First things first. Before the season even starts, you should already be in shape.
“A lot of youth don’t think they need to get in shape,” says James Chesnutt, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Oregon Health & Sciences University. “They are couch potatoes right up to the first day of practice.”
Don’t let that be you. Practice is going to put a lot of strain on your muscles. Games are even more intense. You have to be prepared. Think about baseball. If you’re a pitcher and your arm isn’t up to the task, your game might not be the only thing to suffer. A weak arm is an easily injured arm.
Chesnutt, who coaches teen sports in Portland, Ore., tells his players that they need to start working out six weeks prior to the season, putting in an hour’s worth of exercise a day (something everyone should be doing already). That means a mix of lifting, cardio training, and active play that revs your heart.
During the Season
Once your sport's season is under way, you can tone things down a bit, says Monica Hubal, PhD, an exercise physiologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“You want to go into a maintenance phase,” Hubal says.
In other words, instead of trying to build more muscle, you simply want to maintain what you built up in the pre-season. Your body is working hard enough at practice and during games. When you bring too much intensity to your personal workouts, you are overdoing it -- and that is a recipe for injury.
Hubal also recommends that you focus your workouts on the muscles that have to really perform in your particular sport.
“A lot of boys lift weights like body builders, focusing on the pretty muscles,” Hubal says. “But you have to tailor your routine to what’s taking place in your sport. Nice biceps might help you get the girl, but they won’t be much help in your sport.”
She points to soccer as an example. “If you are going to training for soccer, building upper-body strength won’t help a lot.”
“When teen athletes hit the gym, they don’t add aerobics their workout,” Chesnutt says. "Take football players: They train with weights but they don’t run.”
That’s a mistake. Your heart needs a workout, too. So include cardio exercises in your routine. Spend some time on a treadmill, an exercise bike, or an elliptical trainer. Or just get outdoors and go running.