American Council on Exercise by American Council on Exercise
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We would never force a bird to go airborne just because it looked ready or we thought it needed a little push. Nature progresses at its own appropriate speed and we must respect that for living things to grow and thrive.

The same holds true for human beings. We have a natural rate of growth and development that should not be rushed but instead respected and supported.

Once kids get to the point of walking, running, playing and discovering their function and movements, physical activity should be fun and exciting. The primary focus of their fitness programs should be games and activities that enhance aerobic fitness, muscular strength, flexibility and motor competence.

Sport-specific skills become a focus later on as kids become teenagers and have started to build up their confidence and general athletic abilities. Drilling young kids with anything too challenging, heavy or specific is like throwing a bird out of its nest and watching it fall to the ground. It’s just not the right time or the right approach for helping kids develop lifelong physical-activity habits.

Once kids are ready to develop more strength and athleticism, their fitness programs need to follow some key basic training principles to create a positive experience, generate effective outcomes and decrease risk of overuse injury or burnout. These key training principles include progression, regularity, overload and specificity. Each one is critically important, but progression is especially critical because the demands placed on the body must gradually and progressively increase over time to result in long-term fitness gains. Unless we continue to vary our mode of exercise, or intensity and duration of training, we will not get better or stronger. This doesn’t mean that every activity or exercise must get harder and harder every day, but variety is critical and overall exercise sessions should be become more challenging as time goes on.

The 10 percent rule is often used as a standard rate of progression for youth fitness programs. Each week there is no more than a 10 percent increase in the amount of training time, distance covered or weight used in an activity. When it comes to weight training for teenagers, there are multiple ways to progress muscular strength, such as increasing the amount of weight lifted, increasing the number of reps or increasing the difficulty of the exercise.

Regardless of the fitness program, it is critical to remember the progression training principle. The following examples illustrate the difference between good progression and lack of progression during a six-week program for a young football player: 

Example 1: Lack of Progression

Two days per week of strength and conditioning in the gym

-Strength-training circuit is the same on both days for the entire six weeks

-Push-ups: 10 reps x 2 sets

-Leg Press: 10 reps x 100 lbs. x 2 sets

-Chest Press: 15 reps x 15-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

-Box Jumps: 10 reps x 2 sets

Example 2: Good Progression

Two days per week of strength and conditioning in the gym

-Strength-training circuit varies on both days for the entire six weeks

Day 1 (weeks 1-2)

Push-ups: 10 reps x 2 sets

Leg Press: 10 reps x 100 lbs. x 2 sets

Chest Press: 15 reps x 15-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Box Jumps: 10 reps x 2 sets

Day 2 (weeks 1-2)

Single-arm Chest Press: 10 reps x 10-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Single-leg Squat: 10 reps x body weight x 2 sets

Bent-over Rows: 10 reps x 15-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Squat and Press: 10 reps x 10-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Day 1 (weeks 3-4)

Push-ups: 15 reps x 2 sets

Leg Press: 15 reps x 100 lbs. x 2 sets

Chest Press: 15 reps x 20-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Box Jumps: 15 reps x 2 sets

Day 2 (weeks 3-4)

Single-arm Chest Press: 15 reps x 10-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Single-leg Squat: 15 reps x body weight x 2 sets

Bent-over Rows: 15 reps x 15-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Squat and Press: 15 reps x 10-lb. dumbbells x 2 sets

Day 1 (weeks 5-6)

Push-ups: 15 reps x 3 sets

Leg Press: 10 reps x 110 lbs. x 3 sets

Chest Press: 10 reps x 25-lb. dumbbells x 3 sets

Box Jumps: 15 reps x 3 sets

Day 2 (weeks 5-6)

Single-arm Chest Press: 10 reps x 15-lb. dumbbells x 3 sets

Single-leg Squat: 15 reps x body weight plus 5-lb. dumbbells x 3 sets

Bent-over Rows: 10 reps x 20-lb. dumbbells x 3 sets

Squat and Press: 10 reps x 15-lb. dumbbells x 3 sets

Keep in mind that progression is different for all athletes and is based on the adaptation and competence of that athlete. Continue to add progression only when needed and after previous skills are mastered. This key training principle will keep fitness programs safe and effective.

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