Summer Fitness Challenge

Is your child having difficulties with sitting erect at school, walking distances or uphill, keeping up with classmates running in the playground? Does you child hate PE because he cannot do the exercises: sit-ups, push-up, balancing on one leg, hopping, jumping? 

Well, summer is a good time to do something about your child's fitness. 

It is really important to understand that no matter how old or young you are, and whatever the physical abilities you may have, fitness training of the right kind, will improve flexibility, strength and endurance,  enhance function and have a positive impact on mood and general well being. Read more

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To overcome these difficulties, the fitness training must be of the right kind 

Fitness training is always specific - if you want to participate for a cycle race you need to train on the road, on the flat and up hills. Running, jumping exercises and swimming will not really make much difference. 

In the same way, core strength exercises on an exercise ball will not improve a child's ability to sit erect and work at a table, walk in the park or ride a bicycle. 

And if the time available for fitness training is limited, then you want to use it in the most productive way. 

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All you need 15-20 minutes a day 4-5 days a week

All you need to make a difference is 15-20 of focused training 4-5 times for 4-6 week

But here is the important  point: training needs to be of the right kind, targeted to meet a specific goal. It needs to be function focused and challenging. 

Function focused training for walking distances

Parents often complain that their children do not like walking distances, are slow and do not keep up with their peers and complain of discomfort when walking, and may even complain of pain in the legs at night after walking a long distance. 

A fitness training program for walking ideally includes: 

►  Helping a child to understand, and as accept as a good thing, the discomfort that arises when muscles work hard. To get stronger you need to "go for the burn". 

►  Strength training for the hip and knee muscles - including step-ups, hopping, jumping and standing on one leg activities. 

►  Stretching  tight leg muscles - usually the fascia lata - flexibility of this structure is often limited which stresses the knee, leading to pain. 

►  Walking out of door: on the flat, up and down hills, fast over short distances, and slower over longer distance. 

Helping a child to take on challenges 

Many children with movement difficulties avoid any activities that appear to be difficult or require physical or mental effort.  This is a problem because fitness training, to be effective must be challenging: it requires effort and persistence and a tolerance of some muscle discomfort. 

Avoidance behavior in a child is often the most difficult hurdle to overcome when implementing a fitness training program.

There are several coaching strategies that can be implemented to get a child to work hard at a fitness training task. 

►  A key element to help the child understand the meaning of the discomfort that is present with effortful  physical activity, such as muscle discomfort, increased heart rate and feeling of a pounding heart, deep and rapid breathing that comes with all out effort. 

►  Tasks also need to be adapted so that the child can succeed. Success is very motivating and provides a burst of dopamine, which is the motivation neurotransmitter. 

►  Positive feedback and small immediate rewards also help the child to keep working at a task. 

This week's exercise challenge

Where do I start?

Be realistic - choose just one activity you would like to work on with your child. better still, ask your child what he or she would like to be able to do better. 

Talk to your child about the benefits of being fitter for difficult tasks or activities. 

Set some goals.  Exactly what would your child  like to be able to do? 

And perhaps most important: Learn how to motivate a reluctant child 

Get some help designing your fitness training program  

The SfA Fitness and Coordination Training Guide has the following suggested programs and exercise instructions, you may find useful: 

  • Training for sitting erect and working at a table 
  • Training for walking distances 
  • Training for running 
  • Jumping activities for general fitness and leg muscle power 
  • Trunk (core) exercises - for back and abdominal muscles 
  • Leg exercises 
  • Arm exercises  
  • Read more