Today’s busy society, complete with fewer home cooked meals and an abundance of time spent in front of the computer, cell phone, and gaming console, has caused childhood obesity rates to soar. The U.S. Surgeon General reported that in the past 20 years, the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled (recent estimates have this number at 22 million).
To combat a lack of physical activity, many parents are turning to personal trainers to help their children get active and make better lifestyle choices. In fact, according to NBC News, nearly one million of America’s youth now rely on personal trainers to get in shape, lose weight, or improve in sports. That spells plenty of opportunities if you have your sights set on becoming a personal trainer specializing in youth fitness.
As a youth personal trainer, you will design and implement creative personal training programs that will provide direction, structure, and strategies so as to encourage a healthy way of living. Most importantly, however, you will ensure that the fitness programs you implement are developmentally appropriate and safe for a child’s growing body.
The Ideal Youth Personal Trainer
In addition to being trained in youth fitness, you will fit the mold of the ideal youth personal trainer if:
- Your personal training program helps the child improve his or her self-esteem and sense of belonging
- You design and implement a program based on the child’s likes and interests.
- You take into consideration the personality and disposition of each child (e.g., the child may be self-conscious or nervous about trying new activities)
- You always bring a sense of humor and patience to every training session
- You love working with children
- You create fun activities that aren’t typical of basic gym routines
- You always ask for feedback from the child
- You always encourage the child to remain active on their own
- You take the time to learn about the child’s fitness goals
- You outline the program with the child’s parents and encourage feedback from the parents
How is Personal Training Different for Children?
Personal trainers who specialize in training youngsters know that children are not just mini adults and that they require special considerations due to growth and the immaturity of their physiologic regulatory systems.
Most fitness standards for children include at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, half of which should be vigorous. Experts stress, however, that physical activity for children should be developmentally appropriate and enjoyable.
In addition to aerobic activity, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends strength training for children as young as six, provided it is done under qualified supervision. Research has shown that regular strength training for children helps them maintain a healthy body weight, benefits their skeletal and joint development, and improves sports performance.
As a skilled youth personal trainer, you will also take a number of other factors into consideration when training children:
- Children have immature thermoregulatory systems; therefore, exercise should always be done in thermo-neutral environments and children should always remain well hydrated as to avoid overheating.
- Overweight children may not be able to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity; therefore, a gradual increase in time and smaller intervals of time are generally required to achieve this goal.
- Any type of physical condition and functional capacity should be taken into consideration when creating a developmentally appropriate workout.
- A personal training program for children should also focus on motor skills, speed, and coordination.
- A personal training program should never be implemented without the written consent of the child’s parent or legal guardian and the completion of all necessary paperwork (medical release, consent form, doctor’s written approval, etc.)
- A personal training program for children should always be enjoyable and is therefore best achieved through game-like activities.
Youth Personal Training Programs: Design and Implementation
Youth personal training programs may be implemented to help children lose weight, become more active, achieve fitness goals, and excel in sports.
Whatever the reason, however, a few things must always be considered when designing and implementing a training program for children:
Youth personal training programs should always be designed to prevent growth plate injuries.
Because the bones of the body do not fully fuse until we reach young adulthood, protecting the growth plates should always be a concern. Any injury to the growth plates can impact a child’s future growth and leave them susceptible to future injuries.
You can promote healthy bone growth and reduce the risk of injury to the growth plates by:
- Varying the intensity of the exercises (switching from high-impact to low-impact)
- Designing a personal training program that encourages the use of different muscles as to not put strain on any one area of the body
- Encouraging children to stop at the first sign of pain and report it to you
Youth personal training programs should always be suitable for children.
Design the intensity and volume of exercises to ensure they fall in line with the child’s abilities. Encourage plyometric training as a safe and effective way to enjoy physical activity and increase power and speed.
All training sessions should include a generous warm-up and cool-down period before any strength and conditioning exercises are completed.
Always keep in mind that children are not as able to perform high levels of aerobic and anaerobic training; therefore, intermittent training is almost always more suitable. Aerobic activities should always be combined with activities, such as hopping, skipping, and jumping, which provide training in motor skill development.
How to Become a Youth Personal Trainer
Youth personal trainers, more so than any other type of personal trainer, must ensure they are properly trained as to ensure safe and effective workouts for children. You can expect parents to ask about your credentials, so it is important to ensure that your resume is comprehensive and impressive.
The first step to becoming a personal trainer is completing an associate or bachelor degree program in personal training or a related field. A number of closely related majors often chosen by personal trainers include:
- Physical education
- Health and fitness
- Exercise science
- Exercise physiology
A degree program in personal training or a related program will provide you with a solid foundation on which to build your personal training program, as it includes study in the human body and how the human body reacts to physical activity. Personal training-specific courses in a degree program often include:
- Strength and conditioning
- Exercise therapy
- Fitness and nutrition
- Exercise physiology
- First aid and safety
Another excellent way to boost your credentials as a personal trainer is through professional certification in personal training and youth personal training.
Youth personal training-specific certification is available through organizations such as:
- National Academy of Sports Medicine, Youth Exercise Specialist
- International Fitness Professionals Association, Youth Fitness Instructor
- International Sports Sciences Association, Youth Fitness Certification
- American Academy of Health and Fitness, JrFit™