Bambini runs and mini-marathons are trending - many major running events now offer special kids' and teens' races. A good thing, because there are serious reasons to encourage kids and teens to run: Already one in five children and one in three teens in this country are overweight, and less than a third achieve the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day. Yet every child has a natural urge to move - and parents should encourage it. We'll show you how to get your little one running right - with tips and suggestions for child-friendly running training and the right footwear for little runners.
Easy running for kids
Movement plays an enormous role in the physical and mental development of children. Speed, coordination and agility are best trained at a young age, while endurance and strength are not developed until the onset of puberty. Children as young as 5 to 8 can run short distances of up to 1.5 kilometers. 9- to 12-year-olds can run distances of up to 5 kilometers up to three times a week, provided they enjoy it. However, performance-oriented, anaerobic endurance training should be avoided in the pre-adolescent years, as it does not correspond to a child's natural exercise behavior and can result in physical and psychological overload. Basically, the goal is for children to acquire as much movement as possible while training their motor skills and movement coordination through play. But what does optimal running training for children look like? Here are a few useful tips and suggestions.
"Speed, coordination and agility are best trained at a young age, while endurance and strength are not trained until the onset of puberty."
Fun & Variety
Instead of monotonous continuous runs, which quickly lead to listlessness and boredom in children, running should be as varied and interesting as possible. Playful forms of training such as obstacle courses, cross-country and orienteering runs, relays and driving games are particularly suitable for making running fun and enjoyable for children. There are no limits to the imagination: whether it's a treasure hunt, a scavenger hunt or simply a cross-country run with obstacles such as tree trunks, embankments or streams - with small incentives, running training becomes an exciting adventure. The group experience is particularly important for children: running together with other children and playful competitions can be an integral part of running training.
Challenge, but don't overtax
When running, the focus should always be on the fun of movement, not on performance. Running competitions provide additional motivation for young athletes and offer an ideal learning environment for dealing with victory and defeat. However, parents should never transfer their own ambition onto their offspring - because only children who are encouraged, but not drilled, will also enjoy running in the long term. Every child has a natural protective mechanism: they instinctively stop running when they reach their breaking point. Therefore, when training, simply let your child decide for himself how fast and how long he wants to run.
Parents should keep in mind that the child's body deals with stress differently than that of an adult. The required energy is provided with a delay and lactate is broken down more slowly, so children have a lower stress tolerance compared to adults and require longer recovery times. Children are also at greater risk of overheating, as they sweat less during exercise and are poor at dissipating excess heat. When the face reddens and a white triangle appears around the nose and mouth, this is a clear alarm signal of overheating. Parents should therefore make absolutely sure that their children drink enough during training and that they have sun protection (e.g. a well-fitting cap) with them in summer.
Running shoes for children - what is important?
In addition to suitable running clothing, running shoes suitable for children are also part of the basic equipment for kids who love running. Children's feet, however, have completely different demands on running shoes than the feet of an adult. Up to the age of 14, they grow about one millimeter per month, are easily deformable and insensitive to pressure. It is therefore all the more important to check at regular intervals whether the existing running shoes still fit properly.
When selecting new running shoes, attention should also be paid to an optimal fit: The foot must have about 12 to 15 millimeters of space in the toe area, but still get enough support at the sides and in the rearfoot area. The upper should be snug and flexible, but not too firm and stiff, so that the ankle joint can move freely. While a stable upper provides additional support for adult runners, it can easily lead to deformities and misalignments in children's feet. The sole also needs to be much more flexible than an adult model so as not to interfere with the natural movement of children's light, less powerful feet. When the shoe buckles, it should not yield in the middle, but in the area of the metatarsophalangeal joints, where the foot also buckles when rolling. The material used for the upper shoe also makes a significant contribution to running comfort: it should be breathable, skin-friendly and moisture-wicking.
Compared to running shoes for adults, children's running shoes do almost entirely without cushioning. The child's foot needs functional stimuli for the optimal development of muscles, bones and ligaments, which can be disturbed by strong cushioning. Only in special trail and off-road running shoes can additional cushioning be an advantage. Pronation supports can also be dispensed with in children's running shoes, provided there is no foot malposition. In this case, it is advisable to seek advice from a specialist store, which will take into account the individual running needs of the child.