Preventing injury in young athletes has long been a challenge.
In adults, the best strategy to prevent injuries is to strengthen the muscles around fragile joints like knees and ankles. In children, especially before puberty, the notion of adding weight training to the regimen seemed unhealthy with bones still so flexible and growing and muscles still not yet ready to bulk up in the absence of the hormones of puberty. These concerns, though, may be overblown.
Using the body’s own weight as resistance or at most loading with small additional weights, it seems that doing strength training specifically targeted to shore up the muscles around the injury-prone joints is both safe and effective.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics released a series of videos designed to demonstrate how to safely perform weight training even for the youngest athletes. The goal isn’t to bulk up but to prevent injuries, and Dr. Jordan Metzl, the sports medicine pediatrician featured, has years of experience with elite athletes and dancers of all ages. The program is safe and effective and can be done at home or with a group.
One of the neat things about the program is that it is designed for families. There are flash cards, a DVD and a book to help everyone do the program. You need a few light weights but you don’t need a gym membership or good weather to do this program as a family.
I encourage parents of dancers, athletes, couch potatoes and weekend warriors to check it out. It’s a great program for parents and kids alike and frankly I suspect parents will be more challenged by it than that kids! It’s a great workout and will leave you in better shape, better balance, and less prone to injury whether you climb the stairs at work, play youth soccer, or dance the Nutcracker!