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Anf's picture
Preventing problems later in life for kids training

Hi all.

I'm trying to form a more informed view about what should or should not be included in a training program for kids. In particular at this stage, I'm trying in vain to find anything beyond marketing boilerplate statements about what's right or wrong for kids.

I get that first and foremost it has to be fun. Kids won't train if it's not fun, nor should they.

I also get that attitude is more than technique. Kids should be taught that it is not OK for someone to manipulate them or hurt them. Lots of clubs teach all the fancy dance moves and never even consider the attitude aspect.

But what about the physical side of training?

I'm going to assume that cardio is fine, given that kids do cardio naturally if left to their own devices in an open space.

I believe that joint locks are out. In aikido circles for example joint locks are discouraged for kids, and if they are practiced, there are guidelines limiting which ones and how much pressure etc, all because some people far more clever than I have realised that young joints are still forming.

But what about kicking pads? If I hold a kick shield against my leg, my 10 year old son can round house kick it with enough force to make my teeth rattle. He seems to have realised too that his shin is more powerful than his foot, and he drives through. Incidentally that's not the version he was taught. He's taken his karate one and modified it his own way. It's formidable.

If a kid, still physically growing, kicks pads regularly, or does strength training, or endurance, is there any known science for our against any of that?

If we leave aside the old 'my instructor made me do it so I'm making you do it' approach, and apply some modern science, it's there anything we should drop from the training plan? Or indeed anything we should add more of?

EDIT: I almost forgot to add my key point. Most older martial artists I know have something about them that is now permanently broken as a consequence of either too many impacts, or wear and tear. I don't believe this has to be inevitable. I believe it is only because they didn't and couldn't know better at the time. This extends to my own chronic niggles. In hindsight I could have done things differently, and of course I've learned from that, but that's just my experience. I might be able to help others avoid the mistakes I made, but if there's things I've got away with but others haven't, I may not spot those mistakes so easily.

Quick2Kick's picture

Plyometrics needs to be done carefully. Landing after jumping off of a box then performing a technique like a back leg roundhouse. If your going to do this with kids you need to do it in a gradually increasing way on a proper floor. You need to build up the intensity over an extended period of time and ideally tailor it to the individuals ability. Don't just randomly drop in these types of exercises into a kids class to keep it interesting.

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

Given that children are more flexible than adults, I'm not sure why a training programme with plyometrics would be considered problematic for them. Look at all those child gymnasts for a start, that's highly plyometric and from a very young age. A bit of research finds that the American College of Sports Medicine's position statement on appropriate exercise for augmenting bone mineral accrual in children and adolescents specifically recommends impact activities including plyometrics and jumping, moderate intensity resistance training, sports that involve running and jumping. If you have access to academic papers (many are available on the Internet freely), the reference for this is Kohrt W M, Bloomfield S A, Little K D et al (2004) American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand: Physical activity and bone health. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 36(11):1985–1996

For female children, pre-adolesence, you should be positively encouraging impact in a safe way as there is some research indicating this is the best protection against late life bone weakness (i.e., there is a better outcome from impact when young, than impact later in life). It's a complex area - this paper is a useful overview of some of the research: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1359/jbmr.1998.13.3.500 It's also useful in that it notes what a normal training routine is for young gymnasts. I don't think you need worry about a bit of hard work in a martial arts class

"The active prepubertal gymnasts were training in an elite squad in Melbourne at a sub‐Olympic standard. They trained under supervision for 15–36 h/week. Most training sessions were ∼4 h and consisted of a warm up, routine training, and strength and stretching exercises. The routine training involved practicing leaps, pivots, dance, acrobatic, and aerial elements singularly and in combination on each apparatus. Both the arms and legs were loaded. Body weight was used as the resistance in the strength component. Cross training (swimming and cycling) was only used if a gymnast was injured."

Anf's picture

Thanks for the input. As always, plenty to consider.

Neil Babbage wrote:

Given that children are more flexible than adults,

This is not always true, and sadly even when it is, it is not always a good thing. I know kids that are really inflexible because their bones are growing faster than their muscles, and others at the other extreme that have joint problems due to hypetmobility. All kids are different and many of the stereotypes and assumptions just don't hold up. I suspect the one size fits all thing is one of the main reasons why more kids quit after a few weeks than continue long term. That's something I'd like to change, and am working towards as I help out with teaching.

Tau's picture

I held off posting on here initially partly because I didn't know where to start and partly because I was interested in other people's answers.

I have a project in the works that I'm keeping under wraps for now but it does address much of what has been discussed here. I'm very proud of it and I hope to reveal everything this year.

The first problem you have is defining "kids." By legal definition a child is anyone aged under 18. The physical issues of the 6 year old and 16 year are massively different but all relevent.

In terms of children being more flexible, it is more true to say that typically children are more mobile rather than more flexible.

The issue of bones growing faster than muscles and tendons is true at certain points in growth. Consider Osgood-Schlatter's which is a knee problem typically affecting tall male sporty teenagers (but not exclusively.) This is rarely serious but is painful and does affect activity. So we need to be vigilant to this and allow the student to adapt technique. 

Bone growth in the child is fascinating. When I run an instructors' course one of the things I do is pass around x-rays (taken from Google, not my own patients) of an adult's elbow and a young child's elbow. And then state "and this is why we don't don't do joint locks on children!" I do elaborate a little but the point being made visually is effective. 

I am happy for our youngest members to not punch but use palm strikes instead. The issue here being fine motor skills and the risk of joint malalignment that can lead to problems with aging.

The situation is getting more complex with the X-Box Generation. I'm shocked at the size of some children now and have to consider not only their safety but the safety of their training partners.

I could go on but to be honest this more an outpouring of information rather than a structured response. I hope this is somewhat useful.

Anf's picture

Tau wrote:
I hope this is somewhat useful.

Very much so, thank you.