Four Stages of Physical Development
In this era of technology, we are seeing some scary trends. Children are becoming more and more overweight and obese and at earlier and earlier ages. While children are becoming more fluid on phones, tablets, computers, and games, their physical IQ is plummeting to scary levels. On top of this, you have more and more parents pushing their kids into year-round athletics and specializing in a given sport at earlier and earlier ages. This leads to a further lack of development of a broad range of physical capabilities and an increase in overuse injuries. Physical Therapists and Orthopedic Surgeons are seeing more and more young clients with over use or other preventable injuries. The athletes we train are coming in more and more frequently with an utter lack of skill doing basic things like skipping, push-ups, pull ups, etc.
Most of the athletes we see in the gym now struggle to do a good push up or pull up, skipping is about 50/50. With less quality phys ed in our schools and less kids participating in a variety of sports, there is a huge gap in where children (and adults for that matter) are now compared to where they should be. A proper physical education should help you learn better, manage stress/anxiety, improve confidence, and reduce injury. This doesn’t need to be done with competitive athletics, but physical activity should be done year-round, and most days of the week. Here is what normal fitness development should look like for athletes and non-athletes.
Stage 1: up to 8 years old (this is the same for athletes and non-athletes)
Running, Jumping, Throwing
Organized and/or Unorganized Sports (none for more than 1 season)
Quality and Diversity of movement
Rhythm and Coordination
At these age kids should be doing a variety of movements. Nothing should be overly competitive. They should have fun, and be exposed to a variety of stimuli. Movement should be part of daily life for a minimum of 60 minutes.
Stage 2: 9-13 years old (athlete)
3 different competitive sport seasons
2-3 practices per week
1 game/tournament per week
Athleticism and diverse skill development prioritized over competitive results
Constant GPP training (General Physical Preparedness)
4th season (if at all) is only for GPP, could also be GPP training program
Stage 2: 9-13 years old (non-athlete)
3 different competitive sport seasons or recreational sports/activities
2-3 practices/participation per week
1 training session/PE class devoted to the development of athleticism and diverse skill development prioritized over competitive results
Constant GPP training (General Physical Preparedness)
At these ages, it’s normal and encouraged for healthy levels of competition to be present. Even for kids who don’t particularly love organized sports, there is still value in participating in competitive athletics as long as they don’t hate it. For those who really don’t enjoy organized sports, then look to other physical activities/sports (e.g. mountain biking, skateboarding/rollerblading, hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding, etc.) Fun should still be a priority, but kids should be introduced to being a good sport, winning/losing, and skill development/practice.
Stage 3: 14-18 years old (athlete)
2 different competitive sport seasons
4-5 practices per week
1-2 games/tournaments per week
GPP still present during competitive season, but less emphasized
2 “off seasons” dedicated to GPP and SPP (specific physical preparedness, or sport specific)
Stage 3: 14-18 years old (non-athlete)
2-3 different recreational activities
3-4 sessions per week
2-3 training sessions focusing on GPP and injury reduction
By this age, most kids know whether they enjoy competitive organized athletics. For those that do, then playing two sports with two off seasons each year is ideal. The off season is used to improve weaknesses, build resiliency, and give kids a mental break from competition. For those who don’t enjoy organized sports, they can pick two to three recreational activities discovered in phase 2 and participate in those activities, still keeping the intent at improving their skills. Two to three training sessions or PE classes should be completed weekly to keep all physical capacities present, improve their performance in their activities of choice, and reduce injury risk.
Stage 4: 19+ (college/pro athlete)
1 Competitive Sport
Annual phased training: Pre-Season, In Season, Championships Season, Restorative phase, Off Season
GPP/SPP priorities change in accordance with phase of training/competition, focus on performance and reduced injury rate.
Stage 4: 19+ years old (life-long recreational athlete)
2-4 recreational sports/activities
1-3 days participation/week of said activity
Annual training plan that supports activity, increases resiliency, and improves/maintains performance
Training plan carried out 1-4 days per week depending on frequency of recreational sport/activity
At this phase, you are either playing sport at the college or pro level, or your competitive days are behind you. For those going to the next level in sports, their programming becomes highly specialized with year-round competition/training and a training plan aimed at injury reduction and attribute development. For the majority of the population, recreational sports and activities should still be a major part of our day to day life. This helps make movement more fun and enjoyable. Pick two to four sports or activities you enjoy doing and do them one to three days per week. This plan should be supported with some form of training that addresses strength, mobility, stability, and conditioning based on goals, needs, and activities of choice.
In my experience over the last 20 years in the fitness industry, individuals who are passionate about something outside of the gym are much more consistent and serious about their training in the gym. This is especially true once they realize how their training plan assists their passions and slows down the aging curve. Fenton Fitness offers personalized training plans aimed at supporting your activity of choice and helping to keep you doing your best for as long as possible.
Jeff Tirrell, CSCS, CFSC, Pn1