Youth Fitness Training and Preventing Injury

Youth Fitness Training - The WHOLE Truth About Preventing Injury

By Catherine “CeCe” English - Phd, ATC, CSCS, USAW

Let’s get real, playing any sport or engaging in any type of physical activity presents an inherent risk of injury whether novice or professional; youth, teen, adolescent and/or adult, PERIOD.  

Exposure to injury happens whenever there is practice or competition, and there are a variety of factors that can help prevent injury (i.e. efforts to prevent or reduce the severity of an injury caused by external mechanisms). See the mind-blowing statistics we found on the increase in youth sports injuries here.

However, at the end of the day there are the uncontrollables and controllables.

What are the uncontrollables? These are accidental trips, falls, impacts, and bodily reactions to  external forces that cannot be foreseen.

What are the controllables?  These are things that can be avoided, or lessened with: 

  • protective athletic gear 
  • proper coaching
  • proper instruction and programming
  • proper fundamental skills development
  • proper strength training 
  • muscular and cardiovascular capacity training
  • controlling collateral injury and risk for reinjury
  • nutrition
  • rest and sleep
  • recovery

Protective athletic gear – proper fitting uniforms, helmets, pads, shoes, and prophylactics (e.g. taping and bracing).

Proper coaching, instruction and programming – involves having coaches who understand the importance of active dynamic warm ups specific to sport performance. They can explain and demonstrate proper biomechanics as it relates to sport performance (power production, acceleration, deceleration).  Good coaches understand the importance adjusting workload demands of the sport, therefore can program training based on seasonality of the sport.

When thinking about injury prevention for your young athlete, think about other controllable factors such as foundational basics (proper fundamental skills development, relative strength, motor coordination, and muscular and cardiovascular capacity)

......and the WHOLE picture (sleep, rest, recovery, nutrition, emotional/social support, etc).

Fundamental skills development – these are specific sets of skills involving motor coordination for all parts of the body.  Think of these as the ‘building blocks’ for more complex and specific skills needed for sport; balance, locomotion, accelerating/decelerating the body and its appendages.  Teaching these fundamentals with proper body mechanics and spatial awareness are paramount to creating a solid foundation (and preventing improper mechanics which in turn can help ‘prevent injuries’ down the road).

Youth Strength Training - similar to fundamental skills development, teaching proper movement patterns as it relates to strength training will help lay the foundation for performance enhanced training with loads.  Using relative strength (percentage change over time) versus absolute strength (the total amount of weight a person can lift) as a guide to strength training is beneficial for youth/kids as it will help to:

  • increase muscle strength
  • increase muscle endurance
  • protect muscles and joints 
  • strengthen bones
  • promote health blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • improve confidence and self-esteem
  • increase sleep

Muscular and cardiovascular capacity – developing these systems to effectively and efficiently supply the body with oxygen to support the demands of performance.  In deconditioned and under trained individuals, the body isn’t efficient enough to buffer lactate production causing muscle fatigue; therefore training these systems improves muscle contractility, increases blood volume, and oxygen delivery and utilization.  

Controlling for collateral injury and risk for reinjury – this involves being smart about how one continues to practice/compete or re-enter sport (practice and/or competition).  Collateral injury can be related to overuse/chronic pain, ‘setting the stage’ for injury or compensatory mechanics that can attribute to an injury elsewhere on the body. This deals specifically with rest, recovery, support and repair – is rehabilitation needed?  Are prophylactics needed for support? Is rest needed for recovery and repair of soft tissue trauma or microtrauma?

Nutrition - this is a BIG controllable that impacts performance and recovery.  Without proper and adequate nutrition, both performance and recovery can suffer.  EveryBODY needs carbohydrates which are the main source of energy for activities of higher intensity.  Fats, too, are essential for energy as well as supporting healthy hormone levels. Protein is a fundamental necessity for muscle repair and growth.  And, let’s not forget about water/hydration – bodies are comprised of about 60% water. Hydration is paramount to supporting and regulating the body and it’s organs at a cellular level (growth, repair, removal of waste) , and water is lost with breathing, sweating, and digestion – all which is increased with physical activity.  Dehydration can impact cognitive and physical function.

Rest and sleep - these are two different things.  Rest can mean a day off from sport, time away from sport (i.e. off season), or cross training.  Rest can be active or static. Rest is important as it allows the body and mind to recover from the repetitive neuromuscular and emotional stress of sport.  Sleep on the other hand is a state of unconsciousness allowing the body to repair muscle tissue, replenish nutrients and glycogen synthesis, and regulate hormones.  Sleep is linked to providing renewed energy, focus, and increased mood - key components to being alert and ready to compete/perform.

Recovery - this is multifaceted and relates to fatigue, repair and performance.  Recovery can mean recovery from a specific training day, training cycle or season, and/or injury. Included in recovery can involve many things such as, rest, sleep, hydration, nutrition, joint and soft tissue compression, joint mobility, soft tissue extensibility/stretching, massage, etc.  Without recovery, it is only a matter of time when performance will be negatively affected.  Recovery is SOVEREIGN to performance.  

So, what is injury prevention about?  It’s not just ONE thing – it’s ALL the controllables. Personal training for kids can help young athletes address all the above. 

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