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Stretching and Strength Training in the Young Athlete

Rachel Brewer, M.D.

Strength training (sometimes referred to as resistance training) and maintaining flexibility in young athletes can be essential to injury prevention as well as performance if done appropriately.   Both facets are also crucial in rehabilitation from injury as well as maintaining long-term health.  How does this apply to your young athlete?  Here are the frequently asked questions related to strength training and stretching:

Is flexibility important in young athletes?  It is important for growing athletes to maintain flexibility to assist in prevention of overuse injuries. During periods of rapid growth, flexibility can easily decline, which contributes to overuse injuries of the lower extremities. Also, a decrease in flexibility can also be a significant factor in the development of overuse injuries around open growth plates in young athletes.  

How often should kids perform stretching exercises? Stretching should follow 10-15 warm-up and cool-down periods for any athlete during activity. Focus should be on the lower extremities (for example, hamstring and quad stretches) for runners.

Is strength training safe in kids? Strength training can absolutely be safe in kids if proper resistance techniques and safety precautions are followed. Strength and core training is beneficial for maximal performance, rehabilitation from injury, and enhancing long-term health.

What are the benefits of strength training? As mentioned, strength training has the obvious positive consequence of increasing overall strength, in addition to playing a role in injury prevention and long term health. Strength training in youth may also stimulate bone mineralization and have a positive effect on bone density. Appropriate strength-training programs have no adverse effects on linear growth or growth plates.

What are the risks of strength training? The risks of strength training in kids come from unsafe lifting techniques and equipment being used improperly in an unsupervised setting. Children and adolescents should avoid power lifting, body- building, and maximal lifts until reaching physical and skeletal maturity in order to avoid injuries.  

Core strength, resistance exercises, and flexibility are crucial elements of keeping active kids healthy in their sport and long term!