Syracuse Area Health – Strasburger Orthopaedics

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How to Help Young Athletes Stay in Shape Over Summer Break

For parents of young athletes, summer break isn’t just about fun in the sun — it’s a crucial period for maintaining physical fitness and even improving performance. While the temptation is to switch gears entirely and enjoy a well-deserved break, doing so can lead to setbacks in strength, conditioning, and skill levels. This blog will arm you with strategies to help young athletes stay in shape over the summer, ensuring they return to their sport in top form.

Understanding the Importance of Summer Fitness

The duration of the summer break is the single longest hiatus from school sports for young athletes. It’s a time when they can’t rely on regular practices and competitions to keep them in shape. Without the consistent rigors of their athletic routine, they can lose hard-earned muscle, flexibility, and cardiovascular endurance. This is especially true for orthopaedic patients who may have specific exercises to maintain post-surgery health.

The Risks of Inactivity

Inactivity can lead to a phenomenon known as ‘detraining’. This is when the body starts to lose the adaptations it made to exercise – think weaker muscles, decreased oxygen uptake, and stiffening joints. For athletes who might already be prone to muscle or joint issues, detraining can undo months of hard work in just a few weeks.

Adjusting for Individual Needs

Every young athlete’s sport, age, and individual fitness level will dictate their needs over the summer. A swimmer might require different maintenance than a soccer player or tennis competitor. Similarly, athletes with orthopaedic considerations will have to balance rehabilitation exercises with general sport-specific training.

Structuring a Summer Training Program

A structured summer fitness program is key to keeping athletes at their best. It should include a mix of aerobic conditioning, strength training, flexibility exercises, and skill practice. Here’s how to build a plan that fits the bill while allowing plenty of room for leisure and recovery.

Partner with Coaches and Trainers

The summer is a perfect time for more individualized attention from coaches and trainers. They can provide tailored plans and identify areas for improvement. Many schools and athletic clubs also offer summer training programs. Collaborate with these professionals to customize a summer regimen that aligns with the athlete’s targets for the upcoming season.

Balancing Act of Training and Rest

Too much training without adequate rest can lead to overuse injuries and burnout. It’s important to schedule days off throughout the week and plan ‘active rest’ days where the activity is less intense. Be sure your athlete has at least one or two complete rest days per week to allow their body to recover fully.

Tips for Preparing for Summer Fitness

Before the summer even begins, there are steps parents and young athletes can take to prepare for a successful offseason.

Document Current Fitness Levels

Encourage your athlete to undergo baseline testing at the end of their sport’s season. This might include a physical assessment of speed, strength, and endurance or measurements of flexibility. Documenting these measurements will serve as tangible goals for improvement throughout the summer.

Address Any Lingering Injuries

If your athlete is recovering from an injury or has niggling pains, the summer is a prime time to seek treatment. Addressing these issues early can prevent them from becoming major problems that disrupt the regular season. Engage with a physical therapist or doctor to come up with a plan that includes healing exercises and stretches.

Tailoring Workouts to the Athlete

Customizing workouts is critical to prevent overuse and cater to the young athlete’s specific discipline.

Varying Intensity and Duration

In general, the intensity of summer workouts should be slightly scaled back from the in-season levels, but the volume might increase. For example, a basketball player might work on upper-body strength while reducing the frequency and intensity of high-impact plyometrics.

Incorporating New Elements

Use the summer to introduce new exercise modalities that might benefit the athlete’s overall fitness. For example, yoga for improved flexibility, or swimming for low-impact, full-body conditioning. Cross-training not only offers a break from the monotony of sport-specific drills but also aids in muscle balance and injury prevention.

Fostering a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle

Nutrition is a central pillar of any training regimen. Summer break offers young athletes the flexibility to play a more active role in their meal planning and understand the value of a well-balanced diet.

The Role of Hydration

With summer comes the heat, which means increased sweating and the need for proper hydration. Encourage your athlete to drink water before, during, and after workouts. Sports drinks can be helpful during prolonged, high-intensity activities but should not replace water as the primary fluid source. For more hydration tips, check out our blog article ‘Hydration: Eight Ways to Ensure Your Young Athlete Stays Healthy in the Heat’.

Nutrient-Dense Foods

Building or maintaining fitness requires a diet rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Whole grains, lean meats, dairy products, and a variety of fruits and vegetables can provide the necessary nutrients to fuel training and recovery.

A Balanced Approach to Summer Fitness

Summer training for young athletes is about finding the perfect blend of maintaining fitness, honing skills, and allowing the body and mind to rest. By taking a balanced approach, athletes can not only remain at their peak but also use the summer to grow stronger in all facets of their sport. This meticulous preparation sets them up for a successful and satisfying return to the playing field, court, or course. With dedication, customization, and a focus on health and wellness, the summer can be a season of both rejuvenation and advancement for young athletes.

For young athletes looking for a more tailored plan for maintaining their fitness and avoiding injury, speak with one of our sports medicine professionals at Syracuse Area Health – Strasburger Orthopaedics.

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