Questions Answered: Benefits of Strength Training for the Prepubescent and Adolescent Athlete

When is the right time for a kid to participate in a resistance training program?

A question with a wide spectrum of opinions from parents and coaches alike.

In short, if a child is ready to partake in competitive sports, then most likely they are ready to participate in a thorough resistance program based on two factors:

They are physiologically and psychologically mature.

Each of equal importance.

However, if a child is ready to participate in sports, then he or she needs to make sure their muscles, joints, and tendons are also ready for the rigors and demands of the sport.

And while some kids are more physiologically inclined to withstand higher degrees of those demands, training outside of their sport with an appropriately designed strength (and or speed) program is crucial for longevity,biomechanical integrity, and performance integrity.

Benefits of strength training for young athletes include

– Increased muscular strength and local muscular endurance

– Improved sport performance

– Injury prevention

– And development of lifelong exercise habits

The Strength Gain

Young athletes want to get faster. Parents want their kids to be quicker.

They want their daughter to excel in softball, break down faster in front of the ball, run around bases faster..

Parents need their athlete to be a step faster on the football or lacrosse field..

In each of the instances, a well planned progressive strength training program enhances results.

The mantra goes you don’t get faster playing sports, you get faster preparing for them.

Increasing strength means increasing muscle and joint integrity which are the backbone for speed and quickness enhancement.

Research has shown that as much as a 74% muscle strength increase has occurred in untrained youth athletes after 8 weeks of training.

On average, gains of 30% to 50% are observed in youth athletes.

However, when a young athlete stops training, detraining occurs, and if ceased long enough, the competitive advantage gained from strength training is lost as natural growth rates of peers help them to catch up.

In other words, once an athlete begins training at a young age, they should not stop training for an extended period of time in order to maintain and continually get stronger over time.

Devoting at least 1 day per week to training (outside of sport practice) is sufficient for young athletes to begin to have a competitive advantage.

Improved Sport Performance

Once a youth athlete has developed a solid strength base, training movements and muscles that are specific to their respective sports are keys to successfully transferring strength acquired.

Rather than just training general movement to enhance youth athlete performance, the particular biomechanics of the sport and demands should be calculatedly implemented so the muscle contraction patterns, velocity of movement, and contraction forces are correctly trained to elicit the best adaptations.

For instance, when training a youth softball player, after establishing a base strength foundation, this is the appropriate time to really focus on developing lateral movements, inside outside edge-work of the feet, rotational strength of the trunk, shoulder scapular integrity, and energy system development.

Specificity is key to successfully enhancing sport performance. Proper exercise selection and training technique should be especially emphasized during this phase, and not random exercises chosen just to make athletes work.

The amount of training is also an important factor as sport season should always be taken into consideration in order to vary and assign the correct training loads.

HOWEVER, regardless of in season or not, performance training outside of the sport should not be discontinued.

Injury Prevention.

The most significant benefit of strength training for children is the injury prevention factor.

Youth athletes will not “play themselves into shape” because the actual loads and demands of the sport don’t stimulate improved muscle and connective tissue growth and relative strength.

Training does.

Training and preparing the muscles for sport help create longer lasting strength and endurance throughout the season.

Supplemental strength and performance training are key to enhancement.

Lifelong Exercise and Training Habits

One of the most rewarding aspects of strength and performance training from a coaching perspective is witnessing the psychological development occur in youth athletes.

Every athlete that I have had the privilege to train experiences a mental maturity and confidence gain from training.

Physiologically, benefits range from improved bone density to improved body composition, two additional factors significant for health in the long term.

But can’t strength training for children stunt growth??

No.

Contrary to popular belief, research indicates proper strength training does not have adverse effects on growth.

Strength training can actually influence growth at any stage in development but will not affect the natural maximum height a child can achieve.

It is vitally important however to understand that strength programs need to be appropriate for the age of young athletes and their training background, and the importance of a child to be psychologically ready for training.

Here are a few guidelines that we go by at Willis Performance Training:

Every athlete should be properly assessed before beginning any training program and continually monitored

A firm strength base should be established before any “rigorous” training

Focus on trunk and spine or “core” strength for sport carryover

Program intensity should match the sport season

Never overload the athlete

Allow adequate rest and recovery

Reassess to measure progress

*******

Preventing injury is key, thus common sense and a correct programming should be implemented.

Conclusion

Is strength and or performance training right for your kid?

Yes.

There are more advantages than disadvantages in terms of sport performance, general fitness, and overall preparedness for sport that will provide a competitive advantage.

Also, keep in mind that strength and speed are closely related. So even though it might look the part to just throw kids into activity where they are running through ladders and pulling parachutes, a foundational strength building phase will further enhance speed and balance;  when speed mechanics are broken down, it boils down to individual muscles, joints, and tendons working together to generate, redirect, and absorb force.

A youth athlete should be prepared.

Principle based training with effective structure is the perfect solution for a parent or competitive youth athlete looking to get ahead.

Too many parents miss the boat in this area by assuming that fundamental strength and speed happen through playing only sports and is not a necessary aspect of development.

Not only is it beneficial from many aspects, it’s absolutely necessary to withstand and exceed the demands of sport.


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