Kids Can Get Stronger – We Just Need Graded Exposure

Suitcase Carry 2

I remember that when my little girl was first born, I kept checking Google to see what stage she should be at with in relation to her movement milestones.

0–6 months: rolling over.

6­–9 months: sitting up.

You get the picture.

It is useful to understand what to expect from kids in terms of movement during their development and when to expect them to reach each movement milestone.

Some specialists also recommend that young people participate in programmed strength training, including resistance training that involves using weights such as dumbbells etc.

Kids become cognitively able to take instruction and adhere to a process (including the safety procedures necessary for weight training etc.) at around 7–8 years old. Basic movements such as the squat can be well-received by this age group (Faigenbaum et al, 2015).

The Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) framework provides a structured approach to physical activity throughout the developmental stages.

The LTAD framework

The framework (paraphrased from Balyi, Way and Higgs, 2013) is as follows:

  1. Active Start: Until the age of 6, it is about play and fun.
  2. FUNdamentals: Ages 6–9: overall motor skills including balance, agility and coordination.
  3. Learn to Train: Ages 8–11 (girls) and 9–12 (boys): technical development.
  4. Train to Train: Ages 11–15 (girls) and 12–16 (boys): critical for developing top performers.
  5. Train to Compete: High volume and high intensity begins to take place.
  6. Train to Win: Elite athletes pursue their goals.
  7. Active for Life: Any age: focuses on physical literacy.

At the moment, for various reasons (excessive screen time being one), athletic development seems to only happen to those who are interested in sport. As you can see, point 7 relates to being active for life; it therefore applies to everyone.

LTAD translated to Lifelong Movements

If I were to apply this sort of model to the non-sporting community who wish to stay healthy and strong for their activities of daily living, it would look something like this:

  1. Up to 6: Play and fun with subtle references to functional movement patterns.
  2. 6–9 years: Fundamentals of bodyweight control – including squat, lunge and press up.
  3. 8–11 years: Patterning of complex movements with bodyweight etc.
  4. 11–15 years: Introducing resistance training to stimulate techniques of lifting patterns such as the deadlift etc.
  5. 16 plus: Progressive loading with various methods (bodyweight, kettlebells etc.) throughout life in order to maintain lean mass and promote function.

There is no evidence to support the above; it is constructed from my experience and what I believe is necessary in today’s movement and strength space for progression from childhood to adulthood.

Important note

There are some important points to take from the LTAD model.

Early specialisation must be avoided to negate the effects of over-use injuries, and kids should be encouraged to play as many different sports (or participate in as many different non-sporting forms of exercise) as possible, certainly in the early years (as advocated by Dr Kelly Starrett and Gray Cook).

Take-home message

LTAD is mostly related to sport, but I do believe it can still give guidance about where we expect our kids – and ourselves – to be physically. Understanding your own movement and being able to move better in front of your kids once again becomes essential.

Further reading:

Faigenbaum et al (2015) Citius, Altius, Fortius: beneficial effects of resistance training for young athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine.First published online 18 June 2015. Doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-094621

Balyi, Way and Higgs (2013) Long-Term Athlete Development.First Edition. United States: Human Kinetics