The explosion in competitive and recreational youth sports in the United States has begun to have a positive impact on the health and well-being of young people. There is a great need for experienced sports coaches and personal trainers to work with youth athletes and instill a healthy lifestyle, but also to prevent injury. Anyone can put together a training program for youth, but a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist will have the most appropriate tools to develop and implement an effective training program.
Kids are impressionable and ready to be challenged! For personal trainers looking to gain experience and move into corrective exercise and youth fitness, working with kids is a great way to expand into a large part of the fitness industry and affect outcomes for a large number of young people in a relatively short period of time. Talk about making an impact!
As we attempt to elevate the fitness level of children, personal trainers must understand there is more to the puzzle than just sports performance. Some kids are engaged in sports while others are involved in other physical activities like dance, martial arts, and physical education classes. Consider the age, abilities, and fitness goals of each child when planning exercises for kids.
Corrective exercise training is designed to remedy and prevent movement dysfunctions that cause pain while helping to restore and improve stability, balance, mobility, and posture. A corrective exercise specialist is focused on the identification of movement issues, injury risk factors, and the physical treatment of existing movement dysfunctions.
Note that what a trainer will provide differs from physical therapy in that physical therapy is a medical profession treating rehabilitation after major injury or surgery.
The phases of a corrective exercise program are:
Assess. There are many static and functional movement screens to perform that identify existing and potential movement dysfunctions to create a focus for a corrective exercise protocol.
Self-Myofascial Release. Myofascial release uses foam rollers and other trigger-point tools to break up adhesions in soft tissue that are contributing to issues within a movement pattern.
Stretching. Once myofascial release has begun to break up adhesions in soft tissue, use static and dynamic stretching to continue to work towards ideal length-tension relationships within the muscle fibers before beginning corrective exercises.
Strengthening. Overactive muscle tissue is often tight and the target of myofascial release and stretching while underactive muscle tissue is often weak and must be strengthened. In the strength phase of the protocol, target the underactive muscle groups to begin to correct the imbalance.
Full Movement. Now, you can train the full desired movement and resume the normal training program. The watchful eye of a trained coach or personal trainer is so important with young people since they are often less coordinated and more injury-prone than adults.
A corrective exercise program has many steps, but you can incorporate one into a normal, general training program or sports performance protocol. It will train each child to use proper movement patterns, prevent injury, and aid in keeping them stronger as their bodies continue to grow and change. Physical control and coordination are a large part of this type of programming.
Unfortunately, many health concerns for adults begin in childhood. A survey conducted by the Chicago Department of Public Health found that the top 10 health problems for youth include drugs, childhood obesity, tobacco use, teen pregnancy, youth suicide, and the effects that parental health issues have directly on their children. Many municipalities and organizations are working to teach kids and families across the nation about healthy lifestyle choices, positive behaviors, and the risk factors for diseases like diabetes and heart disease that are affecting people in all age groups.
Childhood obesity is garnering much of the attention with the loss of physical education in many schools, the availability of processed versus whole foods, and the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of Americans. Simply getting young people involved in physical activity has been shown to reduce these health problems in kids and promote lifelong positive health behaviors. This is where fitness professionals can step in and take the lead!
Young people under the age of 18 are still growing. Most continue to grow well into their twenties! Muscle tissue and bones often grow at different rates, creating movement issues. Some muscle tissue may be abnormally tight while other joints and soft tissue may be loose and create too much leeway in movement. This makes them highly susceptible to injury.
Common movement dysfunctions and preventable injuries in youth include:
Little Leaguer's Elbow (overuse injury)
Hyperextension of toes (turf toe)
Hand and wrist fractures and sprains
Gaining strength with a concurrent focus on aerobic exercise could avoid many of these issues! Note that many of these common injuries are around joints and often caused by poor or incorrect movement.
A great example is knee pain and ACL tears. If a young person has a growth spurt and their femur grows faster than the quadriceps muscle, this can create tension in the patellar tendon, leading to tendonitis or knee pain. The patella may also be pulled out of place and not track properly in the trochlear groove of the femur. This same growth spurt may lead to an underactive or lengthened hamstring. This can lead to an imbalance that destabilizes the knee and opens the child up to an ACL tear during training or sport.
Training and flexibility with a corrective exercise focus will build strength, coordination, and stability for a child. Depending on their age, strength training is an effective tool when combined with balance training, functional bodyweight training, and agility. Teaching a child body control alone will prevent many erroneous injuries. They can learn how to stretch and use proper form with an exercise specialist and it can and must be made fun and engaging!
Some examples of stretches and corrective exercises for youth and the injuries they address and prevent include:
Lateral lunges/ adductor stretch
Split squats (stationary)
Dynamic Lunges (forward or reverse)
Ankle range of motion (supination, pronation, dorsiflexion, plantar flexion)
Jumping mechanics and plyometrics
Range of motion (shoulder extension and flexion, lateral movement)
Scapular movement (retraction, protraction, depression, elevation)
Strength training (back, chest, shoulders)
Hand plank variations
Again, the bottom line: a strong child is a protected child. Rolling, balancing, skipping, jumping, shuffling, squatting, and throwing are all skills that encourage body control for younger children. The addition of aerobic exercise adds a challenge for older kids and is a good tool for weight management and heart health, if desired.
As previously mentioned, youth training programs need to be fun and engaging to keep the participants involved. As trainers, we know the benefits of a corrective exercise program on functional movement, but a child is not as interested in the details or science behind the workout. Personal trainers have the opportunity to focus on health problems we see in the youth we work with while teaching them how to control their bodies. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends 60 minutes of physical activity daily for young people and adults alike. However, under the age of ten, that activity may simply be playing!
Some things for personal trainers and parents to consider when kids are engaged in physical activities:
Don't push them past their abilities
Keep it fun and positive
Don't force them to participate
Work on skills versus metrics
Make it a family affair
Ask the kids how they feel about the exercises—always consider the psychology
Challenge them appropriately
Encourage free play
Simple equipment is the most effective (e.g., hula hoops, medicine balls, jump ropes, hurdles)
The benefits of physical activity in youth are many. Creating corrective minded programming can still be fun and appealing, but with a purpose. Personal trainers and corrective exercise specialists are the keys to keeping kids moving and safe with the hidden agenda of injury prevention and health and well-being.