Do you remember your PE teacher yelling at you to always warm up before you started running or playing a sport? Well, there is an optimal way to warm up and stretch, if done incorrectly or for a time too less, may leave your kid feeling the same with no real impact on their performance.
Types of Stretching Exercises
Stretching and warm up exercises for kids have been said to be an essential part of any activity. They warm up the muscles, increase core temperature of the body, and loosens up the joints thereby protecting muscles, ligaments and tendons. When the range of motion increases in a joint, the area not only becomes more flexible but also becomes less susceptible to any impact. The correct stretching exercises for children will change the way they feel about their body and their skills, and elevate them to the next level!
There are multiple types of warm ups that can be used to safely engage the right muscles and improve functional strength in your child through exercise.
According to the ‘American College of Sports Medicine’ types of stretches can be broken down into the following;
- Static stretches are those in which you stand or lie still in a particular position for less than 60 seconds. Examples of static stretches are- lying down and hugging our knees, downward dog pose, cobra and most holding poses in yoga too use these movements. It lengthens the muscles in the body by stretching them and then keeping them in the same position for at least 20-40 seconds.
- Dynamic stretches are movements done with control and through repetition to warm up the muscles in the body. Examples- jumping jacks, push ups, wind mills etc which are fast paced and get the heart pumping blood.
- Ballistic stretches use momentum to spring you in and out of a position. Examples for this type of stretch include swinging or flapping movements for the arms and legs. These movements are mostly uncontrolled movements and one might go beyond the range of mobility if one isn’t careful.
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is common during rehab programs and involves both stretching and contracting the muscles group in question. Even within PNF, there are three types of stretches- the contract and relax method (CR), the antagonist contract method(AC) and a combination of the two called contract- relax- antagonist contract ( CRAC). In this process one contracts, holds, releases and stretches the particular muscle. This type of stretching is more recommended on the lower body- hips, glutes and legs and not advisable for exercises done by children.
However, children below the age of 12 must maximize the use of body weight training or resistance training to stretch and warm up the body. To gain maximum benefits when they are young, they will mostly use stretching techniques 1&2 till they are in their teens. Under guidance, 3 and 4 can be introduced safely with supervision in their later years to enhance future performance. Here are the other ways the practice of stretching could help your child.
Benefits of stretching and warm up exercises for kids
1. Apart from the obvious, stretching will support your kid’s movement and activity.
2. It reduces muscle soreness and ‘certain techniques showed positive outcome on deterring injury when done 15 mins immediately prior’ to activity. Note the words immediately prior which means there must be no gap between the warm up and the actual activity in question.
3. Making your kids warm up right before activity can enhance their mobility and therefore their performance.
4. Stretching between passive activities e.g. studying or sitting in front of the computer for long hours can bring in more alertness, improves focus and concentration.
5. It is recommended that one must move as often as they can through the day as our lifestyles have gradually become more sedentary. If we do not teach our kids to take the time out to stretch their bodies, it will only create more imbalances in their systems.
6. Exercise is never just exercise, it is so much more than the surface level. As we go deeper we realize that if children are conditioned with good regular habits, it can hold them in good stead throughout their lives and keep them healthy and fit. Warm up exercises for kids and stretching often can keep the excess weight off, regulate their mood, keep the body feeling light and flexible while making them active, supportive, empathetic, aware individuals.
How to warm up and stretch?
Before a big game you don’t want to excessively loosen your child’s limbs. Therefore, a great way to stretch would be using static or dynamic stretches or a combination of all 4 depending on what they’ve learnt and practiced as well as their age group. These exercises for children should always be learnt through a qualified professional and done regularly for your child to be able to truly apply these movements.
Being aware of one’s limitations and knowing your child’s capability can go a long way in reducing injury and also helping them reach their potential in a physical activity.
What to target?
It is not just a physical practice but an intensely mental one. It takes fortitude to be able to hold movements or keep a correct form. Each movement is always played out in the mind first. Stretches and warm ups are not mere exercises for children but build their resilience, determination and discipline. Doing warm up exercises regularly can determine the way their health develops.
Breath is a huge key to determine flexibility and strength in your child. It assists oxygenation in the body on a purely physical and physiological level. Incorrect breathing can also be detrimental to their well-being. A good way to check if they are breathing correctly is to monitor their breathing at random times in the day for the first few days till they get into a correct breathing routine.
When you intake, the stomach should expand and when you exhale the stomach should relax. This is the rule for correct breathing and improving lung capacity and inviting more energy into the body. All the other pieces of mind body breath training will fall into place when the breathwork is correct. It will be easier to build muscle, get less tired and have abundant energy through the day without feeling lethargic or lazy.
Duration of stretching
The American College of Sports Medicine published a paper in 2018 which spoke about the process of stretching and how to focus on specific areas and their duration. They recommended a total of 60 seconds on each region that one is working on to be able to see marked differences in that area. This is especially done during the gentle body rotations; example- neck rotations, head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles can each be done for 60 seconds with awareness and correct breathing. This transforms your practice.
Mantra for effective exercise for kids
In a research paper targeting the impact of flexibility and performance in kids a conclusion was drawn that the warm ups need to be done frequently and for a longer duration otherwise it is as good as not doing them at all. When your child takes out 15 minutes of his precious time right before an activity or a sport it enhances his game and his entire outlook, it brings in confidence and helps him cultivate passion. Regularity and practising often can create ‘muscle memory’ and creates an armour for your kid’s body in times of difficulty, raising immunity and keeping illnesses at bay.
ACSM’s guidelines for excessive testing and prescription, 2013. American College of Sports medicine.
The effects of warm ups with stretches on the isokinetic movements of collegiate men. Hyoung -Kil Park, Min- Kyung…and Jaehyun Yoo
The views expressed are that of the expert alone.
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