Kids often run, jump and kick with ease. Children are generally flexible, but stretching is still important. In people of all ages, stretching prevents injuries, improves athletic performance and encourages a healthful lifestyle. Children can build on their natural flexibility, before they lose some of their suppleness during their teenage years. Remember to teach kids proper techniques before they attempt any new form of exercise.
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Children who participate in sports or other physically demanding activities should stretch to prevent injuries. Stretching helps young athletes prevent muscle tears and pulls. Stretching also helps a child’s joints move though a full range of motion. Before stretching, kids should do a low-intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking or jumping jacks, as stretching cold muscles can lead to injuries. This warm-up phase should not cause fatigue. Tell kids to stretch to a point of a gentle pull, not pain, and advise them to stretch before and after exercising. Stretching after a workout helps avoid stiffness and speeds the recovery of muscles.
Stretching promotes flexibility, and children perform better in some activities if they are more flexible. For example, a young martial artist can kick higher if she is more flexible. A baseball pitcher throws better with a loose arm. Flexibility also improves the performance of young gymnasts, ballerinas and soccer players. Kids’ yoga classes are a fun way for children to increase flexibility.
If children learn correct exercise habits when they are young, they can continue to practice them when they get older. Proper stretching can prevent a discouraging sports injury in high school or college. An awareness of physical fitness can also benefit a child’s overall health for his entire life. In addition, stretching techniques typically emphasize proper body alignment. This aspect of stretching promotes better posture.
The fun factor is integral when teaching kids about stretching. If a child thinks stretching is boring, she will likely lose interest in doing it. Try having kids mimic animals while they stretch. This practice is especially effective with young children. For example, children can practice the bear crawl by walking on their hands and feet. Encourage kids to walk forward, backward and sideways. The bear crawl stretches and strengthens the hamstrings, calves and back. Children can also stretch their shoulders by hooking their fingers together and letting their arms hang down and swing like an elephant’s trunk. To make these stretches more fun, have kids mimic animal sounds.