Junior Athletic Development encompasses a holistic view to ensure the athlete is physically preparing properly for their chosen sport or sports. With the aim to reduce the injury risk for the athlete, while also increasing their sporting performance. Muscular strength is one of the key areas to target when physically preparing an athlete.
What is strength?
Muscular strength is the ability of the body to produce force, as well as absorbing force. In a sporting context a footballer with poor lower body strength will not be able to jump as high to take a mark compared to a strong athlete, as they can’t produce as much force into the ground to produce the power for their jump. Similarly, a netballer with poor strength will not be able to land and absorb the force very well from a jump or aggressive change of direction, leading to an increased risk of injury.
So we have identified that muscular strength plays a crucial role for an athlete – so why don’t junior athletes perform any strength training?
Strength training Myths for Junior Athletes:
Understandably, parents want to ensure the safety of their child whilst participating or training for their sport. The suitability of strength training for children and young athletes has long been debated, with the old school belief that strength training is inappropriate for young athletes……..
There have been a number of myths that we have commonly heard in regards to junior athletic development. These are issues we would not only like to dismiss, but also demonstrate the positive benefits behind strength training, regardless of age or sport played.
Four of the most common myths:
– Strength training stunts growth.
– Strength training makes kids slower.
– Children will injure themselves lifting weights.
– Strength training will lead to issues later in life.
As a result of these common beliefs there has been a plethora of research conducted to assess any physical risks that weights training may pose to young athletes. Overall, there is substantial amount of results supporting the implementation of strength work as part of a structured training program for Junior athletes.
Strength training stunts growth –
There are numerous research articles now published that have shown that strength training does NOT have a negative effect on growth plates.
Yes, strength training does put force/load through the athlete’s joints. But….. The simple movement of sprinting e.g. a soccer player chasing down a loose ball can experience peak forces of 2-3 times body weight on each leg. Or when a basketballer lands from performing a lay up they can be putting forces up to 4-6 times their body weight through their joints! so for a 60kg athlete that is up to 360kg! If a ‘weak athlete’ is continually exposed to these forces it can lead to overuse and stress related injuries.
By performing strength training it can help to build resilient athletes that can cope with these forces. Reducing their injury risk, keeping them in their chosen sport.
Strength training will make junior athletes slow –
This myth is based on the theory that strength training will make you big and slow…….
It actually couldn’t be further from the truth. A stronger athlete is able to put more force into the ground, which in turns results in them moving quicker. Strength training also helps to enhance the neural pathway from the brain to the working muscles, making them more effective and efficient – leading to enhanced movement patterns. So the athlete can actually technically move better, resulting in supreme performance.
Children will injure themselves lifting weights –
A concern that parents have is that their child will injury themselves while performing strength training. A comprehensive study was carried out in 2001 that documented the training progress of young males (9-10 years old) over 21months. The participants carried out bi-weekly gym sessions under the supervision of qualified strength coaches. Results showed improvements of roughly 1% per week in strength output, but also documented an extremely low rate of injury of 0.055 injuries per 100 training hours. The key suggestions from these authors were to ensure supervision of young athletes whilst performing weights training and logically progressing through a periodised training program (quality over quantity).
Also, a large majority of strength training performed with junior athletes is often performed just using bodyweight. getting the athlete to move really well, before adding any additional load.
Strength training will lead to issues later in life –
This one flows on from the myth that strength training will stunt growth plates – the only issue that strength training will lead to later in life is that you will be strong, able to compete for longer and also have stronger healthier bones. “Resistance training in addition to free play and other structured physical activity training can serve as a protective means against injury and a positive catalyst for the development of physical literacy to offset the impact of diminishing physical activity and early sport specialisation in today’s youth”.
So what should young athletes be doing?
The National Physical Activity Guidelines (guidelines established by the government to outline minimum activity requirements to assist the prevention of chronic health conditions) state that children (5-17 years) should engage in activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least three times per week. This is regardless of sport played!
The Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) The governing body of strength and conditioning in Australia – state that children can safely begin resistance training from 6 years of age. The ASCA advocate the prescription of resistance training by following the Long-Term Athletic Development model. This plan outlines a coherent plan for the progressive development of young athletes via a four-stage model based on the athletes age and their ability to perform certain movements.
The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) further support the notion of properly designed and supervised weights training as it has been shown to increase strength, reduce the risk of injury (being stronger makes you more resilient to injury), and enhance motor skills/sports performance. Key recommendations for the AIS include:
– Ensuring weights training focuses on skills and technique.
– Training should focus on strengthening big muscle groups (compound movement over isolation exercises).
– Slowly introduce weights training and ensure sessions are on non-consecutive days to build a tolerance to training loads.
What is the best way to include strength training?
First and foremost the best option is to get in touch with an accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach – they have the expert knowledge in exercise prescription to make sure the athlete is performing the right exercises, and executing them properly.
Initially a lot of the strength training is done with bodyweight, teaching the athlete to move well – produce and absorb force effectively and efficiently. Gradually once the athlete starts to progress and control their body additional load can be applied.
Strength training is done in conjunction with the athlete’s normal training program and it is used to support their sport participation.
The conclusive evidence behind the benefits of strength training should encourage all athletes, coaches and parents of athletes to include some form of structured strength training as part of a balanced training program.
The big take home message: A stronger athlete is: more resilient to injuries, can jump higher, run faster and change direction quicker.
For more information about what you can be doing with your junior athletes contact us via email, phone or our social media pages.
Cavanagh PR, Lafortune MA. Ground reaction forces in distance running. J Biomech. 1980;13(5):397-406
Sadres, E., Eliakim, A., Constantini, N., Lidor, R. and Falk, B. (2001): The effect of long-term resistance training on anthropometric measures, muscle strength, and self concept in pre-pubertal boys. Pediatric Exercise Science. 13: 357-372.