Growing Strong Children

by Tony Bevilacqua // April · May · June 2016

Kids, like all human beings, are designed to do physical work. Their joints, muscles, nervous system, heart, lungs, etc. are specifically in place, allowing them to do amazing physical tasks. As a baby, these systems are very immature and quickly develop as they get older and are encouraged to become active. Babies are encouraged to crawl, and toddlers are encouraged to walk, then run, then jump, then throw, then lift things. Progress begins as a baby and should develop over the course of a lifetime. Sadly, in today’s environment, it seems that many kids are missing out.
 
Children are sitting more than ever while consuming foods that create more problems than nourishment. As school starts, physical activity clearly takes a back seat to academic achievement. Physical development slows dramatically as they sit for hours at a time. When children sit, their muscles and joints literally start to mold into the seated position. Because their bodies are so quick to adapt, their muscles swiftly take to this position. Without some form of early intervention designed to “undo” the seated position, a long life of a high functioning, pain-free, mobile body begins to fade away. 
 
But I’m here to let you know that there is hope. Encourage your children to get out and play – let them run, kick, throw, roll, lift, jump, dig, swing, and climb. The more movement, the better. Sports are great, but they can sometimes pigeonhole kids into developing only specific movement patterns. For instance, runners get good at running, yet lack in other areas. Baseball players are great at throwing, but lack other skills. In an ideal developmental world, kids would get exposed to as much as possible and their muscles, joints, and nervous systems would learn how to tackle any physical task with ease and efficiency. It is my belief that adolescents should avoid specialization in one specific sport, but instead, be exposed to many – especially young ones. If kids do decide to pursue a particular sport, it should always be backed up by a strong foundation of broad, general fitness.
 
The benefits of staying fit become clear as we age. If your childhood was spent acquiring multiple physical skills, it prepared your body to be physically ready for anything as you age. This will also lead to a long, fruitful life without the worry of various orthopedic problems that sometimes just get written off as “getting old.” A lifelong goal for anyone should be to live a high functioning, active life. So have your children start young – these skills can be built upon over the course of their entire lives. 
 
When it comes to children’s fitness, find programs that resemble play. Those that incorporate and challenge multiple, complex movement patterns are the best. Kids should be challenged; the right challenge will allow for positive adaptation. A program that progressively teaches these patterns is crucial to prepare kids for anything. A simplistic way to see human movement is this ... each person needs to be able to:
   – Level change (get his or her body down and up);
   – Rotate (throw, run, walk); 
   – Push (push bodyweight or an object); 
   – Pull (pull bodyweight or an object);
   – Locomotion (get his or her body and/or objects from point A to point B).
 
When a child’s body has been trained and developed to literally be ready for anything, the risk of his or her getting injured is incredibly low. Fit children are unstoppable and rarely tire in a traditional sport setting. The only deficiency a fit kid has when starting a new sport is learning the skills it requires. The fitness foundation is already in place. Broad general fitness with an emphasis on quality, natural movement patterns is pure magic, especially when developed from a very young age. 
 
All kids are capable of amazing physical capacities when encouraged and coached by a team of experienced professionals. Most of the movements are innately built-in at birth – they just need to be developed and enhanced. For any kid that has been sitting for a long time and wants to start building some fitness, it’s never too late. Find professionals who understand the implications of undoing the seated position and let them work their magic. It takes a little more time and requires a more knowledgeable coach, but it is worth it – and it will change a child’s life.

Tony Bevilacqua

Head coach and owner of Red Dog CrossFit, located at 10501 Ligon Mill Rd. in Wake Forest.