Teen Runner: Myth-busting Edition

As cross-country season is in full-swing and we are seeing more injured teen runners, I thought it would be a good idea to do a myth-busting blog post about teen runners! There are many misconceptions about runners in general, much more so when considering our younger athletes. These principles will apply for most people but will be particularly relevant to our younger runners or their parents. Let’s jump right in:

“If I weight train, I will get bulky or slow!”

No way! Weight training is an incredible adjust to running and often allows runners to run for much longer and faster without injury or pain. By making “deposits” into your injury piggy bank via resistance training, you will be able to go further before going bankrupt! Check out my blog post, here, for more information on weight training and how it can improve your running efficiency, make you leaner, make you faster, and reduce your injury risk.

“If I weight train, it will mess with my growth plates and stunt my growth!”

This is an old-wives-tale that has persisted for many years despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. A study in 2006 determined that weight training caused no growth stunting or increased injury risk among youth athletes(2). In fact, resistance training has been shown to increase bone strength over time, rather than weaken it! Resistance training, when implemented safely, is a phenomenal adjunct to training. A strength coach is a great addition to the coaching team.

“I can eat whatever I want because I’m young!”

While in general it is true that younger athletes may have more leeway with diet liberties than adults, it is generally not a blank check. Despite increased metabolic capacity and less risk of weight gain, youth athletes still need to focus on getting a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein. When calories or protein starts dropping, injury is not too far behind(3). Proper nutrition looks very different for each athlete, and a nutritionist or dietician is a great help.

“I don’t need as much sleep or recovery because I am young!”

This is a particularly dangerous myth to believe as it can cause metabolic deficiency, reduced recovery, and increased risk for stress fracture and soft tissue injury. In fact, most younger athletes need more sleep than their older counterparts due to increased need for energy to fuel growth and maturation. Get those hours! Sleep demands can vary drastically between individuals, so be sure to err on the side of more sleep when needed.

“I don’t have any limitations for mileage or intensity per week!”

While teen can be more plastic with running tolerance, meaning they may be able to tolerate larger fluctuations in training volume per week, this is not always the case. The difficult thing with teens and training load is determining the level of growth, metabolic demand, and recovery required that is underneath the surface. Growth spurts, maturation, and stress from school can drastically change the amount of load athletes are able to tolerate. A better way to manage load is conservative increases in mileage (no more than 10-15% per week) and a fine-tuned body-awareness that will allow for accurate reporting of recovery needs.

I hope this helps to dispel some common myths for our teen runners and I hope that our middle and high school athletes have a great end of the season!

Thanks for reading,

Ryan

Sources

1. Malina, R. M. (2006). Weight training in youth-growth, maturation, and safety: an evidence-based review. Clinical journal of sport medicine, 16(6), 478-487.

2. https://www.precisionpt.org/post/single-post-2018-08-07-i-m-a-runner-do-i-need-to-worry-about-a-barbell

3. https://www.precisionpt.org/post/adolescent-stress-fracture-risk-factors

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