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.

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.

One good thing about Exercise Science is; we’ve come a long way baby. Gone are the days of practice with everyone commencing by lining up for toe touches and quad stretches: holding your ankle up and behind you in an unnaturally, uncomfortable position!

Understanding the proper type of stretching before and after activity is essential to enhancing performance and avoiding injury.  When young athletes engage in physical activity, they are often encouraged by coaches and parents to stretch prior to activity.  The goal is to prepare muscles for sports, to enhance performance and decrease risk of injury, including sprains and strains.  In the past, advice regarding stretching has referred to static (or passive) stretching prior to activity. That is, stretching held for 15-60 seconds in a stationary position to improve the flexibility of one muscle group at a time.  However, recent research confirms the benefits of dynamic stretching prior to physical activity in both children and adults.  Dynamic stretching uses functional, activity-specific motions with constant movement to warm-up.  Static stretching then becomes important in the cool down after activity.

A thorough warm-up period is designed to prepare the body for physical activity by:

  • Increasing core body temperature
  • Stimulating blood flow to the arms and legs
  • Enhancing coordinated movement
  • Improving range of motion
  • Developing body awareness of joint position sense and movement
  • Using movement to expand muscle and tendon flexibility

These benefits of a good warm-up, which were once associated with static stretching prior to activity, are now attributed to dynamic stretching activities.  In fact, evidence now suggests that static stretching prior to physical activity and sports may be detrimental to performance involving vertical jumps, shorts sprints, muscle endurance, maximum muscle contraction, balance and reaction time (McMillian 2006).  Studies have also shown that static stretching can result in less force and power production not only in adults, but also in children, especially in jumping and sprinting performance (Faigenbaum 2006).  Because the goal of the warm up period is to prepare the body for specific functional movements related to a sport, dynamic stretching appears to provide that service without being harmful.

While holding a “runners lunge” prior to practice or a game may be a thing of the past, static stretching is still very important for the cool-down phase and should not be skipped. During the cool-down, athletes are led through a program to allow the body temperature to return to normal levels and prepare the body for the healing process.  During vigorous activity, muscle fibers tear at microscopic levels and need to undergo a reparation process that is essential for building new fibers, and as a result, increasing strength.  As muscles cool down, they tend to heal in the position in which they are left.  This highlights the importance of passive stretching after physical activity: low-load long duration static stretching allows the muscles to stay in a lengthened position as the muscle cools down.  This provides a greater length through which the muscle can contract to generate force during the next time activity is initiated.  Thus, static stretching serves a greater benefit to young athletes post-exercise.

When designing dynamic and passive stretching programs, here are some common considerations:

Dynamic stretching programs (Mann 1999):

  • Move continuously, typically in laps for 10-15 minutes overall
  • Vary the program according to the level of the athlete
  • Start slow and progress to quicker and more advanced movements
  • Avoid movements too intense that fatigue the muscles
  • Incorporate the whole body and imitate movements used in specific sports

Passive stretching programs:

  • Stay in one position per muscle group
  • Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds
  • Repeat the stretch 2-3 times per muscle group
  • Address all muscle groups used in the specific sport

Sources:

Avery D Faigenbaum, James E McFarland, Jeff A Schwerdtman, Nicholas A Ratamess, Jie Kang, and Jay R Hoffman.  Dynamic Warm-Up Protocols, With and Without a Weighted Vest, and Fitness Performance in High School Female Athletes. J Athl Train. 2006 Oct-Dec; 41(4): 357–363.

Danny J. McMillian, Josef H. Moore, Brian S. Hatler and Dean C. Tayler. Dynamic vs. Static-Stretching Warm Up: The Effect On Power and Agility Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2006, 20(3), 492–499.

Douglas P. Mann and Margaret T. Jones, CSCS. Guidelines to the Implementation of a Dynamic Stretching Program. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 1999. Volume 21, Number 6, pages 53–55.

It’s hard enough as an adult to regulate body temperature and water consumption in the hot Arizona sun. With kids, it’s even more critical!

With the arrival of summer in Arizona one thing comes to mind HEAT!  As children get out school and start summertime activities it is important to guard against a very real danger, heat exhaustion/heat stroke.  Heat exhaustion/heat stroke is a heat related illness that occurs when the body cannot adequately cool itself through sweating.   Typically, heat exhaustion/heat stroke occurs when temperatures reach greater than 90 degrees F, or in other words every day in an Arizona summer.   Children are at a greater risk of getting heat exhaustion/heat stroke because their sweat rate is lower than that of adults.  The symptoms of heat exhaustion/heat stroke that parents should be looking for are heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting.  As heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke the victim may get confused as well.  In order to prevent heat stroke, parents should make sure that children hydrate before summertime activities in which they will be outside for an extended time (one hour or more).

Guidelines for hydration:

  • The hydration process starts the night before, kids should drink at least 32 oz. of extra fluid the night before (soda does not count , only water, Gatorade and fruit juice)
  • The day of the activity the child should drink 16 to 32 oz. of fluid 2 hours before (this allows time to assimilate the fluid)
  • During the activity the child should drink 8 oz. every 20-30 min.
  • After the activity 1 oz. of fluid should be consumed for every 1 oz. of fluid lost.
  • If your child has any of the symptoms of heat stroke especially confusion, nausea or vomiting seek medical attention immediately.

Have fun and stay safe this summer from all of us at Foothills Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine.

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.