Basic Weight Training & Conditioning for Children

Author: Vincent M. Burke, MPT, BS, CSCS,*DPT
Infinity Fitness & Sports Institute/ Infinity Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine

Over the past ten years there has been a paradigm shift from the three-sport athlete to the one sport athlete. Training for one sport has now become a constant year round process. Because of this, problems arise because the body never really rests and therefore athletes are acquiring overuse syndromes resulting in injuries or even shortened careers, most of which, can be been prevented.

The vigorous training techniques at schools, local gyms and/ or claimed sport specific training facilities have caught the attention of coaches, athletic directors, athletic trainers, physical therapists, parents and athletes to train functionally, sport specifically and/or “structure” power training i.e. lifting logs, throwing kegs, rolling tires. Other training techniques being used are bounding from one direction to another, jumping off platforms with weights, running with sport cords and parachutes. All of these training techniques are effective and fun; however, are they safe and developmentally appropriate for the junior athlete (prior to high school)? Safe training is more than just using the proper technique and /or appropriate supervision. Safety is also considering if the athlete is really prepared mentally and physically to perform these high mass lifts and/or the ballistic and speed training resistive exercises.

As a Master prepared Physical Therapist, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Doctoring student with 20 years of experience in training and treating athletes of all levels and sports, I am seeing younger and younger athletes in my clinic. This is typically due to overuse syndromes and poorly structured programs which have inadequate supervision and poor choice of exercise prescription. I concur with most of the innovative and fun exercises that the training industry has researched and designed to enhance athletic performance. However, before one engages in such vigorous exercises, much time should be spent on “Basic Training”.

I define “Basic Training” as first, educating the athlete in the arena of exercise; teaching them the purpose and proper form and technique with all aspects of exercise. This includes but is not limited to basic anatomy of the body and its function, injury prevention, posture, balance, coordination, spine and shoulder stabilization, body alignment during exercise, breathing, foot/body wear, hydration, basic nutrition, and to always have an attitude of “I CAN” just to name a few. We as personal trainers and coaches alike cannot force physiology and/or the development of a child, but we can guide and encourage athletic development within safe and appropriate parameters of training. I also believe that “no pain, no gain” is a poor methodology of getting results. With this mindset, it can be very harmful and costly to the young athlete. I find that athletes at such a young age need to work on less “sport-specific” exercises and focus more on developing their level of athleticism as a whole, not just focusing on speed, agility and/or quickness as an example. The human body, like any other creature, needs to develop under stress and strain, but with whom, when, where, how and what are the most vital questions to be answered before a child trains. Our children exercising need proper guidance and instruction as they do at home and school, i.e. how to answer the phone, when to say please and thank you, how to add and subtract. If parents, coaches and personal trainers say we need to train them so young, then we need to educate them on how to exercise and prevent injuries and put the “performance” word out of the equation. Remember a young athlete cannot perform if he/she is not healthy. Having the Basic Training as a prerequisite before the “sport” and training is important. It will not only give a lifetime of prevention, but a better performing athlete in the long run.

For parents seeking personal trainers in facilities, here are some tips to help choose who and what is best for your child. Personal trainers should:
  • Bachelor’s Degree in movement science
  • Be certified from a reputable organization that has specific guidelines for training children which is endorsed by the medical arena.
  • Be C.P.R. and First Aid Certified
  • Have experience with weight training and conditioning specifically for children
  • Conduct exercises in a safe environment with small groups of children that are of similar age and ability
Some safe weight training and conditioning guidelines for children:
  • Start when the child is entering sports
  • Always have qualified supervision
  • Always get clearance from a medical doctor
  • Always hydrate plenty before you train and after
  • Have sun block on at all times if outdoors
  • Have proper foot/body wear
  • Always have a baseline physical assessment prior to starting the program.
  • Always have goals of the personal trainer and athlete that are explained and agreed upon prior to starting
  • Always revisit the goals and set new realistic goals
  • Always warm up the body so one feels a slight sweat
  • Always active stretch after warming up and static stretch after exercise
  • Never eat heavy before exercising
  • Always report any pain or discomfort with any activity
  • Perform some kind of cardiovascular exercise 3 times per week Perform two to three sets of 10-16 repetitions per exercise
  • Perform a full body routine two-three X per week with 48-72 hours of rest in between
  • A must exercise prescription at first is teaching / training “athletic” posture, balance, coordination, spine and shoulder stabilization
  • No maximum lifts
  • No bodybuilding
  • No power lifting
  • No long distance running

Common and safe equipment used for children are sticks, balls, body weight, bands, cones, hoops, balancing equipment, mats, trampolines and hydraulic equipment.

At first, the fitness goals should be to educate and inform, assess abilities and set goals then to train and condition the basics of athletics focusing on each system of the body; cardiovascular, muscular, skeletal and nervous systems all which feed off of each other which will help the child be a better athlete who will later in their athletic career perform better in sports and in everyday life activities.