One in five kids who visit the nation’s emergency rooms for treatment of an injury is there for a sports-related injury. In fact, a survey by the non-profit advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide shows that a young athlete visits an ER about every 25 seconds.
What most parents do not realize is that many of the common sports injuries that can keep their children on the sidelines or troubled by chronic pain can be avoided.
Drawing upon my experience as a trainer and rehabilitation specialist for the elite performers and acrobats of Cirque de Soleil — many of whom are former Olympic athletes — I, along with the team of doctors and physical therapists at NYCPT, have developed a specific conditioning and training program for young athletes. What makes our program unique is that it identifies and strengthens areas of weakness to enhance athletic performance and ability while incorporating exercises to help avoid injuries.
Many athletic conditioning specialists and trainers focus strictly on performance without putting equal emphasis on injury prevention. Several contributing factors can lead to overuse injuries in young athletes. One factor is improper form that can result from fatigue. A bigger, often overlooked issue is a lack of emphasis on developing a young athlete’s strength to match linear speed, which begins to peak during the teen years.
We find that young athletes respond well when introduced to a regular regimen of core strength exercises that train muscles and joints to work at their highest efficiency, thereby reducing the chances of injury. The core exercises work to develop balance, coordination and muscle endurance. Concentration on basic functional movement patterns involving deceleration, stabilization and acceleration is equally important.
To increase the range and fluidity of motion and to decrease the risk of injury, young athletes should focus on stretches for the hips, legs and back. With these targeted exercises, we’ve found that our young clients notice improved flexibility in their shoulder joints, lower back and hamstrings as well as improved rotary flexibility of the cervical spine and hips.
Structured according to each athlete’s sport and individual needs, below are exercises developed for young athletes, focusing on five key areas (injury prevention, rehabilitation, posture correction, stability, and endurance):
1. Injury Prevention: Hip Bridge with Heel Slides
This exercise is great for building back extensor strength and hip extensor strength. It works the hamstrings and glutes and is very effective for injury prevention because it works the lower and upper back simultaneously. I recommend this exercise for any sport that involves running, jumping, control and balance.
2. Injury Prevention: Arm and Leg Reach
I use this exercise for young athletes who require balance and control in opposition and to help prevent chronic overuse injuries in the shoulders and hips. You move one leg as you go into shoulder extension, hip extension and flexion — a motion that helps to strengthen all of the stabilizing muscles and to control the hips and shoulders.
3. Posture Correction: Snow Angels
This exercise is especially effective for swimmers, gymnasts and volleyball and tennis players. As you lie prone with your shoulders in flexion and hips in slight extension, this exercise helps to strengthen all back extensors for postural correction. It helps balance the core and conditions the spine in a neutral position for increased power and postural stability.
4. Posture Correction: Side Lying Leg Lift
This exercise, which helps build abductor strength and balance, is good for the start-and-stop sprint-like motion required by runners as well as basketball and baseball players. It also is helpful for high jumpers and discus throwers, who require power in their legs, hips and glutes, and for football players, who require power in their twisting and rotating movements.
5. Stability: Side Plank
If your sport requires rotating, throwing, jumping and balancing – such as goalies in soccer and ice hockey winger positions — this exercise will help with shoulder stabilization, oblique strength, rotational ability, balance and coordination.
6. Stability: Forearm Plank (using the Powerplate)
By incorporating the Powerplate’s vibrating platform, this challenging exercise works on balance and control of the shoulder flexors, hip extensors and back entensors and helps to develop abdominal strength. It works to improve core strength, which is critical to any sport, especially for fencers who have to lunge or lacrosse attackers.
7. Endurance: Mountain Climbers
Track runners, sprinters, distance runners and cyclists will benefit from the way this exercise works to build quads and glutes and to develop better balance and endurance.
8. Endurance: Supine Knee Drops
If you participate in rotational sports such as golf, wresting, volleyball, tennis or martial arts, this exercise wil help build lower abdominal and rectus abdominis strength as well as balance. You also will build strength in the pecs and deltoids by holding your arms up in the “T” position while stretching and strengthening your upper and lower torso.
Matt Nelson was first introduced to Pilates while working towards a Masters in Fine Arts in Dance at the University of California, Irvine and it changed his life. Now, 22 years later, Matt has studied various Pilates methods, including BASI, Stott, Polestar, and Fletcher.
Previously, Matt has extensively trained with and instructed performers and athletes from Cirque du Soleil on productions such as Zumanity, KA, O, and the Criss Angel Show. He has also helped condition and rehabilitate artists from the Celine Dion’s headlining Vegas show.
Matt has recently brought his conditioning and rehabilitation expertise in Clinical Pilates to NY Chiropractic & Physical Therapy, and has helped bolster our wide-ranging portfolio of comprehensive care.