The Dangers of Overtraining Youth

Becky Freeman, a masterlevel trainer and another Xplosive Training coordinator, says the youth program consists of power, agility and speed training for ages 8 to 18.

"It prepares them to be better at their sports and to show up at practices a better athlete," Freeman says. "But the bottom line is to make it fun for these kids so fitness becomes something they can enjoy the rest of their lives."

Freeman says flexibility and form are the first orders of business for the kids. Body weight exercises, springing and reacting drills, and weights follow. Freeman says personal training for kids is different than for adults and parents should make sure they find a trainer who has the training and knowledge to train kids and teens.

Szalay adds that in terms of weight lifting for prepubescent kids, emphasis should be placed on reps and lower weights. Power lifting can be very dangerous as the strength of the muscle can increase past the strength of the immature bone and the muscle can pull the bone away from the growth cartilage.

Szalay says she starts seeing overuse injuries due to sports specialization at age 8 and beyond.

"When kids get to the point where they want to push through the pain, that's where you get in trouble," she says. "That kicks in around age 8 to 10 when they start listening to friends telling them to suck it up.

"Kids need to know that muscle pain is OK, but joint or bone pain is a definite sign that something is wrong and they should not ignore it."

Parents also need to watch for symptoms of burnout, which include chronic muscle or joint pain, personality changes, decreased sport performance, fatigue, lack of enthusiasm about practice or competition, or difficulty completing ordinary activities, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"A lot of times I see parents who say, 'She loves softball, softball is her life,' '' Szalay says. "While the kid is saying, 'My ankle is killing me,' when it's not even swollen or problematic."

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that young athletes who participate in a variety of sports have fewer injuries and play sports longer than those who specialize before puberty. Those athletes also have the highest potential to achieve the goal of lifelong fitness and enjoyment of physical activity.

"The most important thing is moderation in everything," Szalay says. "Kids need to be kids. They need to be athletically active but not become excessive about any one sport or activity. They need variety in their lives."

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