Special Populations

Sports Conditioning For Children

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Sports conditioning for children, which in context of this paper, represent prepubescent and teenage boys and girls, has been a question of the dangers and effectiveness of a child engaging in cardiovascular and resistance training during their growing years, which according to Powers and Howley, stops around the age of 18-20.  The difficulty in addressing this concern stems from a lack of scientific evidence due to the ethical properties of using children as test subjects.  However, it is fact that children have engaged in activities and safely completed marathons, and participates in high endurance athletics and events on a daily basis. 

The importance of physical activity for children is of extreme importance, which prepares the body to offset the more sedentary lifestyle that will accompany their adulthood and help prevent and limit age related diseases.  This preparation can help slow the effects of aging that include, and not limited to, loss of muscle mass, bone density, and a lower VO2 maximum.  The current national standard is set to have children engage in at least 60 minutes of activity per day, however, with the constant growth of our technology and indoor entertainment, it becomes evident that with the rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes of children constantly growing, and this goal is not being met.  

In a study by Faigenbaum et al, 2013, an English study over a 10 year span recording the results of prepubescent children engaging in the bent arm hang, the sit up and handgrip strength, showed a continual decline over that time. Children, on the general level, are becoming weaker and less conditioned.

The question then remains, can a child engage in resistance training and high endurance cardiovascular disease, safely and effectively?  In looking at cardiovascular training, according to Powers and Howley (2012), cardiovascular deaths accounts for approximately 72% of all sudden death exercise-induced-occurrences.  However, the chance of this unexpected event accounts for only 1 out of every 45,000 athletes.  What is interesting to note, of these occurrences, most resulted from a genital heart defect which happened to be induced by exercise, such as, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, congenital abnormalities, aortic aneurysms, or congenital stenosis (Powers and Howley 2012) .  With the lack of scientific evidence of results based studies on cardiovascular training, the health experts undeniably agree that children should engage in cardiovascular training to improve cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

Children engaging in resistance training, raises a whole new spectrum of concerns when considering the safety and effectiveness of higher stress performance.  One of the biggest questions arising on this topic was whether resistance training could possibly damage the growth cartilage of a child not yet fully grown.  This growth plate (epiphyseal) represents the remainder of growing that a child still has left, and is typically replaced by the hardening of calcium (ossify).  Powers and Howley (2012) state that a study that investigated children age 6-12 that engaged in supervised resistance training did not damage bone, muscle, or the epiphyseal plate.  Resistance training actually has shown to help promote bone mineral density in both boys and girls and increase muscular strength.  Interestingly enough, the strength gains that are achieved by prepubescent boys and girls are not a physiological result of hypertrophy.   Mitchel et al (2011), discovered that muscular strength increases that were achieved during their study, resulted from an increase in neuromuscular pathways becoming excited, thus improving motor function of the trained subjects. 

Powers and Howley (2012) state that a study that investigated children age 6-12 that engaged in supervised resistance training did not damage bone, muscle, or the epiphyseal plate. Resistance training actually has shown to help promote bone mineral density in both boys and girls and increase muscular strength.

With the safety concerns of training for children addressed, the next factor is what would be the recommended FITT principle to follow?  Addressing the Type principle first, it is very apparent that children are high energy bursts and tend to be distracted and bored quite easily.  For the fitness professional, this requires that a fitness program be engaging, changing, and fun to promote continual improvement and participation.  With that said, the chances of putting a child through a 10 piece circuit of selectorized fitness equipment or running on a treadmill for 30 minutes, might discourage the child from further progress.  The Frequency would still remain that children should exercise in some manner every day.  The Time would be for 60 minutes, and the Intensity would typically be a non-measured VO2 that is still high effort for the child for short durational intervals.  A typical example that we use at our center to work with pre-teen and teen boys and girls, would be a circuit of jump rope, push ups, wall balls, long jump, and finish off with a stability disc lava walk.  To explain the last event, we put 10 discs at a long stride length, apart in different angles, and the child has to cross the lava field without falling off the discs.  This helps build neuromuscular control, as well as core stabilization to balance on the disc. 

Childhood obesity and health related diseases are on the rise in our population, and many factors can be attributed to its occurrence, however, the need for activity and exercise is a common staple that each child should be partaking in to help prepare themselves for a future of health and mobility.

Faigenbaum, A. D., Lloyd, R. S., & Myer, G. D. (2013). Youth Resistance Training: Past Practices, New Perspectives, and Future Directions. Pediatric Exercise Science25(4), 591-604

Mitchell, C., Cohen, R., Dotan, R., Gabriel, D., Klentrou, P., & Falk, B. (2011). Rate of Muscle Activation in Power- and Endurance-Trained Boys. International Journal Of Sports Physiology & Performance6(1), 94-105.

Powers, S., & Howley, E.. (2012). Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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