Strength and Flexibility

In addition to aerobic training, exercises that promote strength and flexibility can also make your child healthier and increase his sense of well-being. Resistance training builds muscle, and muscle tissue burns more calories than fat when active, making your child's workout even more effective. Flexibility exercises promote good posture, help loosen muscles and release stress, and may lower your child's risk of injury when he participates in more strenuous activities. Flexibility training can be as simple as basic stretches (discussed in Chapter 10), or a more formal method of instruction, such as tai chi or yoga.

Yoga for Kids

In addition to the flexibility benefits it offers, yoga is a great stress-buster for adolescents and can help kids develop mental focus. Even preschool and elementary school children find kid-geared yoga programs entertaining. The animal and nature asanas, or poses, allow them to become trees, lions, and other beasts. This appeals to their sense of creativity and imagination. Yoga is also great for developing their coordination and balance.

Because of its burgeoning popularity with adults, yoga classes are widely available. Look for a program or instructor that caters specifically to kids. If you have trouble finding yoga instruction for your child in your area, try contacting the Yoga Alliance at 877-964-2255 (www.yogafinder.com.

Start Slow with Strength Training

In their Policy Statement on Strength Training in Children and Adolescents, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children or adolescents interested in strength-training programs (those that build muscle through resistance training with weights, elastic tubing, or body weight) begin with no-weight, low-resistance exercises until they've mastered the proper technique: “When eight to fifteen repetitions can be performed, it is reasonable to add weight in small increments. Exercises should include all muscle groups and be performed through the full range of motion at each joint.” Workouts should be at least twenty to thirty minutes long, two to four times per week.

What is cross-training, and is it a good idea for my child?

Cross-training simply means mixing up the types of activity your child participates in. It is a particularly good idea if your child is easily bored. A cross-training program combines aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises for a more varied and comprehensive workout — for instance, swimming one day, yoga another, and light weights the next. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, cross-training may prevent overuse injuries because it works a variety of muscles on an alternating basis.

The AAP also recommends that aerobic activity be added to a strength-training program for general health benefits. Heavy or “power” lifting and competitive weight lifting are not recommended for children and adolescents because of the risk of damage to growth plates on developing bones. As an alternative to free and machine weights, your child can try resistance exercises such as pushups, pull-ups, situps, deep knee bends, and abdominal crunches.

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