Part 2: Who taught you how to run as a child?
Would you like to read part 1, first?
You may have come across advice and tips on the internet, or in magazines and books that are centred around:
• volume & frequency of training
• type of terrain
• running clubs & running accessories etc.
Although some of it can be considered and is somewhat valuable, it’s unlikely you’ll have come across anything that has truly helped you develop and improve your child’s running technique. It’s important to remember that children are not mini-adults and you can’t expect them to follow a similar training programme to yours.
I’ll take you through some valuable points to deliberate over before working out a training regime for your child.
Movement & muscle memory
When we learn a new way of moving (like the first time we run) our brain, nervous system and muscles develop a movement pattern so it can remember the movement the next time we repeat it.
The problem lies in the fact that you can’t simply perform the movement once and expect your memory to have saved it. You need to repeat the sequence over and over until that movement pattern is permanently ingrained in your muscle memory.
That is why youngsters, when they are learning a new skill, are initially erratic, jumpy and unsteady, but then begin to smooth out their movements. They become more efficient in the process until eventually, it happens automatically.
How do children differ from adults?Children learn very quickly compared to adults. For instance, at The Running School for Kids, we can change the running technique of an adolescent in one hour after which they’ll be comfortable with their new technique. With an adult though, it can take up to three sessions to grasp a new technique, let alone be comfortable with using it.
The correct age for development and training
When parents ask me what the ideal age is for their child to start running, I tell them that although movement training should begin as soon as possible from the age of six onwards, the optimal time for running training is between the ages of nine and 14. This is because there is still the possibility of developing and steering the central nervous system at this age, and youngsters have the potential to acquire high levels of coordination and agility.
Training in more basic, functional movement can and should begin between the ages of three and six years old. With the correct teaching methodologies, toddlers can develop balance, coordination, awareness, agility and sports skills from a very early stage, which gives them a tremendous advantage if they decide to take up a sport and be active later in life.
Ideal distances for adolescents
I’m not talking about sending children out on long distance runs here. That is counter-productive to what we are trying to achieve – which is to teach your child the correct technique of running. Kids learn better when they are fresh and having fun. The exercises should be enjoyable and, yes, intense, but of short duration – about eight to twelve seconds.
So, how can you help your child learn to run properly?
The most efficient running motion is when the body has very little up and down movement (bouncing). The arms are relaxed yet move like mini pistons backwards and forwards. The legs are cycling with the heel coming up above the back of the knee when it’s off the ground.
Some aspects to focus on when developing a child’s running technique:
• Feet: The feet should be landing under the body (centre of gravity), not ahead of it. Over striding causes a braking action and slows runners down.
• Landing: Children need to learn how to land lightly on their feet. The best and most efficient way to run is to land on the balls of the feet, not on the heel. If someone’s been a heel-toe runner for a while it can be difficult to adjust but a good start is to practice landing lighter on the ground and trying to minimise the time the foot spends on the ground. At first, it’s better to practice for short bursts to get used to it.
• Lower leg cycling motion: Teach your children to move their legs in a cycling motion. They should pull their heels up towards their backside rather than just lifting their knees.
• Arms: Good coordination of the arms with the legs eliminates bounce, resulting in runners moving forward rather than upwards. The arms should be bent at the elbow at a ninety-degree angle and the movement should be back and forward. The fingers should be closed yet relaxed (as if holding a butterfly), and the hand should be moving to the chin and the hip.
Don’t try to get your child to take on everything at once. It can take several sessions to learn each technique. So, work on each one until it becomes fluid, and then move onto the next.
Would you like your child to learn from a professional? Get in touch for a free 15-minute consultation and we’ll guide you in the right direction. Simply request a call and we’ll get in touch.