Youth strength training is a topic that interests many research, coaches, and clinicians. How much is enough or too much, when to start, and what to prescribe is constantly debated and under scrutiny? There is a lot of evidence that supports participation in appropriately designed youth resistance training programmes that are supervised and instructed by qualified professionals. The benefits of strength training starting at younger ages can eventually have long-term implications for an individual’s healthy lifestyle and future sports participation.
Is strength training for youth appropriate?
Participation in resistance training for children in different forms has been an area of controversy for a number of decades.
It is commonly stated that “children are not miniature adults”, and because of their immature physiological and psychological state, they should be prescribed appropriate training programmes according to their technical ability and stage of development.
Recent research has indicated that resistance training can elicit significant performance improvements in muscular strength, muscular endurance, power production, change-of-direction speed and agility, balance and stability, coordination and speed of movement in youth athletes. It also has positive effects on health (e.g. decreased cardiovascular disease risk), in addition to improving psychological well-being, as well as and helping to reduce both severity and incidence of injuries.
In accordance, strength training is now well-recognized as both safe and effective for children and adolescents when appropriately designed and supervised by qualified professionals and consistent with the needs, goals, and abilities of each individual.
Enhancing Athletic Performance for Youth
Improvement in athletic performance for youth athletes can be complex and to achieve the high levels of athleticism it required a long-term plan. Just playing the sport will not provide enough stimulus to achieve the high levels of performance. Resistance training can help lower the risk of injuries and have a positive effect on youth athletes physical literacy.
When athletes include resistance training they are better prepare for complex movement, master sports tactics and are able to sustain the demands of training and competition. Progressions and regression are important for an athlete to progress appropriately. In addition to that, we also must consider the biological age and psychosocial maturity level of the child or adolescent.
Building a good base of fundamental movements during childhood and adolescence is what will help the youth develop more efficient motor skills while simultaneously reducing the risk of injury and improve body control.
Resistance training has been found to effect and promote muscular strength and jump performance for youth athletes. Muscular strength has a direct impact on running speed, muscular power, and change of direction, plyometrics, and endurance. Muscular strength depends on multiple factors, such as neural, mechanical, psychological and hormonal.
The development of speed throughout childhood will be influenced by multiple changes in the muscle, such as growth in cross-sectional area and length, biological and metabolic changes, neuromuscular development, and also changes in biomechanical factors and coordination.
In terms of speed development throughout childhood and adolescence, it has been shown that the weight gains during puberty can negatively affect a young athlete’s speed. Strength training can, therefore, be an effective way to overcome the negative influence of this increase in mass by enhancing force production.
The importance of early introduction into resistance training for boys wishing to enhance their maximal speed.
Evidence in the literature has shown that plyometric training and strength training both have a positive impact on enhancing muscular power in young athletes.
As such, strength training can have a significant impact on the power production abilities of young athletes, and considering power is a vital aspect of many sports, there is plenty of justification for the inclusion of strength training within the young development programme.
Participation in sport involves some inherent risk of injury, and although the total elimination of sport-related and physical activity-related injuries is an unrealistic goal, it appears that an all-around programme which focuses on increasing muscle strength, enhancing movement mechanics and improving functional abilities may be the most effective strategy for reducing sports-related injuries in young athletes.
The strengthening of muscles and connective tissues through strength training makes young athletes capable of sustaining higher external forces, which therefore makes them less susceptible to soft-tissue injury.
Strength Training for long-term health
There are many health benefits associated with regular physical activity in children and adolescents. Studies have shown that resistance training offers benefits to children when appropriately prescribed and supervised, such benefits include several health and fitness numbers that can be measured and they include:
- Body composition
- Lower body fat
- Weight control
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Stronger Bones
A strength training programme also seems to be particularly beneficial for sedentary youth who are often unwilling and unable to perform prolonged periods of aerobic exercises, such as overweight or obese children and adolescents
Moreover, participation in youth programmes that enhance muscular strength and fundamental movement skill performance early in life appear to build the foundation for an active lifestyle later in life.
When should they begin?
It is clear that all children develop at different rates. The age that they start at really does not matter it, what really matters is there physical literacy of fundamental movements and consistent participation in a program to assist them in there physical development.
Another way to view this question is, if children are ready to engage in organised sports, it would also mean they are ready to participate in appropriate progressive strength and conditioning as part of a long-term approach to developing athleticism.
Strength training is now a widely-accepted form of training for both children and adolescents. Despite previous concerns regarding the safety and effectiveness of youth resistance training, scientific and clinical evidence supports participation in youth resistance training programmes that are well designed and properly instructed. These programmes have been found to benefit youths in terms of health and fitness.
Moreover, the benefits of strength training starting at younger ages can eventually have long-term implications for an individual’s healthy lifestyle and future sports participation.
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