Resistance Training for Young Athletes Part 1

Resistance Training for Young Athletes
Part 1
Tony Moreno MS CSCS
Resistance training has been used for many years at a variety of competitive levels to
improve performance and help prevent injury. The term resistance training, is often used
interchangeably with other terms such as “strength” training or “weight” training. Regardless
of which term is used, it is a practice that is designed to enhance “one’s ability to exert or
resist force” (Bompa, 1993). In other words, resistance training is used to increase an athlete's
muscle strength and endurance.
Implementing a successful resistance training program is dependent on the experience
of the teacher or coach, the availability of equipment and space, and the instructional
environment. The apparatus commonly found in many facilities may vary from the traditional
iron plates, barbells, and dumbells to the use of variable resistance machines, physio-therapy
devices, medicine balls, or a combination of all of these products. You, as a youth coach,
must have a thorough understanding of why you are using resistance training in your setting.
This should include recognizing the benefits and potential risks, evaluating which practices
are scientifically sound, and the ability to supervise and administer an effective program in a
safe environment. Popular resources containing information on resistance training (e.g., the
internet, general texts, and popular magazines) often suggests that resistance training is safe
for youth and adults of all ages. However, it should be recognized that pre-pubescent and
adolescent youth require special considerations often not discussed or available from these
sources. In this two-part article, we will discuss the utility of resistance training in youth
sport, and those practices and exercise techniques that are appropriate for the youth coach to
implement in his/her program.
Why is resistance training important for youth sports?
Resistance training can play a vital role in both athletic and social development. In
part one of this article, the focus of discussion will center on the role of resistance training in
the prevention of injury, the enhancement of performance, and those psycho-social factors
that contribute to the health and well-being of the young athlete.
Prevention of Injuries
As with many recreational pastimes, participation in sport carries a potential risk of injury
depending on the type and frequency of the activity. Current literature suggests that the risk
of injury may become compounded because participation numbers for individuals who
actively engage in youth sport have increased dramatically during the past few decades
(NSCA position statement, 1996). An increase in the number of participants enhances the
number of "athletic" exposures to potentially injurious situations associated with vigorous
physical activity and sport.
Resistance training can play an important role in reducing the incidence and severity of injury
in youth sport. It stimulates the appropriate biological mechanisms that strengthen the
supporting structures (muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones), enhance the ability of tissues
to absorb more force prior to failure (tearing) and develop greater muscular balance about
specific joints. Research supports the vital role that resistance training can play in the
reduction of injuries. In a high school study comparing the incidence of injury among male
and female adolescent athletes, the injury rate (26.2%) and recovery time (2.02 days) were
significantly reduced for those who participated in a supervised strength training program
when compared to a control group (72.4% and 4.82 days, respectively) that did not follow a
weight training protocol (Henja, Rosenberg, Buturusis, & Krieger, 1982). Cahill and Griffith
(1978) reported high school football players were able to reduce the severity and incidence of
knee injury by participating in a pre-season weight training regimen. Hewitt, Stroupe, Nance,
and Noyes (1996) in a study involving female high school volleyball players, demonstrated
that a routine of plyometric and lower extremity strength training was able to minimize
landing impact forces from a block jump. The authors implied that the alleviation of impact
forces via tissue resiliency and neuromuscular training, was instrumental in decreasing the
incidence of injury for these athletes.
Although it may be easy to generalize these selected findings to children and
adolescent athletes in other sports, coaches should remember that the application of resistance
training is by itself a physical stress. Factors such as fatigue, aggressiveness, experience,
contact in the sport, practice time, and other social or environmental influences play a role in
the prevention of injuries. These factors should always be considered in the over-all program
of planning practices and physical training sessions.
Performance Enhancement
Success in sport can be attributed to many factors. However, a structured resistance
training program and its influence on the body’s structures may well be the cornerstone to a
positive outcome in many sport situations. Many coaches agree that muscular strength,
power, and endurance are highly desirable traits for young athletes. The rigid links through
which force is produced and transferred throughout the segments of the body consist of
muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bone. Concomitant improvements in strength and skill are
most evident when athletic performance capacities such as the vertical jump are increased,
and sprint and reaction times are noticeably reduced in physical testing.
Youth sport varies on a continuum from non-contact activities such as golf and swimming, to
those with a heavy collision component such as hockey and football. Regular strength
training induces biochemical and structural tissue adaptations in muscle that lead to
mechanical advantages in the muscle-bone-joint leverage systems of the body. As a result,
resistance training can be a useful tool for the sport coach who hopes to improve the athlete’s
performance characteristics.
Psycho-social factors
Although direct findings are limited, the available literature and practical observations
of many coaches and scientists appear to demonstrate that resistance training has a positive
effect on a variety of psycho-social indicators such as self-confidence, self-image, and selfesteem (Faigenbaum, 1995). Enhanced self -confidence may improve the socialization skills
needed to bring young athletes together to share bonds that make all participants feel a part of
the team (Martinez, 1997). Well constructed programs should be designed with the young
participant’s best physical and psychological interests in mind. Kids feel better when they are
physically able to play without fatigue or when they can hold their own against an opponent.
Knowing they are strong or fit enough contributes to their self-confidence.
Encouraging self-improvement and persistence may enable athletes to acquire positive
psycho-social effects similar to those found in other recreational activities and sports. On the
other hand, care must be taken to refrain from excessive levels of training that may be beyond
the scope of the athletes’ physical and emotional development. Such practices may encourage
the athletes to acquire negative psychosocial behaviors (AAP position statement, 2000).
What is the appropriate age for young athletes to begin a resistance training program?
Are there any differences between males and females?
Growth, Maturation, and Gender
Although strength training for pre-pubescent children and adolescent youth has been open to
controversy for some time, there is sufficient research and literature to support the use of
resistance training for these age groups (Faigenbaum, 2001; Payne, Morrow, Johnson &
Dalton, 1997; Ozmun, Mikesky, & Sunburg, 1994; Blimkie, 1993; Ramsay et al., 1990).
Strength training is an area of prime concern because childhood and adolescence are stages in
life where growth and development are especially dynamic. Much of this concern has focused
on the occasional incidence of musculoskeletal injury (e.g. epiphyseal fractures, ruptured
intervertebral disks, and low back bony disruptions), particularly during performance of the
major multi-joint exercises such as the squat or deadlift (Nelson et al., 1990).
For the youth coach and parent, confusion often exists as to the appropriate age to begin a
weight training program and the associated affects on normal growth and development.
Current literature on age appropriateness appears to be mixed. One study, concerning the
effects of resistance training on growth and development, reported no adverse effects as a
result of following a weight training program in children as young as six years of age
(Blimkie, 1993). The National Strength and Conditioning Association in a paper on youth
resistance training (1996), holds the position that properly designed resistance training
programs with appropriate supervision can be safe for physiologically and psychologically
prepared children and adolescents. However, the position statement does not give a specific
age range for males and females (NSCA, 1996). The American Academy of Pediatrics (2000)
recommends avoiding the practice of using maximal attempts until adolescents have reached
Tanner stage 5 level of developmental skeletal maturity (Nelson et al, 1990). However,
according to several growth studies (Malina, 1991), the Tanner stage 5 level can be quite
variable across gender and ethnicity, and this can lead to frustration in determining an
acceptable age at which to begin strength training.
Given the general lack of agreement in the literature determining age appropriateness
for strength training, coaches should use extreme caution with children and adolescents when
designing these programs. For all novice trainees, challenging sub-maximal efforts that
require concentration, emphasize technique, address posture and breathing patterns should be
utilized. As the athlete matures, increasing the difficulty of the efforts that match the physical
maturity of the child is appropriate.
For example, a 13 year old female basketball player that is interested in following a
resistance training program should be introduced and practice exercises she feels she can
competently perform. The squat, an important exercise for the hips and legs, should be taught
in a manner so that the athlete can concentrate on establishing excellent technique.
Coinciding with technique should be the fact that maintaining proper posture and breathing
patterns will help her lift heavier resistance later in her program.
Technique is best established with a light resistance like a broom stick or PVC pipe.
With these implements technique can be observed under experienced eyes in a safe manner.
Modifications can be easily performed, and the athlete will develop the confidence that she
can conduct the squat with the appropriate technique. As her confidence builds, more
resistance can be placed by teaching her how to use the barbell, and later with the addition of
weight plates to the barbell.
Another area that is commonly misunderstood among coaches are the differences
between boys and girls when following a strength training program. Because the risk of
anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and other lower extremity injury in females is generally two
to eight times (depending on the activity) greater than their male counterparts, strength
training should become an integral part of the physical conditioning plan (Hewitt et al., 1996)
for both sexes. Although there is not as much literature concerning strength training in
females as in males, the current evidence indicates that females are able to improve strength
from a variety of different weight training protocols (Malina, 1991).
The next issue of the Spotlight will focus on the teaching of specific exercises, exercise
selection, and the frequency of training.
1. Anderson, S.J., Greisemer, B.A., Johnson, M.D., Martin, T.J., McLain, L.G.,
Rowland, T.W., & Small, E. (2000). American Academy of Pediatrics Policy
Statement: Intensive training and sports specialization in young athletes. Pediatrics,
106(1), 154-157.
2. Blimkie, C.J.R., (1993). Resistance training during preadolescence: Issues and
controversies. Sports Medicine, 15(6), 389-407.
3. Bompa, T.O. (1993). Periodization of Strength: The New Wave of Strength Training.
Veritas Publishing, Toronto.
5. Cahill, B. & Griffith, E. (1978). Effect of preseason conditioning on the incidence
and severity of high school football knee injuries. American Journal of Sports
Medicine, 6, 180-184.
6. Faigenbaum, A.D. (2001). Strength training and children’s health. The Journal of
Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 72(3), 24-30.
7. Faigenbaum, A.D. (1995). Psychosocial benefits of prepubescent strength training.
Strength and Conditioning, 17(2), 28-32.
10. Henja, W., Rosenberg, A., Buturusis, D., & Krieger, A. (1982). The prevention of
sports injuries in high school students through strength training. National
Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, 4(1), 28-31.
11. Hewitt, T.E., Stroupe, A.L., Nance, T.A., & Noyes, F.R. (1996). Plyometric training
in female athletes: Decreased impact forces and increased hamstring torques.
American Journal of Sport Medicine, 24, 765-773.
13. Malina, R.M. & Bouchard, C. (1991). Growth, Maturation, and Physical Activity.
Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
14. Martinez, D.M. (1997). Is strength and conditioning necessary for the youth football
athlete? Strength and Conditioning, 19, 13-17.
15. National Strength and Conditioning Association (1996). Youth resistance training:
Position statement paper and literature review. Strength and Conditioning, 18(6), 6275.
16. Nelson, M.A., Goldberg, B., Harris, S.S., Landry, G.L., & Risser, W.L. (1990).
Committee on sports medicine: Strength training, weight and power lifting, and body
building by children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 86(5), 801-803.
17. Ozmun, J.C., Mikesky, A.E., & Sunburg, P.R. (1993). Neuromuscular adaptations
following prepubescent strength training. Medicine and Science in Sports and
Exercise, 26(4), 510-514.
18. Payne, V.G., Morrow, J.R., Johnson, L., & Dalton, S.N. (1997). Resistance training
in children and youth: A meta-analysis. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,
68(1), 80-88.
19. Ramsay, J.A., Blimkie, C.J.R., Smith, K., Garner, S., MacDougal, J.D., & Sale, D.G.
(1990). Strength training effects in prepubescent boys. Medicine and Science in
Sports and Exercise, 22(5), 605-614.