Why Your Child Should Be Strength Training
As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m sure most of you reading this have athletic children that participate in some form of organized sport. Although it may be true that childhood obesity is rising, and more children prefer video games to outdoor play, participation in organized sport has actually been on the rise. This increased sport involvement in young athletes also raises concerns about injuries. I do not claim to be a sport injury specialist, and will leave that to your Medical professional, but I figured I could at least compile a summary of the most recently published research on sports injuries in adolescents,some risk factors, and even preventable measures that could help keep your children safe.
Injuries inherently come with playing sports and although you may not be able to prevent them entirely, you may be able to keep the severity and incidence down. Brack told me the other day that he saw a group of school age girls at a very competitive local sports-specific facility, and he noticed most of the young girls walking around with knee braces. Brack himself has a history of 5 knee surgeries from playing youth sports, so he got to thinking about why this generation might be more susceptible to lower extremity injuries. An interesting review article published in 2012 evaluating the differences between adolescent boys and girls found that young girls are actually at a higher risk for ACL injuries.1 The authors attribute this to a few reasons: 1) a high level of estrogen in females (still being debated in the research)2) Unlike boys, girls do not display an increase in muscle strength during puberty. This second point is important because when hamstring strength falls behind quadriceps strength that can put someone at risk for an ACL injury. This strength gap is just more pronounced in girls than boys. This lack of strength, especially in the hamstrings, may make it difficult for them to stabilize the knee and protect the ACL during dynamic tasks (landing, jumping, etc).
The most common injuries to adolescent aged children are related to the knee and ankle.2 The adolescent growth spurt plays a large role in this, because during this age athletes typically have underdeveloped coordination, skills, and perception. Think about it this way, adults are relatively symmetrical and proportional, however a child has a much larger head and trunk compared to their short little legs. This can actually make them top-heavy and potentially increase their risk of falling and injuring themselves.3 Basically, their coordination skills haven’t quite developed yet and since their strength is only just evolving it puts them at a higher risk for injuries.
There are plenty of other factors that play into injuries such as nutrition, genetic factors, etc. As far as nutrition and injuries, a recent study found that children (boys and girls 3 to 13 years) who avoid drinking milk were at a greater risk for bone fractures. Calcium is an important nutrient to consume for children during their “growing years” and it will help establish a strong bone mineral density and prevent bone injuries. However, according to the USDA 60-90% of kids don’t consume enough calcium daily. It is recommended that children age 4-8 get about 800 mg of calcium each day (which equals about 3 glasses of milk). Older school age children (age 9-18) require about 1300 mg of calcium each day. However, for those that have dietary restrictions or choose to avoid the potential byproducts, such as hormones or antibiotics given to cows, there are alternative options. The most popular options are rice, almond, and hemp milk. Nutritionally, soy milk is the closest to cows’ milk for protein, but some nutritionists believe the calcium in these alternatives (almond, soy, hemp, etc.) are not as well absorbed by the body. Try to find one that is fortified with at least 20 to 30 percent of the daily value for calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and riboflavin to overcome that.4Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, and if this were a partner WOD calcium and vitamin D would be a team, and you need adequate amounts of both. Some non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D include darky leafy greens such as kale, turnip greens, and broccoli, as well as fish (salmon, swordfish, and tuna).5
Okay, so thus far I’ve been a little doom and gloom about adolescent injuries, BUT I have good news! There is evidence to support the use of an injury prevention program in adolescents.6 This involves incorporating a warm up, stretching exercises, lower body strengthening exercises, plyometrics, balance, and agility exercises. I know that probably sounded like a lot, but majority of that can be incorporated into a warm up, before practice. Much of these preventative measures are being implemented at CrossFit Boro, through the CrossFit Kids program. Instilling proper form and technique at a young age could make your child more successful at their sport and keep them injury free. An important part of injury prevention should involve lower body strengthening exercises to fix the imbalances (quad/hamstring) that I spoke about earlier. The NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association) does support a resistance training program for adolescents as long as it is supervised and properly designed.Those are two important points: supervised and properly designed. Luckily, we have coaches who have experience and training in this area and would be able to provide proper programming. Not only that, but our coaches would be willing to offer sport specific small group and individual training for you and your children. This individualized method can tailor training to your child’s specific needs and areas of weakness. There is nothing wrong with strength training our youth, and the NSCA even claims that it could increase someone’s resistance to injuries.7 Not only could it potentially reduce the risk of injuries, but it is also building healthy habits for our children that will likely be carried into adulthood.
It is impossible to completely 100% prevent an injury for your child, and you may end up very lucky and they will never suffer one, but odds are they will. However, by implementing a proper warm up, strength training, and giving them the proper nutrition you could really be doing your child a service. A combination of these things may help prevent the severity of the injury, and in the meantime you are building great habits for your kids. I know you are probably well aware, but your children are always looking at your actions to mimic. You all are such great role models for your kids and educating yourself will only make you and your children’s lives better!
Kelsey Evans, BS, CISSN, (almost MS)
- Wild CY, Steele JR, Munro BJ. Why do girls sustain more anterior cruciate ligament injuries than boys?: a review of the changes in estrogen and musculoskeletal structure and function during puberty. Sports Med. 2012;42(9):733-749.
- Caine D, Caine C, Maffulli N. Incidence and distribution of pediatric sport-related injuries. Clin J Sport Med. 2006;16(6):500-513.
- Caine D, Purcell L, Maffulli N. The child and adolescent athlete: a review of three potentially serious injuries. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2014;6:22.
- Karst K. Moo-ve over, dairy milk: alternatives abound, so don’t have a cow! Canada’s Natural Health & Wellness Magazine: Alive; 2008:172-175.
- Best nondairy sources of calcium. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. 2013;21(4):6-6.
- Paszkewicz J, Webb T, Waters B, Welch McCarty C, Van Lunen B. The effectiveness of injury-prevention programs in reducing the incidence of anterior cruciate ligament sprains in adolescent athletes. J Sport Rehabil. 2012;21(4):371-377.
- Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJ, et al. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5 Suppl):S60-79.