Posted by Dev Mishra, M.D., President of Sideline Sports Doc LLC. http://www.sidelinesportsdoc.com/
In our last post called “Is Strength or Resistance Training OK For Young Athletes” http://blog.sidelinesportsdoc.com we noted that the single most important element in a safe and effective training program for a child or adolescent is the quality of the supervising adult. How exactly do you find someone skilled and trustworthy? Children or even 16-year-old adolescents are not miniature adults so someone specifically experienced in this age group must lead the training. Word of mouth referral from another parent who’s been happy with the training for their own child can be very helpful especially when combined with some of your own research.
First question: what are you and your child trying to accomplish?
There are many reasons to pursue strength training for children. Is your child approaching you with an interest in strength training or is this something you feel is necessary for some other reason? Identifying a common goal is important since an activity that’s fun and self-motivating for the child is one that she is likely to stick with. You may be interested in sport specific training, general strength training for fitness, or have a child with a special need such as obesity. Figuring out what the goal is will help take you down one pathway or another.
Goal: reducing obesity
Recent published medical studies show that resistance training shows observable health benefits for obese children and adolescents. Obese youth often enjoy resistance training rather than aerobic exercises such as walking or jogging. Resistance training in young people is shown to reduce body fat, improve insulin sensitivity (reduced risk for diabetes), and reduce blood lipids (can lower heart disease risk later in life). In the obese child resistance training is really a prescription for proper exercise. Since there may be special medical considerations involved I would recommend that the parent first start with a discussion with the child’s pediatrician. The doctor may be able to recommend credentialed and highly qualified local programs for resistance and general exercise training. Many hospital systems and practice groups offer this type of training. My own experience with exercise in obese youth is that a personal trainer may be more effective than a group class. The obese adolescent in particular may have an easier time relating one-on-one to a trainer rather than a group setting where perceptions of body image play a significant role. See below for suggestions in researching a personal trainer.
Goal: general strength and fitness gains
A well-designed and properly supervised resistance training program can certainly improve strength but it can also improve a child’s psychosocial well being, leading to increased confidence in social settings. More importantly establishing healthy exercise habits in childhood and adolescence can carry over into a habit of fitness in adulthood. If an otherwise healthy and active child asks for a training program it often means they’ve seen a parent or older sibling doing a weight-training program. These kids are at a perfect time to expose them to either a group fitness class or personal trainer. Younger kids tend to enjoy group exercise sessions, and as the child goes further into adolescence there may be more desire for a personal trainer. If your child is in this category start with a conversation about his/her preferences. Maybe they’ll surprise you and actually tell you what they are thinking! In the group fitness category your local YMCA is an excellent resource, since the instructors have almost always been carefully screened for proper qualifications. Some physical therapy facilities will also offer strength and fitness training for adolescents; this is another excellent choice as long as the individual instructor is qualified. Finally, there are many health clubs and other private facilities starting to offer strength training for kids. The key again, which we’ll discussed below, is the qualification of the specific instructor.
Goal: sport specific training
Sport specific training is about a lot more than strength training, although improved strength can logically lead to better sports performance. Improved strength will probably lead to reduced chances for some injuries with sports. This is the space where there seems to be the largest growth in private facilities catering to young athletes. Unfortunately it is also the space where some individuals with very questionable qualifications work. I’ve seen a lot of tendonitis and overuse injuries from these facilities, usually because there isn’t proper supervision. If you’re looking for sport specific strength training the first place to gather information is from other parents. If you’ve got an adolescent athlete focused on a sport I guarantee you that another kid on his/her team is training too. It could be group or personal training, whichever, start with other parents. But ultimately it comes down to an individual instructor either with a group of kids or just one, so…
Look at the qualifications of the individual trainer
A good trainer has gone through specific education from which they receive a certification to be a personal trainer. There are two organizations that I like, that offer credentials to someone who has gone through proper education. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers a number of certifications for health and fitness trainers (http://www.acsm.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Get_Certified), as does the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA- http://www.nsca-cc.org/nsca-cpt/about.html) Here’s a checklist of what you need to look for in the trainer or instructor. This applies to instructor leading group training, or a personal trainer doing one-on-one training:
- Proper training or certification. You’ll usually see a set of initials after the trainer’s name. Look for “CPT” which is granted by either of the above two organizations and means “Certified Personal Trainer”, or “CSCS” granted by the NSCA and stands for “Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.”
- Experience working with your child’s age group.
- CPR certification
- They should ask for a medical permission from your child’s pediatrician, including a listing of allergies and special medical considerations
- You should provide them with an EpiPen if your child has a known severe allergy such as bee sting, peanuts, etc.
- They should ask you emergency contact information
- Liability insurance
- There should be a plan to track your child’s progress through the training
- …and they should have a personality that your child and you can get along with
A reputable organization or trainer will provide this information to you without you asking for it. Go through the steps above and chances are good that you’ll find a group or trainer that will work well for your child.