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  • Bowie Matteson

From First to Worst

How are the flawless movement patterns of infancy lost in children's' transition to grade school age and adolescence?


It’s no secret that all children and adolescents are only years removed from the most flexible, true-to-form movement quality period in their life: infancy. Or at least it looks that way. Anyone with a little one running around knows the incredible positions they get themselves into. A little one's squat and hinge are a thing of beauty.


How incredible is it that at the time of our lives when bipedal movement is at its freshest, most novel point, we start out with unrivaled mobility and technique?


Popular mobility programs preach that most mobility is not specific to the individual, and that there is a full, universal range of motion that every person is capable of. In theory, because we all started from the same ground zero, as babies, we have the potential to return to our original abilities. For stiff individuals, it is a road to recovery, not discovery. That would lead one to believe that the closer one is to infancy (children, adolescents) the more mobility they would have. It’s the older adults we picture being hardened with age, long-practiced habits and sedentary lifestyles.


So then how are there 8 year olds today who can’t touch their toes, draw their shoulders back or air squat without looking like they’re on ice?


They are tripping and stumbling through periods of monumental growth. Tissues, muscles and bones are all being stretched, built and reconfigured. Therefore, you have new, poorly innervated tissue connected to a growing, poorly coordinated skeleton. Centers of gravity are getting further and further from the floor by the week. Combine these bodily factors with poor nutrition and sedentary habits and you’ve got yourself a 12-year-old that moves like a 70-year-old.


I'd argue its entirely unfair to build expectations from the patterns in infancy. If you look at the body segmentation of infants compared to that of adolescents or adults, there is a major shift in proportions.


Copyright: Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicineß AAAM 1998

A baby's head serves as its major center of gravity. Its lower extremities have only tiny lever arms compared to those of the adolescents and adults.


So when it comes to projecting similar patterns on to a 6 year old, 10 year old or 15 year old, you need to reconsider your approach each and every time. That is, unless you're dealing with an adult whose head takes up a QUARTER OF THEIR BODY LENGTH.


Furthermore, the singular "growth spurt" associated with puberty does not happen all at once. It happens segment by segment, starting with the hands and feet. Isn't it endearing to see a cute little puppy with comically oversized paws? You think "gosh, that dog is going to be BIG". Well, the same goes for your 11 year old with size 13s.


The "outside-in" approach comes into effect while growing. Shins and forearms lengthen, followed by the femur and humerus. The spurt lengthens the spine and concludes with the broadening of the chest and shoulders in boys, and the widening of the hips and pelvis in girls.


As a coach concerned with manipulating movement patterns, you have to take these things into consideration. You may have a 12 year old with the leg length of a grown man, but the torso length of a pre-teen. Squatting to depth is going to look more like a hip hinge than a squat. Cue sore backs and wrecked shoulders.


Some might think there's no hope for the next generation. "They don't even know how to (insert basic movement)!"


Rest assured they most definitely do know how to, Mom and Dad. But lets agree that it's hard to park the F-150 when you've been driving the Tercel the past 10 years.The kids themselves aren't even sure where their center of gravity is, as it hasn't stayed the same since who knows when.


As for muscle development, testosterone levels in both girls and boys are through the roof. This makes the selection of muscle groups to grow and develop an important choice. Are you going to spend the time when they have rocket fuel in their veins getting the biggest biceps in the 9th grade? Or make sure they know how to use their glutes to power the incredible machine they're about to become? Choose wisely and understand the consequences for their bodies when development slows and they have to live with the patterns you've engrained.


In short, let the empathy and pity you take on your voice-cracking, too-short-pants-wearing children extend to their training. Entrust their athletic development to someone who can customize a plan and set meaningful expectations that are set to the future when they've got all they're upgraded parts. Life lessons and habit-formation are no small undertaking here as well. "Sound mind, sound body" should work in both directions.


If you like what you're reading I encourage you to share it! Send me a question, comment or something interesting to read via my website bowiematteson.com or via email bowie.matteson@gmail.com.


Happy Training!


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Winter Park, FL, USA

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