Sporty womanOver the years I have had the opportunity and privilege to train a number of high school and youth athletes in the context of both coaching and conditioning.  Training young athletes is a lot of fun because the kids are pumped about their sport and they are really motivated to improve.  They are excited to work together as a team but they also are hungry to beat out their fellow teammates for the top spot.  As a coach, I love kids with this type of mentality and I give just as much back in planning and learning about the needs they have for their specific sport.

Even though I love coaching young athletes, the truth is most of the time they are not with me when they train.   They usually have numerous coaches, AAU programs and school sports teams they participate in throughout the year all of whom have various levels of knowledge and understanding about strength and conditioning techniques.  With all the various perspectives being offered to the kids, I think it’s important for both them and their parents to be educated and knowledgeable in the areas of movement and injury prevention.  I decided to post the PDF of a presentation I gave at Henry Ford Hospitals Health Fair not too long ago.

This is a transcription from a talking presentation so the content is a little “dry” but I hope my young athletes and parents can still gain some helpful info from this post…and remember you can always send me your questions if something I’ve written doesn’t make sense!  Enjoy!

 

Flexibility & Mobility to Prevent Injury to the Adolescent Athlete

Cause of Injury to the Adolescent Athlete
Although the rate of injury in adolescents is similar to that of adult professionals, injuries that affect high school athletes are slightly different. This is largely because high school athletes are often still growing.  Young athletes are required to make adjustments in their movement not only to accommodate their bodies changing environment but also to that of bones, muscles and tendons exhibiting an uneven growth pattern (each tissues growing at a different rate) which makes them more susceptible to various injuries.

 

Types of Injuries
Overuse and acute injuries are the most common types of injuries seen in adolescent athletes.

Acute Injuries:  injuries caused by a sudden trauma. Examples of trauma include collisions with obstacles on the field or between players resulting in contusions (bruises), sprains (a partial or complete tear of a ligament), strains (a partial or complete tear of a muscle or tendon), and fractures.

Overuse Injuries:  occur gradually over time, when an athletic activity is repeated so often, parts of the body do not have enough time to heal between playing.  This type of injury can affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and growth plates.

 

Flexibility and Mobility Defined
Both flexibility and mobility are important components in any youth fitness training program, whether for specific to the athlete or those who want to be physically fit.

Mobility:  range of motion for a specific movement and includes muscles, tendons, ligaments & joint range of motion.
For example: spinal stabilization and hip mobility are directly related to quality and depth of a squat or lunge or moving from one position into another during a run or drill.

From IYCA.org:  “I think of mobility like this: Tissue length + neural control/stability + joint architecture = Mobility”

Flexibility:  Flexibility is often considered a component of mobility, flexibility focuses mostly on the muscle tissue and is the ability of a muscle to lengthen during passive movement and the resulting range of motion around the related joint.
For example: lengthening of the hamstrings during the sit and reach test.

 

Mobility
Use of these exercises solely with body weight are effective for developing coordination, strength, mobility, and stability in youth.

  • Lunges:  forward, backward, lateral, and other multi directional lunges
  • Push-Ups:  technically correct push ups are very challenging for the young athlete (adults too!).  For a technically correct push up, the pelvis stays neutral, the spine remains straight, and the nose nearly touches the ground.
  • Squats:  squats require specific motor patterns and mobility of the ankles, hips, and spine.  An athlete should be able squat until their thighs are parallel to the ground and then stand up without falling backward.
  • Pull-ups and horizontal Pull-Ups:  young athletes can often struggle with standard pull ups.  Using a bar fixed about 3 feet off the ground, the athlete hangs from the bar with legs straight and pulls until their chest makes contact.

The listed exercises are a brief summary of movements used to improve overall mobility in the young athlete.  Success of each movement can be achieved by coaches and parents watching closely to ensure the athlete is performing movements in a technically correct manner.

 

Flexibility
Stretching before athletic activity helps prepare the muscles for exercise. Stretching after exercise has proven to be even more important for preventing injury. For maximum benefit, young athletes should stretch each of the major lower body muscle groups before and after sporting activity.

 

Types of stretches:  this is an excerpt taken directly from “Full-Body Flexibility, Second Edition” by Jay Blahnik

  • Dynamic stretching – Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times. Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching (because of the movement involved), it is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its apparent benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities for daily living.  Beneficial for all ages and recommended for females under 12-13 and males under 14 years of age.
  • Active stretching – Active stretching means you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch.
  • Passive (or relaxed) stretching – Passive stretching means you’re using some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place
  • Static stretching: Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility.  Recommended for females over 12-13 and males over 13-14.

You might hear or read about other techniques and terms used in stretching (especially by coaches and athletes), such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching or active isolated stretching. These techniques are all simply variations of these four types of stretches.


FOR YOUNGER ATHLETES
:  The IYCA recommends use of dynamic stretching and as the main method of developing flexibility with most of young athletes from as young as 6 years old and integrating other forms of stretching after the age of 12-13 in females and 13-14 in males.

In the last part of the demonstration I included a basic flexibility program for young athletes to use at home.  The following pdf includes basic sketches of these stretches along with the explanations listed below.  If the written descriptions are not enough you can access the sketch descriptions by clicking on the link and scrolling to the end of the presentation you will find 8-10 stretches with a descriptive sketch.

Click here for sketches: Basic Flexibility Program

Basic Flexibility Program

Helpful Tips:

  • Warm up before doing any of these stretches
  • Perform the stretches carefully without rushing.  Allow your natural range of motion to determine how far you stretch.  
  • Do not bounce a stretch as it can lead to muscle strains and other injuries.

Forward Lunges

  • Kneel on the left leg, placing the right leg forward at a right angle. Lunge forward, keeping the back straight. Stretch should be felt on the left groin.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat on opposite leg.

Side Lunges

  • Stand with legs apart, bending the left knee while leaning toward the left. Keep the back straight and the right leg straight.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat on opposite leg.

Cross-Over

  • Stand with legs crossed, keeping the feet close together and the legs straight. Try to touch the toes.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

Standing Quad Stretch

  • Stand supported by holding onto a wall or chair. Pull the foot behind to the buttocks. Try to keep knees close together.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat with the opposite leg

 Seat Straddle Lotus

  • Sit down, placing the soles of the feet together and drop the knees toward floor. Place the forearms on the inside of the knees and push the knees toward the ground. Lean forward from the hips.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds

Seat Side Straddle

  • Sit with legs spread, placing both hands on the same shin or ankle. Bring the chin toward the knee, keeping the leg straight.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat exercise on the opposite leg.

Seat Stretch

  • Sit with the legs together, feet flexed, and hands on the shins or ankles. Bring the chin toward the knees.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds

Knees to Chest

  • Lie on the back with knees bent. Grasp the tops of knees and bring them out toward the armpits, rocking gently.
  • Hold for 10-60 seconds
  • Repeat three to five times.

 

Prevention
Many high school sports injuries can be prevented through proper conditioning, training, and equipment.  Implementing a regular and effective flexibility program while also analyzing and working to improve each athletes mobility together with an appropriate conditioning program that begins prior to the formal sports season is the best approach to reducing the rate of injury in young athletes.

Observation and correction of the following aresome key points coaches and parents can focus on when developing injury prevention strategies:

  • Overall mobility
  • Flexibility
  • Posture
  • Running gait
  • Knee tracking

 

Sources
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org
http://pvpost.com/2013/06/18/active-injury-free-youth-sports-injuries-are-on-the-rise-heres-why-19171
http://iyca.org/flexibility-training-for-young-athletes/
http://iyca.org/flexibility-versus-mobility/
https://www.todddurkin.com/the-best-exercises-for-youth-athletes/
http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/types-of-stretches

Presenter
Jes Reynolds is a personal trainer in the Ann Arbor area who has been working with individuals age 13-89 for over 15 years.  Over the course of that time, Jes has worked with numerous middle and high school athletes both as a coach and strength coach.  Jes holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from Michigan State University.  In addition, she is a Certified Personal Trainer through the NSCA (NSCA-cpt) and a CrossFit level 1 trainer (CF-L1). Previous to attaining her degree, Jes worked with youth swimmers ranging in age from 6 months – 10 years old as a swim teacher and lifeguard.

To learn more about Jes, you can visit her website: www.jesreynolds.com
To contact Jes via email: jes@jesreynolds.com