April is National Youth Sports Safety Month, as warmer weather draws kids and teens back outside for fitness and team sports.
The sports medicine experts at National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) have tips for parents and young athletes on how to get the most out of their fitness and sports activities so that they can avoid injuries and maximize the health benefits of exercise.
Thomas Solecki, DC, DACBSP, a sports medicine expert and chiropractic physician, is a faculty clinician at NUHS’ Whole Health Center in Lombard. He is also certified in exercise rehabilitation and exercise performance enhancement and serves as a chiropractic physician for athletic teams at DePaul and Northwestern universities.
Dr. Solecki has tips for young athletes in junior high school and high school who want to increase their sports performance while avoiding injuries: Tips for sports safety:
- Warm up with light, progressing to moderate activity at least 5-10 minutes before exercising or participating in sports. You should feel “hot” and have a little sweat going if you are properly warmed up.
- Cool down and stretch after every workout. Never just walk away from a sport or activity. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds to one minute without bouncing.
- For safe training, never increase your exercise intensity or the amount of weight lifted by a factor of more than 10% every two weeks.
- Train specifically for your sport. Each activity uses different muscles and patterns in the body; make sure your body is trained for your sport.
- Use heart-rate guidelines in training for endurance sports. Certain formulas can be used to help calculate safe heart rates for training children, teens and adults. These ranges can be used to train specifically for longer endurance, short bursts of heavy exercise, etc. Talk to a fitness professional to help you find these ranges.
- Give your body a break. Always take one to two days off per week to let your muscles heal and your body repair.
- Cross-train with different activities. Use at least one to two days a week to workout on another activity. This allows your body to repair and helps you gain strength and endurance at the same time. “Additionally,” says Dr. Solecki, “your body adapts to an exercise program every four to six weeks. Change exercises or types of workouts every four to six to help improve your performance and also to avoid overuse injuries.”
- Don’t use thirst as a guide to drinking. By the time you are thirsty, you are already more than 3% dehydrated. Guidelines:
-Drink at least 64 ozs. (eight 8 oz.) glasses of water/day
-Drink two to three cups of fluids up to two hours before exercise
-During intense and prolonged exercise sessions, or exercising in a hot/humid environment, drink 8-10 ozs. every 20 minutes.
-After exercise, drink enough fluids to quench your thirst plus extra.
Another guideline for hydration is urine. Urine should be clear, if it is dark colored you have dehydrated and need to drink more.
For serious and competitive high school athletes who focus year-round on their fitness and sports training, Dr. Solecki advocates using a “periodization” schedule of training. “This means your training should be very different in your off-season versus pre-season. Give yourself periods of time with more strenuous exercise and periods with lighter/recovery type exercise.”
What type of pain is gain, and what kind of pain is a warning signal? “If you change workout types or start a new sport, some muscle soreness is normal and even good. It’s needed to help build stronger muscles. This is indicative of lactic acid build-up, a normal byproduct of muscle work,” explains Dr. Solecki.
“However, if you find yourself much more sore on Day 2 or only getting sore on Day 2 or 3, you are pushing too hard and need to back off. This is what we call ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ or ‘DOMS’ and it indicates micro-tears in your muscles instead of normal lactic acid build-up.”
Dr. Solecki advises that children age 12 and under should avoid using weights or heavy lifting, because the growth plates at the end of children’s bones may be damaged by lifting weights too early, affecting later growth and development. He advises these younger athletes to stick with exercises using only body weight until the growth plates have closed.
The NUHS Whole Health Center in Lombard offers a human performance laboratory and physical rehabilitation equipment, as well as comprehensive sports medicine evaluations for athletes and fitness enthusiasts who wish to work with a professional to treat or avoid sports injuries and improve their performance. For more information, call 1-630-629-9664.