Strength training for Adolescents

OZHL1387I recently received a message from a friend asking if it was ok for her daughter to strength train. I have had this question asked so many times that it bears returning to it to clear up any myths or preconceived notions.

At one time there was a prevailing thought that young athletes would get their strength training from their activities, and that any strength training would lead to injury, damage growth plates, etc. The research has consistently shown that strength training has not only benefits for health, athletic performance, but also can lead to less stress in school, and possible higher income later in life, but more on that in a later post.

A study posted earlier in 2016 looked to quantify by age, gender and training, specific movements (including resistance training) to determine the effect on “physical performance” in young athletes. It had the young athletes over a 23 week period use a resistance program that had them perform 5 sets or 5 exercises. They would do between 6-8 repetitions of each exercise per set. The loads used were between 80-89% of a one rep max, or 1RM. They would then rest between 3-4 minutes between sets.

At the end of the 23 week period the conclusion was that resistance training did improve strength and jump performance in youth athletes. Having trained young athletes myself this did not come as a surprise, but rather bolstered what I already knew and felt was correct.

Now, with any sports or dance for that matter there are injuries inherent with both. Many athletes  take part in strength training to not only improve performance, but also to reduce their risk of injury. Would strength training also reduce injuries in young athletes? Once again a recent study shows that yes, in fact strength training does reduce the risk of injuries to young athletes.

The goal of the study was to determine if strength training would help reduce injury occurrence. The study took 52 elite level soccer players between the ages of 13-14 years of age. They were divided up randomly into two groups. One group performed 2-3 weekly sessions of strength training, over 12 weeks. The other group did not do any strength training. Results were taken in a sprint test, a T-Test, and a jump test, at the start of the twelve week period, in the middle, and at the conclusion.

At the end of the twelve week period (not including a one week recovery period) the group that took part in the strength training had better test results on the sprint, T-Test, and jump testing when compared to the non-strength training group. Injuries were also lower only 4 in the strength trained group, as opposed to 13 in the non-strength trained group. “The study showed that strength training accurately and efficiently scheduled in youth soccer players, induced performance improvement and reduced the rate of injuries.”

As you can see there are definitely scientifically backed benefits for young athletes to train. However that being said there are a few precautions and guidelines you should follow before letting your child partake in any strength training. I have no doubt that these results would likely be across the board not limited to only soccer, but other sports including various types of dance as well.

  • Always consult with your child’s doctor.
  • Make sure whoever is training your child doesn’t treat them like little adults (because they are not)
  • Be sure that the trainer is aware of the sensitive periods of development and creates programs accordingly.
  • In my experience, young athletes tend to lose focus during exercise and it is best to limit reps to 5-6 to make sure they keep focused on the movement.
  • Make sure your child is exposed to a variety of movements and exercises through a complete range of motion.
  • Any exercises should be learned with bodyweight and once the movement has been mastered you can add resistance.
  • Any programming should include aerobic conditioning.
  • Monitor your child for any aches and pains that seem out of ordinary.
  • Make sure your child wears proper foot wear for training (I’ve seen some kids show up to run in basketball sneakers)

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