Youth Resistance Training

Youth Resistance Training
by Mike Bach
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (C.S.C.S.)
Head Coach
Physical Education Teacher
Budokon Yoga and Martial Arts

As a former Division 1 collegiate baseball player, I know the benefits early resistance training had on my ability to separate myself as a ballplayer from other athletes.  I credit strength development through resistance training as one of the main reasons I was able to outperform my peers and earn a full academic scholarship doing what I loved, playing baseball.   The benefits of a properly constructed and guided resistance training program can be the deciding factor on whether or not an individual is able to reach their full potential as an athlete and realizing their dream of participating at the highest levels. 

Despite previous concerns that children would not benefit from resistance exercise or that the risk of injury was too great, clinicians, coaches, and exercise scientists now agree that resistance exercise can be a safe and effective method of conditioning for children (Baechle, Earle, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 3rd ed. pg. 145).  Children as young as age 6 have benefited from resistance training.  Strength gains of roughly 30%-40% have been typically observed in untrained preadolescent children following short-term (8- to 20-week) resistance training programs, although gains up to 74% have been reported.  Neurological factors, as opposed to hypertrophic (muscle size) factors, are primarily responsible for these gains due to inadequate levels of circulating testosterone (146-147). 

When participating in a youth resistance training program, it is important for participants to work along side certified strength and conditioning professions who understand the fundamental principles of normal growth and development.  Children should begin resistance training at a level that is commensurate with their maturity level, physical abilities, and individual goals.  Because of considerable variation in the rates of growth and development, it is not particularly accurate to define a stage of maturation or development by age in months or years (chronological age).  Stages of maturation, or pubertal development, can be better assessed by the biological age, which can be measured in terms of skeletal age, somatic (physique) maturity, or sexual maturation (142-143). 

Children who participate in resistance training programs are likely to undergo periods of reduced training due to extended travel plans, busy schedules, or decreased motivation.  This temporary or permanent reduction or withdrawal of the training stimulus is called detraining.  Data suggest that training-induced strength gains in children are impermanent and tend to return to untrained control group values during the detraining period (146).  Participation in physical education classes and organized sports throughout the detraining period did not maintain the preadolescents’ training-induced strength gains (146-147).  There is a time for detraining, however.  For three weeks following the end of the season the athlete should refrain from sport specific resistance training in order to give their mind and body a chance to recharge and refocus.

Ideally, frequency of resistance training for youth athletes should be two times per week during the off-season and once per week during the season in order to maintain the gains that were reached during the off-season and allow the athlete to finish their season strong instead of falling into the end-of-the-season “tired” or “fatigued” mode.  Studies show that participants who resistance trained only once per week averaged 67% of the strength gains of participants who resistance trained twice per week (146).  Off- season resistance training is the strength-gaining period whereas in-season resistance training is to maintain strength throughout the season.

 In addition to increasing muscular strength, power, and muscular endurance, regular participation in a youth resistance training program has the potential to influence many health and fitness related measures.  Resistance exercise may favorably alter selected anatomic and psychosocial parameters, reduce injuries in sport and recreation activities, and improve motor skills and sport performance.  It has also been reported that regular participation in a resistance-training program can result in a decrease in fatness among obese children and adolescents (147). 

 A common misperception is that resistance training will stunt the statural growth of children.  In adequately nourished children there is no scientific evidence that physical training delays or accelerates growth or maturation in boys and girls. 

While resistance training does not affect the genotypic maximum, it probably has a favorable influence on growth at any stage of development as long as appropriate guidelines are followed (147-148).  It has been shown that regular participation in an exercise program that includes resistance training and weight-bearing physical activities actually enhance bone density in children and adolescents (143). 

 It has also been suggested that regular participation in a preseason-conditioning program that includes properly supervised resistance training may increase a young athlete’s resistance to injury.  It has been estimated that 15% to 50% of both acute and overuse injuries sustained by children could be prevented if they were better prepared to play these games (148). 

A properly constructed sport specific resistance training program will benefit any level athlete at any stage of maturation.  It is important to remember that children are not miniature adults.  No matter how big or strong a child is, children are physically less mature and are often experiencing training activities for the very first time.  Therefore, It is important that the athlete work with a highly trained individual who has studied sport specific strength and conditioning to ensure proper form and mechanics of the exercise as well as exercise progression.  An individual with a trained eye who understands proper human biomechanics (joint angle, joint load, muscle force, etc.) as well as having experience working with children to ensure delivery of information in a way that your child can understand and absorb is vital when choosing your child’s strength and conditioning coach. 

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning / National Strength and Conditioning Association ; Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle, editors. –3rd ed 2008