Children and Sports Medicine
America is faced with an obesity epidemic that extends to our youth. Now, children are not miniature adults. You can not use the same exercise programs since they are anatomically, physically and emotionally different from adults.
Children have immature skeletons. Their bones do not mature until somewhere between the ages 14 and 22 years, depending on the gender and maturational levels. In girls, exercises during childhood can have a critical effect on bone health that can last a lifetime. Children and adolescents sustain different types o athletic injuries than adults and are particularly vulnerable to growth-related overuse injuries.
Children have immature temperature regulation systems. They have a large surface area in comparison to their muscle mass, which makes them more susceptible to cold injuries. Also, children do not sweat as much as adults do, so they are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Their relatively low muscle mass and immature hormone systems makes it more difficult to develop speed and power. Breathing and heart responses during exercise are much different than in adults, which also affects their capacity for exercise.
Growth and development also influences the capacity to learn motor skills. For example, rapid growth during puberty makes it difficult to achieve stability in basic sports skills. Those who mature at an earlier age will initially out perform late-bloomers. The late-maturing athlete will often out perform the early maturing athlete in high school, college or beyond.
Sports skill development in children depends on maturation of the brain and nervous system, muscles, temperature regulation and endocrine systems. Since 1963, there has been a relationship between lack of activity and increases in body fat levels for children in the USA, as reported in the Physician and Sports Medicine. However, in the recent past, several leading sports and fitness organizations have set guidelines for strength training for children. Along with recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there is now a wide body of evidence concerning the current state of fitness and optimum routines for children that enhance fitness and wellness.
There are a series of training considerations, contraindications and recommendations you must follow and which depend on the children’s age: younger (5-12 years old), older (12-17 years old). However, they all follow the same general guidelines:
- Warm-up and stretching should be performed before any resistance training.
- Light loads should be used at the beginning to allow the body to adjust. Then increase loads as strength improves.
- Workouts should not occur in succession but allow 1 to 2 full days between workouts.
- Two to three non-consecutive workouts are recommended.
- Multiple joint exercises can be used but the focus should be in form and technique rather than weight lifted.
- Finally, kids need to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise.
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