Training Tips for Kids
There are plenty of reasons kids get into running: exposure to your training, watching the Olympics (hey, dream big!), idolizing an older sibling, etc. And there are plenty of reasons kids should run, especially in our current culture of skyrocketing screen-and-sofa time with little to no physical activity.
But before your child starts any kind of structured running, make sure it’s cleared by the pediatrician. Kids don’t generally develop a mature running gait until around age 5, so for the sake of injury prevention, wait at least until kindergarten. And upgrade those Disney sneaks to the pint-sized version of your adult trainers; growing feet need cushioning, stability and a quality fit.
To keep little ones psyched about the sport and make it something they’ll enjoy for the rest of their lives, running should be:
Fun. If your kid files running in the same mental category as unloading the dishwasher or taking out the trash, it’s probably not going to develop into a long-lasting love. It should never feel like a drag or a punishment, and it should (mostly) be self-led. Don’t cattle-prod your child out the door. Offer tons of encouragement. Come up with exciting incentives, like handing out a bracelet for each lap around the track. Make it a game or a relay. Let your child pretend he’s the Flash or Lightning McQueen.
Simple. Kids don’t need complicated training plans with Tempo Tuesdays and Fartlek Fridays and Long Run Sundays. If they’re getting out and running/walking for 30 to 60 minutes several times a week, they’re doing awesome.
Safe. Keep an eye not only on your child’s actual activity, but on recovery as well. Loads of sleep, adequate hydration and good, nutritious foods are especially important. And try to relegate the running to parks, tracks, trails and fields – even your backyard – to avoid both cars and excessive pounding on hard surfaces. If anything hurts, stay away from over-the-counter pain medications. Ice, rest, and see a doctor if it’s a persistent ache.
Low volume, low intensity. When it comes to kids’ running, it’s all about participation and having a good time. Speed should be a non-issue, and walking should be encouraged. A half-hour to an hour three to four times a week, even as part of playing games, is the perfect amount of exercise to keep your child engaged, active and healthy while avoiding burnout.