By Gabrielle Guynan, M.S., CSCS, PES, CPT
It’s estimated that youth athletes have been spending 85% of their day sitting or staring at a computer screen during the COVID-19 pandemic. With in-person learning in school, sports and increased activity now resuming, it is important to prepare their bodies for a safe return to play.
The two most common youth sports injuries occur during full speed sprinting and activities involving change of directions. These injuries can be avoided by focusing on three major areas: the hamstrings, the glutes and the core.
The first two exercises involve a combination of warming up the hamstrings and learning to stabilize the core and pelvis. For the first exercise, grab a resistance band, dog leash or belt, lie down on your back and wrap the band around one foot. Slowly lift and lower the leg in the band, keeping the knee straight and focusing on keeping the bottom leg steady for pelvic stability (10 reps, each sides). For exercise two, use the band to hold the leg straight up in the air, slowly lift and lower the opposing leg to match.
The glutes are essential for producing power as well as for preventing overuse and injury at the knee joint and low back. To perform a figure-four glute bridge, first lie on your back and bend both knees so that the feet are flat on the floor. Cross one ankle at the opposing knee. Drive through the heel of the foot on the floor, raising the hips to the ceiling and finishing with a big squeeze in the glutes (perform 10 to 15 reps, each side).
The core produces power through rotation and stabilizes to protect the spine. Before an athlete can safely produce power, exercises using anti-rotation can prepare and protect the core. For this next exercise, the athletes position themselves in a half kneeling position, starting with the opposite end of the band in tension, held in their fists, and close to their chest. They slowly push the band away from their chest, straightening their elbows and tightening their core to avoid the urge to pull and rotate toward the opposite end of the band. Hold for a 3- to 5-second count and repeat for eight to 10 repetitions.
Next, let’s put the use of the core, hamstrings and glutes together. Beginning in a half kneeling position, drive through the front heel of the foot that is flat on the ground to push into a standing position. The goal is to never let the opposite foot touch the floor, driving the knee above the hip and holding the balanced position at the top. The athletes’ arms should follow their legs as if they are running, a contralateral position (10 reps, each side).
To prepare for lateral moves, grab a small band and place it around the ankle or feet. Sink into an athletic stance with toes pointed directly forward. Take one step with the lead leg, increasing the tension in the band, and keeping the toes forward. Tension should remain in the band during all repetitions and toes should remain forward. Steps should remain small and under control. The feet should remain apart from one another (10 steps each direction).
Next, it’s time to enhance dynamic action to increase blood flow, warm up the muscles and prepare them to run. Exercises like a single leg quad stretch into a toe touch and toy soldiers will enhance balance, stretch the hamstrings and work the glutes and core to produce stability on the single leg.
To ensure the hamstrings are ready for full speed, let’s turn to running and sprinting in a progressive pattern. Begin with butt kicks in place. On the command “go,” athletes should jog at 50% to the other end of the court or field. Repeat the same drill with high knees in place, moving into a 50% jog on “go.” With each repetition, they should increase speed from a 50% jog to a 75% jog to a run and then finally with a sprint (run two to four reps at each speed).
Preparing the body to run and change direction through core, glute and hamstring activation will ensure that students returning to sport are prepared to do their best both safely and efficiently, improving their performance and longevity. We can’t wait to see all of our youth athletes back out on the fields and courts playing again.
Gabrielle Guynan, M.S., CSCS, PES, CPT is director of personal training at Brick Bodies Fitness Services – a locally-owned chain of health clubs that offers a complete fitness experience. For more information, visit BrickBodies.com or follow @BrickBodiesFitness on Facebook and Instagram.