CAN handle strength training based loads… heck they do everyday – hopscotch, tag, bowling, ANY sport – all these things require varying degrees of strength.
Now the question of why. I just have never been convinced by any article, book or study championing child strength training that kids SHOULD use machine based fitness equipment. The reality is that sport AND life are based on the functionality of movement. Juan Carlos refers to it as the Four Pillars of human movement; Paul Check has a similar model which incorporates six stages.
My point being that whether you are dealing with a young athlete or just a young fitness participant, your goals as Youth Fitness Professionals should involve obtaining health and/or sporting proficiency on a useable level. Machines provide support (I have trained so many young athletes who simply cannot produce stability in all three planes), and the force application is both pre-set (which just begs for biomechanical dysfunction) as well as pre-guided (unfortunately sport and life are not).
My other concern with machines is that they inhibit two very important concerns when dealing with young athletes (actually when dealing with anyone):
1. It is very hard to train unilaterally when using machines (one side of the body at a time). Unilateral training, in my mind, is one of the most crucial components of developing young athletes.
Youth Fitness Professionals
2. You simply cannot train (either produce force through or learn to stabilize) the transverse plane. As referenced in many Kinesiology based books, over 85% of our core musculature is oriented horizontally or diagonally – we are designed for rotation, yet machines don’t allow for it.
My suggestion for working with young athletes (and this is based on several factors including age, emotional maturity, current physical proficiency) is as follows –