Conditioning for Children

by Mary Jo Campbell Cambridge on February 12th, 2016

A frequent question that I receive from parents of young children pertains to cardiovascular fitness and the efficacy of long runs to accomplish this. The question is a simple one but the answer is a little complicated. I will do my best to K.I.S.S.
(Keep it simple, silly).

Children who are growing will have a 70-80% increase in aerobic fitness simply due to the growth and development of their heart, lungs and muscles. So without ever running around the block, on the track, or on the court, your child's cardiovascular (CV) fitness will improve naturally. I don't recommend that you and your child celebrate by sitting on the couch and eating Bon Bons but this is an important fact.

Pediatric exercise research is limited, but the results that do exist suggest that training at a higher percentage of your child's maximal heart rate (sprints) for short bursts is much more effective at increasing overall CV fitness than long, slow, sub-maximal runs. As long as the volume (amount) is monitored, the child has proper running technique and the is not having growing pains, this is the desirable way to train young athletes. Sport specific distances and time intervals that mimic game situations can achieve two goals at one time. The most enjoyable way for children to do sprints is through 'speed play'. Tag, relay races, and shuttle runs are all examples of games that accomplish this goal, encourage socialization and are fun!

When I train young athletes I try to use many different footwork drills and vary the time (10-30 sec) it takes to complete each. I then give them approximately 30 seconds of rest. This is not only sport specific but works with the short attention span most children have. These drills can be completed daily and are best early in the workout,  when the athlete is fresh. Not only is the child improving their CV health but they are improving their footwork which can be challenged as they grow.  Repeating drills and motor patterns help improve the central nervous system and the child's economy of movement.

Training children properly for sport takes a great deal of experience and knowledge. To find out if your trainer or strength coach is qualified you can check on

Posted in Growth and Development, Kids and Fitness    Tagged with fitness, children, strength & conditioning, growth and fitness, puberty, fitness for kids