The most critical phase of training is building stability and a strong foundation. Most children begin a fitness program without much control over their posture, core and movement patterns. After all, they haven’t practiced control or built a foundation of muscular strength to move efficiently.
Phase 1 of training should include exercises that strengthen the upper, lower and core musculature while enhancing balance, postural control and joint stability. Teaching kids how to find and hold a desired posture helps create a foundation for movement skills that will be introduced in the next training phase.
Using instructional phrases like “look like an athlete” with proper cueing—chest over the knees, back slightly arched, knees slightly bent and feet wider than shoulder-width apart—can help reinforce proper posture and reduce poor movement skill technique.
Exercises in this phase should focus on improving the strength of the stabilizers of the spine and center of gravity. Body-weight exercises work well for youth, but light external loads such as medicine balls and free weights can also be used. Overweight youth can benefit greatly by training on resistance machines to gain strength and confidence before progressing to body-weight moves.
During this phase, be sure to build a good rapport with the kids, so the experience is positive and fun. Having a healthy relationship and environment increases exercise adherence among kids.
Now let’s get started to build a strong foundation of strength for our kids with this base or stability program. Make sure the child masters the beginner moves before advancing to the progressive exercises.
Beginning Base or Stability Training Program
Plank – 30-second hold x 2 sets
Side plank – 30 seconds each side x 2 sets
Bird dogs - 10 on each leg x 2 sets
Hip circles – 10 on each leg forward and backward x 2 sets
Bridges - 10 reps x 2 sets
Scapular retractions – 10 reps x 2 sets
Swimmers – 30 seconds x 2 sets
Squat and reach (thumbs up) – 10 reps x 2 sets
Goblet squat and hold – 30-second hold x 2 sets
Single-leg reverse fly – 10 reps x 2 sets
Single-leg reach forwards – 10 reps x 2 sets
Progressive Base or Stability Training Program
Plank with a reach or toe lift – 30 seconds x 3 sets
Side plank – 1 minute x 3 sets
Bird dogs with a twist – 15 reps x 3 sets
Hip circles with one arm – 15 reps x 3 sets
Single-leg bridges - 15 reps each leg x 3 sets
Scapular retractions – 15 reps x 3 sets
Swimmers – 1 minute x 3 sets
Squat and reach (thumbs up) – 15 reps x 3 sets
Goblet squat and hold – 1 minute x 3 sets
Single-leg reverse fly – 15 reps x 3 sets
Single-leg reach forwards – 15 reps x 3 sets
Plank – Hold the body parallel to the ground on the toes and forearms
Side plank – Lie on your side, place your left elbow and forearm under the shoulder and stack your right foot over the left. Lift the hips off the ground and hold the body as straight as possible.
Plank with a reach or toe lift – Begin in plank position. Reach the right arm out in front of the body while balancing on the left forearm and toes; pause and return to starting position. Alternate the left and right arm reach. Perform the toe lift by gently lifting one toe at a time off the ground about 1 inch and alternating between the left and right toe.
Bird dogs - Begin on all fours, hands and knees. Simultaneously reach the right arm straight out in front of the body and the left leg long behind the body. Bring them both back to neutral. Switch sides and reach the left arm and right leg simultaneously.
Bird dogs with a twist - This is the same exercise as the bird dog except you add a slight twist of the upper body by reaching open toward the sky instead of straight ahead with the arm.
Hip circles - Begin on all fours. Bring the left knee off the floor and draw a circle with the knee. Keep the hips as neutral as possible and repeat for several reps before switching directions. Repeat on the right leg.
Hip circles with one arm - This is the same exercise as hip circles except as you circle with the left knee, while keeping your left hand off the ground and stabilizing the body with only the right arm.
Bridges – Lie flat on your back with the knees bent and the feet beneath the knees. Press through the heels of the feet and lift the hips toward the sky. Squeeze the glutes at the top and slowly come back to the floor. Repeat.
Single leg bridges – This exercise is the same as regular bridges, but you lift just one leg at a time.
Scapular retractions - Lie on your stomach with your arms outstretched even with your shoulders and your thumbs pointing up toward the sky. Keep your face toward the floor and lift your arms up off the ground so your thumbs lift toward the sky. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and slowly lower back to the floor; repeat.
Swimmers – Begin lying on your stomach with your arms straight out in front of your body and the legs long. Lift both your arms and legs off the floor so that just your stomach and hips are touching the floor. Move both the arms and legs in short little swimmer movements up and down toward the floor.
Squat and reach (thumbs up) – This is the same squat movement as a goblet squat except as you reach the lowest squat position, you will raise the left arm up toward the sky and then the right arm, so that both arms are reaching toward the sky before coming back to a standing position. Thumbs should point toward the sky.
Goblet squat and hold - Assume an athletic position (chest high, hips back, knees slightly bent, feet shoulder-width apart, small arch in low back). Bend your knees and lower your body toward the ground until your elbows can touch your knees. Keep your heels on the ground and chest and head upright. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and then slowly return to a standing position.
Single-leg reverse fly – Stand on one leg in a semi-squat position. Bend forward slightly and bring the arms long in front of the body with the pinky fingers touching and the thumbs pointing out. Slowly bring the arms back and pinch the shoulder blades together. Come back to the front and repeat.
Single-leg reach forwards - Stand on the left foot, bend forward and reach out in front of the body with both arms. Kick the right leg backward until the body is parallel to the ground. Try to keep a slight bend in the left leg while balancing in the pose and then come back to a standing position. Alternate legs.