How Much Exercise Should A 13 Year Old Boy Get Youth Sports and Exercise

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Youth Sports and Exercise

As a coach, I am constantly asked questions about how a child/teen can be successful as an athlete. The most common questions I get from parents and athletes are: 1) What types of foods should my child eat? 2) When should they start weight training? 3) Should he concentrate on one sport or should he pursue multiple sports? These are all extremely important questions to ask, but unfortunately, depending on who you ask, you may find that there will be multiple answers to each. Nutrition alone will provide you with more than enough contraindications and misinformation to last you a lifetime. In this article, I hope you will gain a better understanding of each of these questions, and I will do my best to provide you with resources for further research.

The first question about food intake is well beyond the scope of this and many other articles due to the complexity of the topic. So instead of writing an excerpt, based on my own experiences and biases, I will list several sources that can be researched. That way, you can use your own experiences and biases to make informed decisions for your particular situation. Before listing these sources, please note to the reader that these sources are holistic based and therefore will not include specific “one size fits all” diets.

Nutritional resources

1. http://www.mercola.com (very comprehensive health and nutrition website, which is very informative)

2. http://www.westonaprice.org (the nutritional information base)

3. http://www.price-pottenger.org (the combined website of two pioneers in the field of nutrition)

4. [http://www.personaltrainingonthenet.com] (a website that should be the foundation for all health professionals; includes information on nutrition, exercise, lifestyle changes, etc. This site requires a monthly fee of $9.50).

5. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price

6. Nourishing traditions by Sally Fallon

7. Pottenger’s Cats by Francis M. Pottenger

The second question that is often asked is When should my son/daughter start weight training? This is a great question that requires a great answer, which unfortunately rarely happens. The usual response from “experts” in the field is usually that they don’t have a definitive answer, or they say, “as soon as they can.” The topic of resistance training with youth is complicated as there is a lot of misinformation in lay publications. Too often I have witnessed a pre-teen in a gym with their parents or lifting too heavy weights or doing exercises fit for bodybuilders. While parents should be applauded for introducing their child to a potentially positive hobby, they should be careful how early they introduce them to resistance training.

First, a child does not finish physical development until the age of 20. This is an important point to keep in mind, as resistance training can be extremely stressful on an individual’s joints and connective tissues at any age. If a child’s tissues have not fully developed and are subjected to forces greater than what might be considered normal, there is a greater risk of irreparable damage. This can be seen in many trainees who start around age 13 or 14 and end up requiring major surgery before graduating high school (author included). Too many cases of ACL/MCL/PCL tears have started to appear as early as age 15 in our area as a result of inadequate training protocol and age of exposure. I personally know of half a dozen cases of this, with one person in particular having two ACL repairs before the age of 17! This shouldn’t be happening!

So when should your child be introduced to resistance training? A good rule of thumb might be soon after puberty starts and only in a very limited way. Exercise types must be body weight and/or light apparatus type, ie body weight squats, pull-ups, light dumbbells on a Swiss ball. The total volume (total amount of repetitions in a given session) should be kept extremely low during the first year or two of training, as should the intensity (amount of weight per repetition) of the exercise.

The third question, should my child concentrate on just one sport or should he participate in multiple sports, is one that requires your child’s input as well as many educated decisions. To begin, one concept must first be understood, and that is the concept of biomotor capacity. Bio, refers to life and motor refers to the movements that make biomotor ability the particular strengths and weaknesses of an individual in the movements of life. Why is this important? Since each sport requires specific biomotor skills, the athlete will need to be proficient in these to succeed at elite levels. Common logic then would say that the child should choose just one sport early on because this will help them focus on the skills they need most for their particular sport. For example, a baseball pitcher would require high levels of power, coordination, balance, and flexibility, while the others are less necessary to achieve success. Logically, majoring in baseball would ensure that the boy reaches his full physical potential… right? Not necessarily.

We must first understand how power is developed in the first place to realize how flawed this ideology is. In order to develop optimal power, the child must first have a strong structural/stabilizing system that can withstand the forces naturally placed on it. The next necessary component before power can be specifically trained is strength which should only be trained once the stabilizing system is adequate. So now we can see that in order to have one of the necessary biomotor skills, they must first focus on other skills. How is this achieved? Using other activities and/or sports as “complementary” training for your favorite sport. Think about it. How many times have you been watching college or professional sports and the commentators talk about a particular athlete’s past? How many of these athletes were top quarterbacks, punters and running backs in high school? This further demonstrates the need for additional activities/sports to achieve a high level of success. So the next time a coach gives your child an ultimatum that forces them to choose between sports, we hope this article helps with the debate that will undoubtedly ensue.

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