Battle Of The Bulge
By Dr. Susan Langlois
Imagine this scenario: your camp season has just ended and your phone rings. The call is from a parent of a camper, and by the upbeat sound of his voice you don’t think that this is going to be a complaint.
And… it turns out that your hunch was right; the parent has actually called to thank you. He believes that your camp staff performed some kind of miracle for his son.
The parent goes on to explain that his 12-year-old son just isn’t the same kid he sent to camp. Instead of spending most of his time in front of his computer or watching television, his son just doesn’t sit still.
He also isn’t asking for any new video games for his birthday. Instead, he wants a set of free weights and a weight bench. He is also giving nutritional advice to his mother, who is on the Atkins diet, telling her she is losing calcium from her bones to process the excess protein she is eating.
His son has even offered to go grocery shopping so that he can buy fruit for snacks that are in his words “high in antioxidants” and “to buy whole wheat bread for his sandwiches.”
And even though he hasn’t lost any weight, his clothes that used to be pretty tight are hanging off him. Even his friends have noticed that he has this newfound confidence.
The parent thinks that this miraculous change may have come from the strength training program at your camp that his son said he really liked. This was also shocking to hear because he had never taken an interest in working out before.
The parent concluded by saying, “Whatever that strength training program was like, his mother and I would like to know because we have another son who could use it.”
It is probably a safe bet that this parent is going to send his son back to your camp next year and there might be some of his friends enrolling, too.
So, if you’re a camp director looking for a new activity to add to next summer’s programming and you are considering a strength training program, there is good news and then there is some more good news that will help you finalize your decision…
Good News & More Good News
Research on childhood obesity is hitting home with parents who are concerned about their children’s well-being and their lack of physical activity.
The research is also showing that one of the most effective fitness programs to raise children’s metabolic rate, enhance self-esteem, and prevent injuries is a developmentally-appropriate, strength training program. So parents love the results and campers love how it makes them feel.
Starting a strength training program that is both safe and effective is actually pretty easy if you do your homework. This article can help you get started.
Gone are the days when the mainstream thinking is that strength training is not for kids. As long as the strength training is done using proper technique and is designed differently for each stage of child development, it can be one of the best ways to combat obesity, low self-esteem and sport injuries.
To design a safe and successful strength training program at your camp, you need to be sure that you use research-based principles that take into account where your campers are in their physical, intellectual, and emotional development.
Carefully designed instruction of how to use free weights and weight machines is essential. Safety precautions need to be followed and need to be monitored by the camp staff… to the letter.
If camp directors make sure that their strength training programs use only moderate resistance while insisting on proper technique, children can safely reap the benefits of strength training.
Here are ten major guidelines to follow when designing any strength training programs for young campers:
1. Do not force anyone to take a strength training program. You should encourage, but not force campers. If it is their choice they will be far more likely to follow instructions that will help them to achieve positive results and avoid injuries. Also, be sure to have medical history forms require information about any pre-existing conditions that would limit or prevent a camper from taking part in a strength training program. The head of the strength training program should review the medical histories of all campers who sign up to participate before any camper begins strength training.
2. Do not assume that campers will have the same ability to follow instructions as adults. Explain and demonstrate both the right way and the wrong way to perform each strength training exercise. Also, watch campers carefully as they try a new exercise. Even after they have performed the exercise correctly for several repetitions, watch and correct deviations from the good form as they become more confident. Always begin the first three or four sessions with a review of safe and correct form. Also, put up posters and mirrors at as many stations as possible to encourage them to carefully perform the exercise with proper form. The ratio of campers to staff members should really be 5 to 1 at the beginning of the program and could be slightly higher with campers who are 13-14 years old.
3. Warm-up and cool-down. 15 minutes of both using activities that involve variety with ball, cones, step benches, etc., for younger campers. Warm up using aerobic machines such as treadmills, bikes and stair climbers is appropriate for older campers. Warming-up should conclude with simple stretches to protect muscles and joints from injury. Cooling-down should involve basic stretches that enhance flexibility and help body temperature return to normal levels.
4. Develop programs based on each of the three developmental levels:
Level One, 6-9 year-olds: They can use simple machines if they can be adjusted for their smaller trunk and limb size and can also use free weights that come in lightweight increments. They should perform 13-15 repetitions with light weights, with slow movement speed, and limit each sessions to 1-2 sets of repetitions that exercise major muscles groups. Care should be taken to have workouts last only as long as their attention spans. Therefore sessions should not last more than 45 minutes for this age group.
Level Two, 10-12 year-olds: They should perform 10-15 repetitions, 2-3 sets of repetitions. Moderate weights should be used and then gradually increase weight as body strength increases. Sessions can be optimal for as long as an hour.
Level Three-13 year-olds and older: They should perform 8-12 repetitions, 2-3 times sets at challenging but not exhaustive weights of resistance. Warm-up and cool-down periods can be more intense with veteran lifters and can be limited to ten minutes of warm-up and ten minutes of cool-down. However, at this level, 2-3 times a week of an aerobic activity for at least 20 minutes should be built into teenagers weekly workouts.
5. Stress personal improvement as the benchmark for success and emphasize good form over the amount of weight lifted. Progressing to lift more weight should be based only on the lighter weight being just too easy to lift; it should never be about how much more the body can take.
6. Recovery Time: Be sure to explain how the body adapts to exercise when resting muscle groups to recover to become stronger. Without recovery time (along with good nutrition and sleep) the body doesn’t get stronger and serious injury may result. No camper should strength train one muscle group two days in succession. Always build in recovery days.
7. Balance exercises with major muscle groups: if you follow these basic six as the foundation, and be sure not to emphasize just one muscle group during a workout, your campers will minimize the risk of injury and maximize the benefits.
8. The technique: Four to six seconds for one repetition with the weight being under control at all times. Think smooth motion and relaxed breathing (never hold your breath while training). So in the case of the biceps curl, it should take 2-3 seconds to bring the weight up to your shoulders and 2-3 seconds to bring the weight back down to the thighs. Always inhale and exhale on effort. Never hold your breath on exertion.
9. The equipment: Free weights are lower in cost but campers have to work harder to use good form, so safety and effectiveness take more training and supervision. They also require more care when they are not being used so that people are not injured tripping over them or putting them away. Weight machines are usually more expensive and need to be sized appropriately for young campers. They are generally easier to manage, but care in their use should never be taken for granted.
10. Publicize the performance benefits: Put up posters and give instruction about what strength training will do for you... enhance your sport performance, increase your ability to burn calories, decrease your chance of being injured, as well as look and feel better!
If you would like more detailed information for you and your camp staff, these are three excellent sources with guidelines specifically for children ages 6-14...
• Faigenbaum, A. & Wescott, W. (2000). Strength and Power for Young Athletes, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.
Dr. Langlois has more than 25 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.