As athletes mature year by year, their athletic talents and skills also progress steadily. The onset of puberty marks a dramatic increase of growth in height, muscle volume and strength, as well as weight gain.
At that point, the promise of a great athletic career may never seem brighter, and the competition to reach one’s full potential intensifies.
Young athletes, their parents and their coaches appreciate the need to improve their conditioning and fitness to achieve their goals and possess the capacity to perform well against their peers — who are trying to do the same — in their goal to be the best.
To improve one’s fitness and conditioning, it is necessary to do more than one is accustomed to doing, to challenge the body to make a positive “Specific Adaptation to the Imposed Demand” of extra workouts — the SAID principle.
But the growing body can also be overworked in this quest to maximize the benefits of conditioning.
However, if an athlete exceeds the capacity of the body to incorporate the work of conditioning into positive improvements, the musculoskeletal system fails rather than improves, and overuse injury ensues.
So while more is frequently perceived to always be better, that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes less is more. The push for maximum conditioning can be a double-edged sword — fine while you are improving, but a detriment if you overdo it.
Within the sports medicine and athletic conditioning arenas, one of the underlying tenets is that everyone can safely increase their activity level by 10-percent a week.
The three parameters of a workout are the frequency, intensity and duration: the amount of days per week (or sets per day), the closeness to one’s maximum effort or capacity he or she is working, and the length of each workout.
For those with long-term goals, the 10-percent-a-week limit means doubling one’s workload every seven and a half weeks.
Within a year, this translates into seven doublings annually — meaning if you only could do two of a specific exercise today, one year from now you should be able to do about 250.
But for the youth and high school athlete, the time window for improvement seems much shorter, and that lends itself to a question. Did the young athlete stay in shape year-round and prepare specifically for the rigorous intensity of preseason practices?
The truth is, if you are not in shape by late July or early August for the fall sports season, when the official practices begin in mid-August, the risk of an overuse injury escalates dramatically.
A term was coined many years ago to remind athletes about the importance of preseason conditioning and injury prevention: “prehabilitation — get in shape to play, don’t play to get in shape.”
But if you’re not already physically ready for the fall sports preseason, it’s too late and you may end up hurt before the real competition begins.
And if you’re planning on competing in a sport during the winter, get a good plan together now. If you do it right, you will be ready when Thanksgiving rolls around, and you will be less likely to develop an overuse injury when the grind of the preseason hits.