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Staying in Shape During Sports Season

Whatever your sport, these tips can help you stay in shape and avoid injury.

Know Your Limits

Exercise is essential, but too much exercise can be a quick ticket to the bench. Your muscles, after all, can only do so much before they need a break. Working them too hard is courting injury.

Don’t skimp on warming up and stretching. Do five minutes of light exercise, followed by a few good stretches before working out.  Stretching may help make the tendons more flexible, which could help prevent injury. There’s some debate about that, but Hubal says “stretching gets more oxygen to your muscles. That revs them up and helps them perform at their best.” Remember, never stretch before warming up, and don’t stretch so far that it hurts.

Space your workouts so that your muscles get a chance to rest. It takes at least a day for them to repair and strengthen themselves. So mix things up by doing upper-body strength training one day, then focus on your legs the next, and another day on your core muscles like your abs. (Don’t forget the cardio!)

You should also vary the sports you play, rather than playing the same sport year-round. “We recommend that kids don’t specialize in just one sport,” Chesnutt says. “If you do, you risk overuse injuries.”

If You Get Injured

You need to know what to do if you are injured, in order to heal and to prevent making a bad thing worse. That is not always easy.

“Boys are very competitive, and instead of telling anyone they are hurt, they play through the injury,” Chesnutt says.

Big mistake. Speaking up about your injury should be a priority. Why? Do the math.

“A strained muscle might keep you out of the game for three to five days,” Hubal says. “That sounds like a lot, but if you do it further injury, you can count on being benched for weeks.”

And even a minor injury can easily turn major if it is ignored.

“The risk goes up logarithmically,” Hubal says. “Five to ten times the risk of further injury.”

So take it easy, but don’t retreat to the couch. Keep exercising, only at a much less intense level. That's called active recovery.

“Be active, but don’t put any stress on the injured muscle,” Hubal says. “You can ride a bike or go swimming, just make sure the exercise is specific to the injury so you don’t make it worse.”

Finally, if you are injured, get good advice -- from a pro -- on how to heal.

“Kids should not be making these decisions, and neither should their parents,” Hubal says. “A sports medicine specialist should be involved.”

Eat Better, Play Better

After a workout or a game, your muscles need glycogen, the fuel they consume while you are active. Your body can make glycogen from carbohydrates.

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