By Doug Balzarini
What age is the right age? There is no iron-clad answer for this as every child is “created” differently. With youth strength training, it has more to do than with their maturity level and mental state than with their physical abilities. Generally speaking, experts tend to agree that age 7 to 9 is safe. Emphasis must be placed on proper technique, safety, and making the exercise fun for the participant to ensure adherence. I have found my youth clients participate more effectively if we set goals, or make a game out of it. For example, I frequently have my 11 year baseball athlete maintain a hover plank until he correctly answers 3 questions about his favorite baseball team.
I feel that most children, as with most adults, learn best by doing. I apply the “Tell, Show, Do” principle when teaching proper exercise technique. I will first explain the exercise, provide a demonstration, and then have them perform the exercise providing cues along the way. I watch them closely to make sure they understood what I have said and done. Bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, step-ups, sit-ups, and planks, are great choices for youth. Once they are more comfortable with the exercises you can begin to implement light dumbbells, machines, tubing and balls to help keep them stimulated and interested.
Every session should begin with a proper dynamic warm up to make certain the muscles are warm and ready for the routine that lies ahead. Encourage rest breaks and proper hydration and focus primarily on the major muscle groups at the start. Two sessions a week is an adequate starting point. A nonconsecutive third day can be added if time allows. I would recommend 2 sets of 10-15 reps for 8-10 major muscle groups as a foundation. As with adding a third day, a third set can also be added if time allows. At the end of every session be sure to stretch with your client for a good 5-10 minutes.
Pushups – 2 sets, 10 reps
Body Squats – 2 sets, 15 reps
Assisted Chin-ups – 2 sets, 12 reps
Lunge variation – 2 sets, 12 reps per leg
Lateral Shoulder Raise – 2 sets, 10 reps
Crunch variation – 2 sets, 15 reps
Biceps Curl & Triceps Press – 2 sets, 10 reps
Hover Plank – 2 sets, timed
The stretch and cool-down period can be made into an educational experience for them. This is a good time to review what exercises you completed, what muscles they worked, why they were beneficial, and how they apply to their sport if training a young athlete. If possible it is also helpful if the parents and/or coaches are available as well during this time. Youth obesity is an unfortunate epidemic in today’s society, so it is important to also impress upon your young clients/athletes the importance of cardiovascular exercise and proper nutritional habits.