Friday, April 30, 2010

Specializing in Athletics and Fitness

Yesterday, I was listening to an awesome interview on 1070 AM WFAN with Eddie White and Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz. They were discussing the Indianapolis Colts' second round draft pick, linebacker Pat Angerer (great name). The conversation shifted to Angerer's athletic ability and versatility, and how he excelled in three or four sports in high school. Eddie remarked that a lot of coaches at the college and pro level look for athletes that excel in two or more sports. They feel the blending of physical attributes, skills, and variety benefit the athlete. This is an interesting fact, despite the drastic pressure to specialize at an early age by parents and coaches of today's youth athletes.

I am a big advocate for playing a variety of sports and doing a variety of movements. The desire to specialize at an early age can accelerate sport skill development, but it comes at a price. The frequent, repetitve stresses cause skeletal muscle imbalances at a vulnerable time during a kid's development. I worked with a 13 year old hockey goalie that could not straighten his arms over his head because of the many hours per week he spent in the 'goal-tending' position (arms rotated inward, hunched over). While at that point, it was a mild inconvenience, he was setting himself up for greater risk of shoulder and low back injuries. Repetitive stress injuries are now more and more common in kids and adolescents. Twenty years ago, that was rare.

Strength training, mobility and a proper conditioning program should be part of all athletes' schedule. It should not interfere with there training. It should enhance it. Unfortunately, so many athletes use bodybuilding techniques, that will actually interfere with there training. Many coaches don't know any differently and don't want their athletes lifting weights. But, a properly designed program will benefit a young (and old) athlete in season and during the off-season.

I recently worked with a female middle-distance runner and put her on a strength and mobility program while she was in the middle of her track season. The result: she is now not slowed by the ankle pain she was experiencing during the latter parts of her running. Also, no muscle soreness. After she finishes her track season, we will take advantage of her short, six-week off season and progress her strength training to develop more hip strength and power.

Balance is crucial to our biology. You can have too much of a good thing (skill development, competition). Today's athletes of all ages (but increasingly common in youth) are specializing too much, and too soon. They need to balance their movements, build strength and mobilty, and have adequate recovery.

* In June, I am offering an introduction to strength training camp for kids age 12-18 years of age. It will be open to athletes and non-athletes. I will teach the basics of body weight, barbell, dumbell, and kettlebell training. Including, warm-up, techniques, safety, spotting, and program design. Kids will develop their own strength training programs. I will post more details, soon.

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