The goal of a children’s fitness and exercise programme is to promote the idea that exercise and physical fitness is not only fun but important to their health and well-being as well as to instil a lifelong love of physical activity.
Research has shown that children and the youth who incorporate physical activity into their lifestyle are more inclined to adopt other behaviours to complement their healthy lifestyle. Fitness professional and personal trainers working with children should know the differences in their cardiovascular, respiratory as well as musculoskeletal systems in order to develop safe and effective programmes.
Children’s cardiovascular system
Children have a lower and submaximal cardiac output, stroke volume, blood pressure, blood volume and haemoglobin owing to their smaller body size and heart volume.
A child’s heart is only about 30% of the size of an adult heart. Thus in order to compensate children have increased average heart rates. The average resting heart rates in beats per minute are as follows:
- 6 – 10 years: 96 BPM
- 10 – 14 years: 85 BPM
- 14 – 18 years: 82 BPM
A child’s phosphagen energy system is similar to that of an adult and they are well suited to intermittent activity with sort rest periods. Activities which necessitate short, intense bursts of energy (and are followed by a brief rest, for example, games and relay races) are well suited to children. A child’s ability to work in the glycogen system is somewhat compromised due to a lower contraction and utilisation of glucose and glycogen.
The respiratory system of a child
Children have smaller, immature lungs. In children aged between five and eight, the lungs are just 20% developed. This results in an enhanced ventilation oxygen cost owing to the increased rate of breathing.
Children have a decreased absolute VO2 Max as opposed to adults. They also have an elevated submaximal oxygen demand in activities such as walking and running due to the increased oxygen cost of breathing. Owing to their immature lungs, improvements to the aerobic system are somewhat limited because of their immature cardiovascular system. Prior to puberty, boys and girls are both capable of performing and often girls outperform boys. This changes after puberty, however.
The bones of children are smaller in addition to more fragile Epipheses or growth plates are active as well as susceptible to injury. The growth plates which are located at the distal radius and ulna – as well as at the femur, tibia and fibula – do not close for males until they are between 18 and 20. For females, this age is between 17 and 19. Fains in muscle strength are possible in children however strength training is ineffective at producing hypertrophy as until adolescence there is not enough muscle.
For more children, physical activity provides an opportunity to have fun and promote the basis for good health as well as an enhanced quality of life for the future. However, there are a small number of children or youth who may be at risk when participating in any exercise or physical activity programme. It is therefore important for the personal trainer to do fitness tests and get the young person, guardian or parent to complete a screening form.
Want to learn more about exercise and the youth? If you do them check out our Exercise and Children Course.