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Endurance Training & Kids - Part Two

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Endurance & The Young Athlete

Part Two

It is important to understand that endurance training with young athletes is critical for long-term development and not immediate results. Developing good endurance allows the young athlete to tolerate an increased amount of exercise stimulus in the future and this alone is the key point. Don’t become pre-occupied with immediate effects – like any other aspect of athletic development, endurance training is part of a continual, multi-tiered effort.

Developmentally speaking, from the ages of 3 – 7, general endurance increases due to the typical activity level of kids in this age range (which has become a crucial issue of our time – kids don’t ‘play’ as much as they used to, and this fact has a potentially damaging effect on their future athletic abilities and conditioning). For young males, endurance increases are best seen between the ages of 8 – 11 and then again between 15 – 16. For young females, increases are shown best between the ages of 8 – 10. After the age of 13, endurance capabilities of young women stagnate and actually regress. These numbers illustrate that the young female sensitive period for endurance development is shorter than it is with young males. Because of this, young females should begin their endurance training at a younger age than should young males.

There are several key points to remember when designing endurance-based training programs for young athletes. The most crucial aspect is to always start with a broad aerobic base. This will serve to raise the anaerobic threshold of the young athlete (delay needing to use anaerobic sources of energy during activity) and allow them to tolerate increased loads in the future. Begin this aerobic-base phase however, with low to moderate volumes. Children, although physiologically more fit than the average adult, still must begin their training programs gradually, working up to longer durations and higher intensities. As typical with the entire athletic development science, it is advisable that you alter the stimulus of endurance training you do with young athletes. Think in terms of seasonal activities – In the summer, enjoy swimming; in the autumn, change to hiking or cycling; in the winter, offer stimulus such as snow-shoeing or cross country skiing. Notice how the suggestions are movement-based activities and NOT going to the gym to run on a treadmill! In our fixation for ‘the perfect body’, it seems we have forgotten how important movement and coordination-based activities are for young athletes. Don’t train kids on single function pieces of fitness equipment. Understand that there is a definitive crossover with all exercise stimulus and young athletes. Yes… snow-shoeing is a perfect endurance building exercise for young athletes, but it also involves coordination and skill – IDEAL for the young, developing athlete.

Another key factor is training load increases. Coaches, parents and trainers must remember that increases in volume or duration must precede increases in intensity. In short, make things longer before you make them harder. Lastly, wonderful progress can be made by altering the surface the young athlete is performing their endurance training on. For instance, if you are incorporating long walks or jogs into your training program, switch the training surface periodically to add variety and improve progress; sand, shallow water, forest trails, pool. Quick point of reference – by jogging or walking on sand, forest trails or shallow water, you will also add to lower compartment strength and stability. Ankle proprioceptors, picking up varying degrees of balance-point change, will become stronger and more efficient. KEEP KIDS OFF THOSE MACHINES AND GET THEM MOVING!

- Brian Grasso


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