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Your Fitness Questions Answered

Whether you are a student athlete trying to make the varsity squad, or a weekend warrior trying to reach that next goal, whether you are an elite amateur athlete, or just a person trying to get into better shape, PressBox and Velocity Sports Performance are here to help.

Click here to submit your questions for the experts at Velocity Sports Performance and we'll pick some of the best questions to answer in the paper and on the site each month.

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I'm hoping to make the varsity basketball team this year . . . Do you have any tips on improving my vertical leap for rebounding?
 – Sarah (Cockeysville)

Your vertical leap is a measure of the power in your hips, thighs and lower legs. In order to improve your jumping ability, you need to increase the power in those areas. The best way to do that is through plyometric training, exercises that use explosive movements to develop muscular power. Examples of plyometrics include box jumps, bounding, squat jumps and Olympic lifts.

However, because plyometrics are explosive and high impact, they should not be performed without proper instruction. If this type of training is performed improperly, it could wind up being more detrimental than beneficial. Make sure you are being instructed by a certified strength coach, who can ensure proper form and safety.

My son has just started the eighth grade and loves sports. He's becoming a great athlete and hopes to continue playing both basketball and lacrosse. Are there limits to how much he should be working out at his age? Some of his friends and classmates are doing a lot with weights but I've heard that weight training at an early age can be damaging. What do you recommend?
 – Jane (Severna Park)

Strength training is a very important component of an athlete's workout schedule, even young athletes. Weight training for preadolescents and adolescents isn't only not damaging, it is quite beneficial.

Your muscles play a major role in stabilizing the joints of the body. When athletes get tired, their muscles don't react as quickly to movements and stresses placed on them, placing the body at risk for injury. With proper strength training, you can train your muscles to last longer and work more efficiently, thus giving them more strength, more power and more prevention against injury.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has published research findings that support strength training for children. The Academy states that this type of training for children can be safe and effective if proper training techniques and safety precautions are followed.

To ensure proper technique and instruction, you need a certified strength coach to teach your children how to execute lifts and to address all of the important issues that go along with strength training, such as: progressions, sets and repetitions, rest intervals and balancing of muscle groups. However, before starting any strength training program, a physical exam must be completed by a physician.

I'm not sure if this is something you can help with, but seems like just getting to the gym is the hardest thing. What's the best way to stay motivated?
– Rob (Dundalk)

The best way to stay motivated is different for everyone, so the best advice I can give is to find something that is meaningful and that works for you. Some people stay motivated by thinking about how they feel after a workout - it gets you going and you fell energized the rest of the day. Also, you can try setting a goal - maybe you want to lose ten pounds, or you want to be able to bench your body weight. Setting benchmarks can help you stay motivated when you see the progress you have made.

I have found that works is using the buddy system works well. If you have a partner to meet at the gym at a particular time each day, you stand a better chance of getting there because you don't want to leave your friend hanging. Also, working out in a group is great; you get to catch up while getting in your workout. There is nothing more motivating than having fun while you work up a sweat.

I spent a lot of time running this summer – and was able to work up my distance to five miles. Any suggestions for ways to continue a cardio workout once the weather turns bad?
– Chuck (Baltimore)

There are plenty of ways to maintain your cardio level throughout the winter. My favorite: keep running outside. It sounds crazy; who would actually go outside to run with snow on the ground and temperatures of 35 degrees? Running through the snow can actually give you a great workout; you have to side step patches, give a little extra push when you run through a drift. You may find it to be better and more fun than running in the summer.

But, if running in the cold isn't your thing, there are a lot of other options. There is always the gym, where you can hit the treadmill or elliptical machine, or take spinning classes, which offer a great variety of cardio fitness.

Questions answered by Liz Paesani, a Sports Performance Coach at Velocity Sports Performance in Baltimore. She is a Certified Athletic Trainer through the National Athletic Trainers' Association and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Issue 1.24: October 5, 2006