Resistance Training is Essential for the Elite Youth Athlete

Youth athletics is increasingly competitive requiring more practice time from participants to compete at the highest level.


….Or is this increase in practice volume what’s hindering optimal performance?


The short answer is yes. Early sport specialization (defined as: young athletes who practice and compete year-round in 1 sport at the exclusion of all other sports) is what experts believe is causing the increase in overuse injuries in youth athletics.

Athletes aged 7-18 are more likely to suffer a severe overuse injury if

  1. They participate in sports more hours in the week then their age (ex; 12 hours per week when they are 10 years old)

  2. AND/OR if their time spent in organized sport versus free play is greater than double (ex; 8 hours of sport and 3 hours of free play)

Free play is unorganized physical activity (playing with neighborhood kids or siblings)


Overuse injuries are preventable! An overuse injury occurs when there is too much load and not enough recovery to a certain tissue (muscle, bone, etc). When you practice the same movement patterns like hitting a back swing, running, pitching, your body is continuing to stress and use the same muscles and joints. This coupled with too high of a volume of practices/games and insufficient rest is what causes overuse injuries.


A compilation of recent research has found that resistance training in youth athletes reduces the risk of overuse and even acute sport related injuries by 66%. There are many theories as to why resistance training is so protective.

  1. If you challenge and load your body consistently, you will not have as large of a change in activity level when your sports season is approaching. An athlete's body will be primed for high intensity activity.

  2. With a thoughtfully planned training session, athletes are exposed to varying movement patterns that tax their body in a different way than their sport specific practices. They are therefore increasing their repertoire of movements their body can perform successfully and with control. It also is giving those muscle groups a rest that are always being trained

  3. It also supplements the benefit of other sports or free play in creating “physical literacy”. Basically better movement planning and control.


What must be kept into perspective is still the concern of total volume of physical activity. Resistance training is best incorporated when it takes the place of a sport specific practice not in addition to practice.

When should my child start resistance training?


The consensus among current research is that a child is appropriate for resistance training once they are emotionally mature enough to receive and follow directions and demonstrate proficient levels of balance. This typically occurs between 6 and 7 years of age.


Now to bust some myths…. Resistance training will not stunt growth or increase risk of growth plate fractures


Like most things, it is best to train with an individual who has experience and knowledge specifically in working with children and adolescents. General guidelines are to work between 60-80% of 1 rep max (1 RM) and higher reps and sets.


Resistance training is not effective for athletes who are pre puberty.

Wrong! Improvements in strength have been seen in twice weekly training programs in athletes between ages 7-12. There may be less hypertrophy (increase in muscle mass) due to hormonal levels in prepubescence. However, strength is also impacted by muscle recruitment and coordination, which can result in measurable strength improvements without muscle hypertrophy.


If you are or have an injury riddled athlete, connect with a physical therapist with training in proper prescription of resistance training. At Precision Performance, we strive to keep our athletes engaged in sport and training. Shutting down an athlete is not in our vocabulary. With advanced training in Olympic and Powerlifting and years of experience of working with athletes, Precision Performance therapists are well equipped to create a stronger and more resilient athlete.


Resources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5582694/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445252/