Kids and Adolescents: When are They Ready to Run?

May 5, 2015

Nate Vandervest, a running expert at Bellin Fitness, writes about young runners:

Parents often ask me: “Should my kid be running the Bellin Run?”

This is a great question, and one for which I would love to provide a hard-and-fast answer — but the reality is, I can’t.

My job revolves around staying up-to-date on new research and relaying that information to those with whom I work. But when it comes to kids and running, there simply isn’t much out there — and what there is, is often contradictory.

There are a couple of reasons we don’t know much about this topic. First, taking a bunch of kids and running them until we found their breaking point would obviously be a bad idea. Second, kids develop at different rates. A 13-year-old boy might look developed enough to be 16, whereas his classmate might still look to be 10 or 11.

So as a parent or coach of young kids, what should you do?

The Bellin Run Kids for Running program just might be your answer. This school-based program for children in grades 3-8 allows students to train for and complete the 10K (6.2-mile) race in a relaxed and enjoyable team setting. Guided by the expertise of a Kids for Running coach, participants slowly progress week-to-week so they are well-trained and able to cover the full distance come race day. This is a great time in a child’s life to instill camaraderie and teach goal-setting and a solid work ethic. The Kids for Running program does all of that and more.

Here’s how to help kids get the most out of their running:

Make it fun!

Running should never be a punishment for kids — it should be fun and exciting. If they run for 5 minutes and then walk for 10 while chatting with friends, great! This will help get them on the path to lifelong activity. Keep your coaching positive and encouraging.

Emphasize good form

Kids are sponges when it comes to learning, and it’s no different when training proper technique and form with exercise. Remind them as they run to keep an eye on their form, but avoid belaboring the point. The reason some kids have poor form is due to strength and flexibility imbalances that might be corrected as they get stronger.

Focus on participation and self-improvement

Running is an awesome exercise because, at the end of the day, you’re really competing against yourself. Anyone who sticks to a progressive program will see improvements.

Personally, I feel that the Bellin Run is a great goal for our kids. It gets them motivated to be a part of something.

That said, I would suggest that this type of training does not become habit or a year-round endeavor. When kids are young, try to promote different sports and activities so that they can experience a multitude of things. This way they can decide for themselves which activities they enjoy, as opposed to focusing on a single activity and getting burnt out by high school. Research has shown that kids who participate in multiple sports have a reduced rate of injury and tend to stick with sports well into adulthood.

At the end of the day, this is all about teaching our youth to lead a healthy life. I want my kids to be healthy, happy and engaged with something that they want to be involved in. If we can instill this into our children now, chances are this cycle will continue and be passed on to their kids.

And that would be one great legacy.

Nate Vandervest, CSCS, CES, is a running coach and strength coach who specializes in running assessments, strength training and personalized running programs.  For more information contact Nathan.Vandervest@bellin.org.

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