If you (or your child) are getting burnt out and injured playing and practicing for just one sport, stop and read on. Besides the obvious overuse injuries, there are many benefits for young athletes to take a break from their sport of choice and participate in other activities through the year.

As the money paid to professional athletes has grown, as the competition for college scholarships has increased, the importance of becoming very good at one sport has increased as well. In years past most kids would play 2-3 sports at different times during the year. We would end one season, maybe rest for a few weeks and then begin another. This is happening less and less over time. There is a tremendous amount of pressure being placed on kids to choose one sport and dedicate the whole year in refining the skills it takes to perform this one sport well.  This philosophy may help the young athlete hone certain skills at a faster rate than others, but it also poses some significant problems.

The incidence of overuse type injuries has increased dramatically in recent years.  Dr. James Andrews, one of the countries leaders in Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery, has seen a 4 times increase in these overuse injures in the past 5 years. More surgeries for chronic sports injuries are being performed on younger and younger kids. As the young athlete is asked to perform the same tasks, same skills and have the same stresses placed on the body by one single sport the repetitive trauma accumulates without the time to recover.  This constant bombardment in young, growing tissue causes breakdown and injury. The change over to a new sport every few months places different stresses on the body and allows for the tissues that were used in the previous sport to recover and heal.  Common sense would dictate that if a young athlete specializes in one sport, they would become better and reach higher levels of college and professional participation. However as Dr. Andrews points out, the increased incidence of injury tends to lead these promising athletes to miss significant playing time and ultimately leave the sport they love.

Another benefit to playing multiple sports is the development of more complete athleticism. Different sports require different skills which may compliment those in the primary sport. The footwork and endurance needed in soccer will help improve the ability to play basketball or football for example. The hand-eye coordination in baseball will help in volleyball, hockey and other sports. Each sport will have something that ultimately leads to the improvement in the whole athletic package.

If the young athlete is not interested in playing other sports, there are ways to minimize the risk of over use injuries. Even professional athletes have an off season where they stop playing their sport. This does not necessarily mean to stop being active, but it does mean to rest from the repetitive strain caused by the sport. The higher level athletes will use their off seasons to work on their strength, flexibility and endurance while allowing sport specific traumatized areas to heal. Sports Medicine / Sport Conditioning centers with knowledgeable staff are great resources that can lead you into improving the young athlete in safe and effective ways.

The bodies of young athletes are a growing and developing mechanism. They cannot handle the stresses placed by doing something over and over for a long period of time without some recovery time. Playing multiple sports, seeing a Sport Conditioning Specialist, and participating in FAST type training classes during rest periods from the primary sport will allow for development of the athlete as a whole and ultimately lead to improved overall performance.

 

Human nature (being what it is) means most of us are creatures of habit. Some are good, some are bad. We don’t take much notice until the activity is either restricted (like with exercise due to injury) or, has caused health concerns such that we are forced to make lifestyle changes. The question is: When faced with a necessary change, how do we develop and maintain healthy practices so they become habits? The very definition of “habit” is something we do routinely, as a part of our normal daily life.
Initially, you have to consciously think about these choices and plan how to utilize them in everyday life. When you need to include the whole family, implementing changes and keeping them are more difficult. Here are some ideas to help you get started and stay on track.
1. Make a plan. Consider what you want the final outcome to be. For example, less computer/TV time and daily exercise. Write out steps how to make that happen. However, realize you might need to work in phases. If you and/or your child are not used to exercise, do not expect to keep moving for 60 minutes the first day without some backlash. Start with three days a week at 30-45 minutes and build from there. With TV, video games and computer time, limit them to the weekends and then only as a reward when goals are met, chores and homework done, etc.
2. Understand for yourself why you are making the changes and educate your kids about the importance of healthy eating, exercise, less TV, etc. It is more likely that the lifestyle changes will be longer lasting if everyone knows the “why” and buys into it.
3. Be creative, have fun and give choices. When your kids are involved in the decision making this gives them the tools for competent decision making later without your involvement. If the activity is fun, you ALL learn that exercise and being active is not torture. There are many activities that work muscles and elevate the heart rate that are fun for the whole family. Dancing, jump rope, playing outdoor games (like the ones we used to play as kids), hiking, roller skating, swimming, playground time.
4. Don’t give up to soon. For anything to become a habit it needs to be repeated over and over. If you have a week with set-backs due to illness, school or work, don’t worry about it. Do what you can and keep up the schedule by being flexible. Remember, the definition of “habit” is a natural, normal routine. Try not to let life’s hiccups interrupt the consistency. Just work around them.
5. Allow for small rewards. Build your plan with mini-milestones. Agree to treats and rewards when you accomplish goals. Do not be afraid to have something, be it a food treat or an activity, as long as it is in moderation. Perfection is never the goal and, if we try for that, we set ourselves up for failure.
6. Set a good example. “Do as I say not as I do”, has never worked well. Your kids need to see you trying just as hard as they are. The shared experience will allow for a greater bond and further make sure that these are long lasting changes.
As societal pressure and technology morph our lifestyle to be less healthy, we need to make a conscious effort to eat well, exercise often, and combat disease and aging so we can live a full, functioning life. It can be a struggle at first but once these changes become a habit, they become a lifestyle.

Well, okay. Not as cold as the Northeast but for those of us in Arizona, it can feel cold in the balmy months we call “winter”. One of the benefits of living in Arizona is that we do have warmer winters yet, in a short drive or plane flight, we can also have access to skiing and snowboarding.

Typically, Arizonan’s are not used to the cold weather. So off we go to romp in the snow and we can end up completely unprepared to handle the physical and physiological demands cold weather sports bring.   Our kids may be use to the running sports of summer and fall, but sports that take place in the winter offer new variables for our bodies. Variables that, left unchecked, can at the very least cause an unpleasant down-hill experience and, at the most, result in injury.

Having a great winter sport experience is actually pretty simple if you apply these 3 basic practices:

Drink – up

Often overlooked in chilly weather, hydration is a key to winter wellness. During the warm season, we are diligent about getting enough water. We carry water bottles around and stress frequent drinks. This is easy when the heat is telling us that we need to drink, not so when it is cold. It is very easy to become dehydrated when the temperatures drop.  We do not think we are sweating because of the cold but there is still evaporation that occurs.  Also, we lose water with increased urination. This is an effect caused by the blood being routed to the core to preserve warmth instead of the periphery to dissipate the heat.  We also lose water as we breathe. When you see your breath in cold weather, that is the water vapor freezing as it leaves your body.  Before heading out to the cold weather cities, make sure that you are keeping up with the hydration strategies you did when the weather was hot.  Drink at least 20 ounces of water before activity and hydrate at regular intervals. You can keep a camel-back or water bottle inside your jacket (to keep it from freezing). If you find you are working really hard, take time to take in an electrolyte-type of sports drink as well.

Wrap-up

What you wear is as important for fun in winter sports as anything. There is simply no replacement for good, wicking and warming layers, appropriate socks, gloves and head gear.  When layering, think of a base layer that will wick moisture from your skin so the sweat doesn’t cause you to get chilled. Polypropylene, silk, polyester, Thermax, Thinsulate, and wool are all good choices.  Avoid cotton because it traps moisture, so it stays wet and draws heat from you. Base layers come in various weights (lightweight, midweight and heavyweight). Select a weight based upon the outside temperature and your activity level. The lighter weight is better at wicking, the heavyweight has more insulation. Mid layers provide warmth and insulation. This layer should be a bit more lose yet still fitted to aid in the wicking.  Your outer layer should be able to block wind and wetness yet allow for moisture to escape.

Finally, wear a hat, mittens or gloves, socks and shoes or boots that match your activity and weather conditions. To cool yourself if you overheat, you can often just remove your hat or gloves. Keep in mind that wind blocking fabric is also important for hats and gloves.

Train-up

Skiing and snowboarding require different skills than flat land sports. If you and your kids are recreational two-plank or knuckle-draggers,  just a little alternative training can go a long way to shred-it down the mountain.  Balance, core and leg strength need to be strong enough to maintain the proper positions down the runs. Abdominal, back, upper thigh and buttocks muscles must be trained so that they have the endurance to complete turns, control speed and stop effectively. In addition to this, most sports involve a stable foot being planted on a flat, non slippery surface. With skiing and snow boarding this is different. The surface is inclined and definitely slippery. Sport conditioning specialists use devices like exercise balls, BOSU platforms, and slide boards to simulate the demands placed on the body during skiing and boarding.   We may only participate in these sports a few times each year, but the consequences of not being prepared can mean injury that keeps you from favorite activities year round.

One of the best things about living in Arizona is the fact that we have access to all types of out door sports. We can be playing soccer one day and hitting the slopes the next.  We just need to keep in mind that, in order to enjoy this lifestyle, we need to be diligent about how we prepare bodies.

Over the past few years, how many times in the fitness industry have you found things that you once thought to be ‘the standard’ changed, upgraded or completely dispelled? The way we warm up is different, the way we execute many exercises is different, and who really wears leg warmers and head bands anymore?

The same is true when it comes to strength training for young athletes. Parents have told their kids for years “Don’t lift heavy weights. It will stunt your growth.”  To a great extent in the athletic training world that has been the rule of thumb as well.  Lifting heavy weights as children develop can cause stress on the areas of the bone that grow, the growth plate, and affect the ability of the bone to grow normally. So many parents completely abstain from letting their children participate in any type of strength training exercises.

However, children as young as 7 can do strengthening exercises without stunting growth plates and it can be hugely beneficial for them in the long run.

This can’t be understated: Lifting heavy weights and using poor techniques can damage the growth plate. Kids should not be doing heavy weights with low repetition numbers. Instead, professionals who deal with training children should use body weight exercises, light weights and resistance band exercises. This allows for the muscle to be stressed to a point that it will get stronger without the adverse effect on the growth plate.

Strength training in youth should also include more sport-specific movement patterns that mimic what the child will be doing in their sport.  This not only minimizes any negative response of the growth plate, but also helps build muscle, bone and tendon in ways that it would adapt and be able to tolerate stresses the child might endure as they progress in their chosen activity.  In addition, learning proper motor skill patterns with exercises like lunging, squatting, push-ups, and landing techniques, will help kids develop good form when handling weight load correctly later in life.

Another myth regarding strength training and youth is that, because the hormones that are responsible for building muscle are not yet circulating in high enough levels, there would be no real strength gains. Recently, studies have shown this not to be true. There have been significant strength gains in children who have undergone appropriate strength training. There have not been big gains in muscle size because of the low levels of hormones but overall strength has increased.  It needs to be stressed here that the hormones will occur naturally in most children. No artificial means of trying to boost these levels should be done. If there is a deficiency your physician will address it.

The benefits of proper strength training for youth can include:

  • Improved strength
  • Protection against injury
  • Improved coordination and motor skills
  • Increased speed
  • Changes in body composition
  • Enhanced self esteem

So now you know the long held standard regarding weights and kids is not, necessarily, spot-on.  It’s important to account for the method of training and how it is implemented. Keeping this in mind, when you consider strength training for your child (or yourself), seek the advice and supervision of an experienced athletic trainer or certified strength and conditioning specialist.

Is Your Child Getting Enough Water This Summer?

It should go without saying that living in Arizona makes it difficult for anyone to stay hydrated in the summer. But for young athletes it is particularly difficult.

First, obviously, they are out exercising in extreme temperatures (even in the morning it can be over 98 degrees). Second, their bodies don’t tolerate excessive temperatures the way adults do because they haven’t fully developed cooling mechanisms like sweating so kids can overheat more quickly than adults.  Finally, they will tend to just keep playing and not think about continually drinking to stay hydrated. Kids being kids, (even when they are thirsty) they will just keep-on going not recognizing the first signs of dehydration.

So, aside from just keeping your young athlete from over-heating, sports performance diminishes with even the slightest bit of dehydration. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) reports that even a 2% decrease in total body water results in a decrease in aerobic exercise performance. Although this may not apply as readily to sprinting sports such as basketball, football, or baseball, the ACSM also reports that this same 2% decrease may decrease mental function, a fact that would apply to all athletics.

Even more critical than sports performance is that, left unchecked, dehydration can rapidly accelerate to heat exhaustion and stroke.

In order to be properly hydrated during practice and at game time, it is important that your child drink enough fluids beforehand.  It is recommended that as early as 4 hours before vigorous exercise, athletes should take-in at least 1-2 cups of fluids. The urine color should then be monitored 2 hours later.  If the urine color is still darker than a light yellow, another ½ to 1 cup of beverage should be ingested.  Drinks with proper amounts of sodium (e.g., Gatorade) or pre-game meals containing sodium can aid in fluid retention and stimulate the athlete to drink enough to be fully hydrated.  During the game, how much to ingest will depend on many variables including the sport, weather conditions, and size of the athlete.  Therefore, the ACSM recommends that athletes monitor weight change during practice and games.

 

Now, we all know that weighing a kid before, during and after practices and games isn’t always practical. So a good rule of thumb to keep water, and electrolyte, levels up during exercise is to drink fluids every 10 to 15 minutes during activity. If it is particularly hot make sure to have the athlete take in water as well an electrolyte replacement drink. Parents, it is a good idea to teach your kids to drink at regular intervals.

After exercise, it is essential to replenish the body’s fluid and nutrient levels. Under normal circumstances, normal meals and drinks will restore proper hydration levels. However, if the athlete has to rehydrate quickly (e.g., play the second of a doubleheader on 2 hours rest), a faster remedy will need to be used. To accomplish this, weight loss should be measured and about 3 cups of fluid should be ingested for every pound lost. Light amounts of foods and drinks containing sodium will also be helpful to promote fluid retention.

 Signs of dehydration to watch for in your child are:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Cramping
  • Difficulty in coordination
  • Excessive thirst

Hydration is as important for optimal performance as practice and good equipment. Carrying out this vital task properly ensures that your athlete has the proper nutrients during key times in the big games and, more importantly, that they learn good habits to function healthfully and avoid injury for the rest of their life.

 

Sources:

American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Med Sci Sports

Exerc. 39(2):377-390, 2007.

           

Stuck in a rut with your kids this summer? Don’t let them slip into a video game induced coma. Here are some ideas to keep them mentally and physically engaged through the sweltering heat. And who knows? It might get you (the parent) moving and having fun too!

Summer is here which means; ‘California here we come’! Well, maybe for some of us and, if we’re lucky, for a week or two. But it is the remaining eight weeks that present a challenge of what to do with our kids.  Trying to keep them active can be tough; especially when it reaches 115 degrees outside.

When exploring possibilities of keeping my two kids engaged, I decided to consult directly with them.  Their response spoke volumes as to the challenges we face as parents.  They stated: “it sounds like you want to keep us from being bored.” Yes, they are largely correct, but keeping them active involves more than just avoiding boredom.  It is about stimulating their minds, keeping them moving and encouraging activities that promote health and well-being.

The first thought is typically the pool.  Swimming is a great activity that will certainly fatigue your kids.  But it does get hot out and eventually they will want something else.  Another common staple is the television.  However, allowing our kids to camp out in front of the TV for hours can lead to disengagement and suddenly all other ideas become “boring”.

There are scores of camps around the valley that range from general activities to those focusing on specific topics such as music, art, space or sports.  Camps generally last between one and nine weeks.  Many of the “themed” camps last only a couple of hours a day.

Here are some additional ideas for keeping your kids active and engaged this summer:

Arrange play dates.  When kids are with friends, they have a way of creating their own excitement.  Siblings seem less likely to argue and social skills are developed, benefiting them later in life.  Try encouraging your kids to write and direct their own play and be their enthusiastic audience.

Introduce a new board game.  My seven-year-old daughter loves Monopoly, Upwords and card games.  These games teach math skills, planning, spelling, thought and creativity.

Get moving.  Encourage young ones to exercise with you and get creative.  A favorite for my kids is having an impromptu dance party. Pick some music your kids like, pump it up on the stereo and dance.  Who cares if it’s Justin Bieber and you are playing the same song eight times in a row! Your kids will have a blast; especially when they see you letting loose and acting like a kid again.

Visit a local craft store.  Brands such as Creatology have a variety of wooden models kids can put together without requiring any gluing.  There are also books and kits that teach how to make a number of paper airplanes and origami figurines.  Girls also may like trying out the craft jewelry kits.

Chill out.  There’s an abundance of “cool” things to do around town in air-conditioned buildings such as ice skating, rock climbing, and indoor play areas.  The Science Center has several interactive rooms.  The Musical Instrument Museum is beautiful, entertaining and has an area where kids can play many of the instruments that are on display.

Hit the road.  Plan a day or overnight trip by exploring your state map.  There are plenty of state parks with ruins, petro glyphs, gold mines, and ghost towns to visit. Keep in mind that timing is essential due to the summer heat.

It is important to remember that keeping kids active requires thought and some advance planning by you.  Sometimes our children need to be guided through the day, which means getting involved.  But, that is what makes it even more fulfilling for everyone!

For more information on Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy and Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST®), visit www.foothillsrehab.com.

Make exercise a family affair! Everyone benefits and great health can be fun, family time with a few small changes and a couple of great ideas.

The Importance of Staying Healthy as a Family

During the past two decades the number of children who are overweight or obese has doubled. The Economic Institute in Washington DC has estimated that as many as 8 out of 10 children under the age of 7 are overweight, and another study has shown that ½ of all Americans between 12 – 21 years old are not physically active regularly. It has been well documented that children learn behavior early in life and they pattern themselves after the adults they look up to. In order to reverse the trend over the recent times, it is up to the family as a unit to become more active and perform exercise and play activities together.

As with many noble ideas and causes, the questions become how to get started and what is the best approach.  There are a few key ingredients to remember when beginning a family exercise program.

When communicating with your kids, stay away from using the word exercise. They may tend to think of this as a chore and will be reluctant to try. Instead use fun, spirited and light terms to describe the activity.

  1. Try to make the activity outside. Kids, and adults for that matter, are spending too much time indoors with TV, videogames and computer tasks. We need to change the environment so that the kids will be able to separate the active component from the sedentary, task components of their lives.
  2. Find out what the kids like to do and involve them in the planning of the activities. Again we do not want the kids to feel like this is a chore that needs to be done, but instead we want them to look forward to this and feel like this is fun, a reward.
  3. When first beginning an exercise or activity program, consult with your family physician or pediatrician to make sure that all involved are healthy enough for the rigors of the program.

There are as many different options for your family activities as there are for kids. A few examples are:

  1. Go for walks or bike rides around the neighborhood. This will get you outdoors as well as be visible to your neighbors, thus becoming role models for others.
  2. Water activities at a local pool in the summer.
  3. Plan social outings that involve activities such as roller skating, ice skating or trips to the zoo where walking is encouraged.
  4. Play active games outdoors such as tag, capture the flag or other games that we used to play growing up. Also, organize the neighborhood to have regular game time that involves multiple kids and families.
  5. Have Olympics. Organize activities that your kids like and make them into an Olympic or Decathlon format with prizes and rewards.
  6. Have treasure hunts that make the family have to crawl, jump, climb etc to be able to find the hidden treasure.
  7. If it is raining or other poor weather teach your kids the dance moves from your day and have them show you their moves.

The most important aspect to any exercise or activity program is to make sure it is regular. Schedule time so that these activities become a daily habit. Inactive youths become inactive adults as a large percentage. The earlier we change from bad habits to good habits, the more likely we are that these will become ingrained. If you are still having difficulty with getting started, there are programs that are designed to help such as the WiL Power Challenge by Foothills Sports Medicine. This is a 3 month program designed as a weight and body measurement reduction program for youths that involves the whole family in exercise and proper nutrition.  For more information on WiL Power Challenge call 480-706-1161 extension 19.

The benefits of exercise are many and include the physical: weight loss, lowering blood pressure, preventing diabetes, as well as emotional: improved self confidence and self esteem, being more outgoing and socially active. When you factor in the increased time the family spends together and the fun you will have with one another, everyone benefits.