Cross-Training Gives Youth Athletes the “Athletic Edge”

“It’s very important for children to get involved in multiple sports. That way, whenever they’re developing their muscles, joints, [and] ligaments, it’s not for one particular sport or body part. It involves multiple body parts whenever you’re training for multiple sports,” states Ron Wilcox, D.C. (Doctor of Chiropractic) and member of the Michigan Association of Chiropractors (MAC) Public Education Committee when asked about the importance of children playing multiple sports.

According to YaleMedicine, sprains and strains are the most common youth sports injuries. Still, more severe injuries like stress fractures and ACL tears are becoming more common due to overuse and the repetitive motions that come with playing the same sport all year round; these injuries are also known as Sports Specialization Injuries or SSI. SportsMD also cites sports specialization as the reason for a rise in injuries to the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) “in the elbow of baseball players, the classic “Tommy John” injury. Once an injury of older, professional ball players, this is now an injury that is being seen in adolescents.” This increased risk of injury is a big reason the MAC has been a proponent of multisport participation for the past five years.

Cross-Training Gives Youth Athletes the “Athletic Edge”

Encouraging kids to take full advantage of the off-season to rest as well as exercise a variety of muscle groups with cross-training is a great way to avoid SSI. Cross-training results in better physical fitness and a lower risk of overuse injuries by working a wide variety of muscles and joints, and also fights burnout and boredom by keeping activities varied.

Ron Wilcox, D.C., agrees, “Avoiding overuse injuries or SSI by limiting sport-specific activities and letting the athlete rest any strained joints and muscles while maintaining the same energy systems used in the main sport is the goal of cross-training.”

SportsMD, YaleMedicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and many other sources recommend cross-training or participating in multiple sports and athletic activities to reduce the risk of injuries while maintaining physical fitness. A publication by Stack Sports informs us that “the key to successful cross-training programs is to use the same energy systems used in the sport while allowing a break from sport-specific activities. Training the same majo

Pairing Specialized Sports with Off-Season Sports

Ron Wilcox D.C. also states, “A variety of exercises or sports prevents overuse injuries while still increasing necessary strength and endurance.” By working muscles across the entire body, athletes are able to fight off SSI. Variety is also beneficial for their brains. By switching exercises or sports in the off-season, athletes are also reworking their brains. When children let their brains focus on other intense activities, they are less likely to get bored of the sport. Sports Psychologist Dr. Eddie O’Connor states, “Early diversification allows participation in a range of settings that most favorably affect positive youth development in areas such as a healthy identity, positive peer relationships, and leadership skills.” 

  • Basketball: Activities like lifting weights, cycling, or swimming could be ways to build up strength and endurance, while sports like baseball and tennis allow for opportunities to build up agility and hand-eye coordination. 
  • Baseball and Softball: Off-season sports and activities should focus on flexibility, speed/agility, and strength to optimize performance. Activities like yoga, weight lifting, and sports like track and field could improve necessary skills while resting the appropriate areas. 
  • Tennis: Activities like yoga, cycling, swimming, and strength training are all excellent low-impact exercises focusing on flexibility, strength, and endurance.
  • Track or Cross Country: Off-season sports like swimming, cycling, baseball, volleyball, or rock climbing are all excellent ways to stay active in the off-season while avoiding SSI.  
  • Soccer: Off-season sports like building strength with weight lifting and aerobics training that allows your legs to rest, like rowing, swimming, or cycling, are all good ways to improve skills while avoiding common injuries. 
  • Volleyball: Activities like weight lifting, yoga, and pilates could be integrated into off-season training to increase strength and flexibility. Sports like track and field, baseball or softball, or cycling are also ways to stay fit while resting overused parts of your body. 
  • Football: Off-season sports like track and field or baseball and physical conditioning activities like weight lifting should maintain a player’s strength and stamina. 
  • Cycling: Activities like swimming, baseball, and tennis can build upper body strength and maintain cardiovascular endurance. Meanwhile, cross-country skiing, indoor soccer, or basketball can help maintain leg strength and endurance when snow and ice prevent biking.
  • Swimming: Off-season sports that can improve endurance while giving your shoulders a rest include cross country, track and field, or soccer.

Encouraging physical activity and even team sports for your child’s health is still essential. The President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Science Board and the Michigan Association of Chiropractors (MAC) both encourage children and young adults to participate in sports to improve and maintain physical, mental, emotional, and social health. Matt Barton, D.C. and grade-school hockey coach, talks about the three things that are beneficial for children going to a chiropractor, “1. Preventing injury, 2. Performance, and 3. If you do get injured, it helps with healing.” While younger children should still get most of their physical activity from free play, adolescents and teenagers often use organized sports to stay fit and healthy. If participated safely and paired with other activities, sports are a net positive for children and young adults’ mental and physical health. Talk to your family chiropractor to get specific recommendations on sports and activities for your child. You can also find more information about the importance of playing multiple sports and find a D.C. in your area at MyMACWellness

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