In the Classroom: Seeking the perfect fit

Jordan Potts, 11, gingerly balanced his weight while standing on two soft pads. His feet looked like they would slip off any minute. To add to the challenge, Jordan repeatedly threw a weighted ball against a square goal on a trampoline. The ball was immediately thrown back at him, making him lose balance for a split second.

"It gets a little achy," said Jordan, a tennis player and swimmer from La Cañada. "But that's the whole point of it."

The double-balance rebounder, as the exercise is called, was developed to improve core strength and agility — the main goals for students enrolled in Verdugo Hills Hospital's new Teen Training program. Launched June 6, the program takes a proactive approach to sports injuries by teaching students exercise techniques designed to lessen the risk of injury.

The program is taught by up to five Verdugo Hills Hospital physical therapists who assist students in using the special equipment, said Laura Knowls, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the hospital.

The program began when Aimie Kachingwe — a physical therapist at the hospital and orthopedics professor at Cal State Northridge — approached Knowles with her desire to begin a class based on Kachingwe's research into the types of injuries suffered by student athletes.

"We're trying to move from a total injured basis, to a wellness [and] prevention mode," Knowles said. "Let's help these kids before they get hurt. They go out … and they have no back muscles … they tear their shoulders apart. You see ACL injuries with girls in soccer all the time."

At the beginning of class, students are given a worksheet with a list of exercises to do on a machine. The student's progress is recorded. Each machine has an instruction card and a visual diagram that illustrates what exercises can be done on it and how they should be done.

"The important thing is that they make sure that they're not only doing the exercises, but that they're doing them correctly," Kachingwe said. "These exercises are not like your standard you-go-to-the-gym-and-weight-lift kind of exercises. They're a little more specific, so you really need instruction on how to do them correctly."

The machines allow students to do stretches, ham string curls, hip abductions, leg presses and cable step-outs, among some routines. After the student completes their worksheet, they can come back and work out specific muscles used in their sport.

"We've got kids in here that play football, we've got kids that play soccer, we've got kids that play baseball," Knowles said. "We've even got kids that don't like sports too much and they are a little bit intimidated about going to gyms. They're working out in here and feeling good."

Learning the specialized techniques also allow student athletes to improve their own workout outside of class.

"It helps my muscles pretty much by making them stronger than they were before," said Rachel Boyd, 13, an AYSO soccer player.

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