IMPORTANCE of STRENTH TRAINING for YOUTH ATHLETES
By: Meggan Brunette CSCS Sports Performance Coach, Champion’s QUEST
Youth participation in strength and conditioning programs during adolescence, improves a child’s athleticism, aids in injury prevention and weight maintenance, while increasing self-esteem and confidence. Sports performance programs incorporate a variety of speed, acceleration, and strength exercises to make young athletes faster and stronger. By improving the total body strength and stamina levels of young athletes, many common overuse injuries can be prevented. To achieve optimal results, frequency and duration of workouts should be programmed according to the age, ability, and goals of the individual athlete. The National Academy of Pediatrics states that the minimum duration should be twice per week.
An elite athlete is a combination of athleticism (including strength and speed) and sport specific skill. Sport specific skills are involved with a specific sport like hitting, kicking, or dribbling. To assist athletes in enhancing their natural athleticism while improving these skills, athlete performance coaches are specialists in developing the specific skill sets needed for each game. Young athletes develop a broad base of athleticism by participating in multiple sports and activities that require them to run, jump, catch, throw, swim, climb, etc. Similarly, sports performance coaches maintain variety while increasing the complexity of exercises to increase strength, speed, agility, stability, balance, endurance, coordination, and power of the athlete. The result of the specific combination of these training methodologies, in turn, makes young athletes faster, stronger, more mobile, and more reactive for their sport.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. Childhood obesity is causing children who are physically unprepared to participate in sports, to experience prepubescent growth plate injuries and overuse injuries. In addition, children that learn to compete on a healthy, balanced diet are better able to maintain the energy they need during competition and exercise. By creating a healthy lifestyle image that athletes will carry into their adult years, strength and conditioning programs can teach life long habits of good health and proper nutrition.
Along with the benefits of competing with good nutrition and a healthy weight, the most important type of strength training for young athletes is to strengthen their core. Core training exercises, which strengthen your back, obliques and abdominals, will improve posture, balance, and stability. There are three types of core training: stability (holding a specific position), strength (moving slowly) and power (fast muscle contractions). The core is where all movements come together, improving sport specific skills such as running and throwing. The stronger the core is, the more stability is provided throughout these movements. Better balance for the athlete will result in fewer injuries such as lower back injuries and ankle sprains. Better alignment of the body will result in improved ability to maintain proper running technique, helping to prevent knee and hip injuries. Better stability will result in less “wear and tear” on the muscles and joints, which is vital to injury prevention.
Frequency, intensity, and duration are important according to the age of the athlete. All youth programs should begin strength training with light loads and always focus on the correct exercise technique. A variety of upper and lower body power exercises should progress gradually depending on needs, goals, and abilities of the athlete. For any youth strength and conditioning program, the ultimate goal is long-term athletic development and a healthy active lifestyle. Through functional (movements that relate to their sport) strength training, youth athletes will experience an increase in muscle strength and endurance, protection of muscles and joints from injury, improved performance in nearly any sport, stronger bones, a boost in metabolism, healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and weight, and improved confidence and self- esteem.