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Exercising During the Pandemic: Advice for Young People

Young Girl Doing Push-Ups

The benefits of exercise for young people are undeniable. But the “new normal” has meant less physical activity for many.

With school districts cancelling athletic activities for the entire school year or putting sports on hold for the next few months, many young athletes who have tied their identity to a sport are finding coping especially difficult.

The good news is that young athletes can still stay active, even if they’re not playing their favorite sport. It will likely lift their spirits if they can go running, ride a bike or work on strength, flexibility and conditioning at home.

Setting Up a Home Routine

No matter what their fitness level, young people can gain strength and improve their overall health with exercises they can do at home. Exercising on a regular basis to enhance strength, flexibility and endurance could bring results in a matter of weeks. The exercises below achieve different fitness goals.

  • Strengthening: The nice thing about these exercises is that they can be done using one’s own body weight as resistance. Some basic exercises include squats, single-leg balancing, push-ups, sit-ups and side planks. For those who like to use exercise equipment, barbells, ankle weights and exercise bands, which were often sold out at the start of the pandemic, may now be available.
  • Conditioning: These exercises increase heart rate. For example, body-weight exercises performed consecutively with little or no rest in between can provide a cardiovascular benefit. Calisthenics, such as jumping jacks and jogging in place, can also improve fitness. For those who like dancing, a half hour or so of dancing to fast music can provide a good workout. Teenagers might enjoy a stationary exercise bike, and appropriate YouTube exercise videos might be an incentive for different age groups, even younger children.
  • Flexibility: This is also an important part of overall fitness, especially for young athletes. If teens can use their time at home to do daily stretching exercises to increase their flexibility, it will pay off when they go back to playing their sport or start a new one.
  • Sport-specific exercises: These exercises enable athletes to work on their strength and flexibility as it relates to a specific sport. These kinds of exercises are more challenging to do indoors. If a teenager has a backyard or access to a park, they could practice skills they use in running track, soccer, basketball and other activities. When outside, it’s important to follow guidelines regarding wearing a mask and social distancing.

Ease Back into Exercise

The pandemic won’t last forever, and some schools and clubs are already resuming sports. After being inactive for many months, it’s important for young people to ease back into athletic activities. Doing too much too soon could lead to injury. Here are some tips to play it safe.

  • Avoid a rapid change in activity level. Have kids work on flexibility, strength and conditioning at home before jumping back into a sport. Outside activities such as jogging or biking can also help prepare for more intensive sports activity.
  • Ease in. Think about practicing and playing every other day. Start slowly and work up to the level of exercise or play your child engaged in before the pandemic.
  • Apply the “10 percent rule.” This will help avoid overuse injuries, which happen when an individual does too much, putting excessive stress on a bone, muscle or joint. If someone is running 10 miles per week, for example, he or she would increase the distance to 11 miles the following week.
  • Coach your child to listen to their body. Any type of pain is a sign that they need to take a break.

Safety should always come first, not only in terms of injury prevention but with respect to one’s environment. Wearing a cloth or surgical mask while exercising does not present a health risk in healthy individuals. If your child is engaging in an activity such as running or walking outside, be aware of your surroundings. If someone in the immediate vicinity isn’t following guidelines by wearing a mask, keep your distance.

HSS offers wellness information, programs and webinars for children, teens and adults:

Joe Molony, pediatric physical therapist

Joseph Molony is manager of the Young Athlete Program, Pediatric Rehabilitation and James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Centers. He is a board-certified physical therapy sports clinical specialist and certified strength and conditioning specialist.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.