Should you encourage a fitness conditioning program for your teen?

Jul 18, 2011 at 10:21 a.m. ET

You have an athletic teen -- but she seems to be prone to injury. You have a son who is on the edge of coordination and klutz. Which way will he trend? You understand how important fitness and exercise is to a healthy lifestyle and you want to promote regular physical activity in your child, but you seem to have some special circumstances. You might want to consider getting your child into a formal conditioning routine to strengthen his or her core and increase overall athleticism.


Tremendous advances in the science and understanding of physical activity and fitness have been made in the last several decades. We have a continually better understanding of how the body works, and how parts of the body work together for a stronger whole. Fitness isn't just the ability to run a mile! Exercise is more than laps! Conditioning programs can help you and your child take advantage of this increasing knowledge, helping your child to become stronger and a better athlete. Should you find one for your child?

What's the point?

A conditioning program isn't just cardio or resistance or stretching -- it's a combination of types of exercise meant to strengthen core muscle groups and increase overall fitness. Careful conditioning can help prevent injuries as well. If, for example, your daughter is very tall and skinny, she may not have sufficient musculature to support some agility moves required in her varsity soccer team, thus making her more susceptible to injuries such as avulsion fractures. Your son seems to be clumsy but wants oh so badly to be more physically active and coordinated. An appropriate conditioning program likely can help.

>> Learn how to prevent sports-related injuries in children

Professional consultation

Before starting any conditioning program, you and your child should seek professional consultation about what kind of program would be best considering the sports and activities your child wants to participate in. General conditioning is great, of course, but there could be a program out there that not only supports that general conditioning, but also helps improve some specific muscle groups for your child's sport of choice and improves overall coordination.

>> Learn about overuse injuries in kids

Start with your child's pediatrician to make sure your child is cleared for a serious conditioning program. The pediatrician can also refer you to good sports medicine doctors with pediatric focus and to physical therapists. A referral to a physical therapist for a single evaluation visit, for example, can help you and your child identify the weakest muscle groups that might need to most attention. After that credentialed trainers can help you and your child develop the program that will best suit need, especially considering your child's still growing body.

Motivation and incentives

Saying you are going to get your child into a conditioning program -- and your child insisting he or she is going to do it -- is the easy part. Actually doing it…well, just like adults sometimes, intent and motivation are just not the same for our kids. Our schedules are busy enough without adding one more thing! You may need to get creative with motivation and incentives to help keep your child on the conditioning program, particularly if the program is primarily done at home or during the first few weeks of the program. You may need to develop some incentive for yourself to keep up the driving to the gym, too! Consider the kind of incentives and motivation that work best for your child and negotiate appropriate reward for commitment.

Partnering with your child

After all this effort to get a conditioning program going for your child, you may be inspired to do it right along side him or her. Go for it! Yes, your teen may be a little embarrassed at first, but you can encourage each other -- or at least be the incentive to keep at it when you can do more pullups than your child.

Conditioning programs aren't just for elite athletes. They can help all of us be fitter and stronger and less prone to injury. Helping your child understand the role of appropriate conditioning as a part of fitness can help your child be stronger and healthier for life.

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