Coaches in a variety of sports strive to make their kids more fit and give them a competitive edge in strength and endurance. This excellent goal is best safely achieved with a background of scientific knowledge. In this and subsequent articles, we cover sample exercise programs for coaches to use to augment training in a variety of sports. As always, make sure that each youngster has been cleared by a doctor before any new exercises are begun.
First, let’s cover swimming.
Swimming relies on flexibility, cardiovascular endurance and speed. It may easily be augmented with strengthening exercises to increase stability of the shoulders and trunk.
How to achieve this depends largely on the age of the kids on the team. Strength training programs are not recommended for youngsters under the age of 7. This is mainly because participants need the maturity to understand and follow directions and must possess good motor skills.
The key to any successful strength training program is supervision. Any strength exercise, when done without proper form or with too much weight, can lead to injury. Peer pressure and general lack of concentration can also create an unsafe environment.
Research shows that children achieve greater strength gains with a higher number of repetitions (10-15) and lighter resistance or weight.
The potential for injury to growth-sensitive areas is greatest during the ages of 10-13 in girls and 12-14 in boys. According to the American Physical Therapy Association’s Sports Section, these injuries occur most often at home when kids lift too-heavy weights.
To develop strong swimming bodies, for most competitors ages 12 and up, body weight exercises are ideal. Pushups, sit-ups, chin-ups and back extension exercises are ideal. Again, proper form is essential. Pushups are a wonderful exercise for shoulder stability and to strengthen the abdominals, trunk muscles, hip stabilizers and chest. They can be modified from traditional pushups, from the toes, to knee pushups. It is important to keep the body in a straight and rigid line. Don’t let the head drop down or stomach sag. Sit-ups can be done with knees bent and feet held. Having the child cross his or her arms in front of the chest eliminates substituting the latisimus muscles and reduces the stress on the neck.
Chin-ups develop shoulder girdle stability and latisimus dorsi strength. This large muscle, which covers most of the back from the arm to the pelvis, gives swimmers the strength in the downward stroke to propel themselves through the water. Chin-ups done with the palms away from the body allow the focus to be more on the shoulder girdle and trunk and less on the biceps. Back extensions can be done lying on the stomach and raising the opposite leg and arm at the same time. This stretches the front of the body and develops balanced back muscles. Work toward both sides being equally strong.
Using a medicine ball may also be appropriate in building strength in this age group. It can be fun and will strengthen many muscle groups at once. It is recommended in the literature not to use weight equipment until a teen is tall enough. Even then, because of potential injury, four exercises are thought to cause more injuries than others. These include the squat, the stiff-legged dead-lift, the bench press and the military press. Without constant supervision, those should be avoided.
Though the body and fitness of each child are different, augmenting swimming with strengthening exercises is a great idea.