The next generation of runners is beginning to find the love and joy in lacing up and going for a run. The research has shown that a regular running program in children will improve concentration, quality of sleep, endurance, and cardiovascular fitness. Running is a great tool to build strong minds and bodies in today’s youth.
However, just like at any age, running can result in injuries. The most common cause of injury in runners is poor running mechanics, which is more pronounced in adolescents as they adjust to their growing bodies.
Follow these guidelines to help keep kids injury free:
1. Obtain a physician’s clearance. This should always be the first step when beginning a new activity, and it’s a great opportunity to ask the doctor any questions you may have for your child.
2. Purchase appropriate running shoes. Ensure that your child is running in shoes that are appropriate for them! Visit a running specialty store for a screening to see what model or type is the best match.
3. Teach them a proper warm-up. A proper warm-up prepares the body for a bout of exercise by increasing your heart rate, body temperature, and blood flow to active muscles, and it helps your psychological preparation. The warm-up typically lasts about five minutes and can include exercises like squats, lunges, high knees, and butt kicks.
4. Be mindful in warm conditions. Children have a reduced ability to dissipate heat, so it is essential that extra attention is paid in warm temperatures. Be sure they stay hydrated and cool.
5. Incorporate a strength-training program. Strength training is the most important injury prevention tool. The strength-training program should be a body-weight based workout that focuses on core stability, as well as on strength of the glutes, hips, and lower body, plus single leg stability. A session with a qualified fitness professional at HSS can help develop a specific program for your child.
6. Keep running fun! Going too hard, going too often, or doing too much too soon is a recipe for a disaster. When a child is starting out, be sure to keep it fun, keep the mileage low, and include rest days. Be sure to keep an open dialogue with your child about any injuries or concerns they may be having. If a pain arises, be sure to visit the doctor.
Pamela Geisel, MS, CSCS, CPT is a Performance Specialist at Hospital for Special Surgery’s James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center and Tisch Sports Performance. She graduated with honors from Towson University with a bachelor’s in exercise science and received her master’s in exercise physiology from Adelphi University. She has been in the fitness field since 2007 and has a special interest in using strength training to maximize performance and reduce injury for runners. Geisel is a long distance runner and has completed five marathons, more than a dozen half-marathons, and many 5K and 10K races.