Youth Resistance Training
Position Statement – Youth Resistance Training
There has been an increase in the popularity of formalised training within young athletes, including the use of resistance training modalities. This is a specialised method of conditioning where an individual works against a wide range of resistive loads and includes the use of body weight, weight machines, free weights (barbells and dumbbells) and other implements.
There is a compelling body of scientific evidence that supports regular youth* participation in progressive resistance training to reinforce positive health and fitness adaptations and enhance sports performance. Training programs should be written and directly supervised by qualified professionals and consistent with the needs, goals and movement competencies of the individual central to the prescription:
Resistance training can elicit significant sport performance improvements through enhancements in neuro-muscular strength, power production, running velocity, change-of-direction speed and general motor performance. Enhancement results primarily from the influence of resistance training on force producing capabilities (strength). Strength is considered as a multi-dimensional component of fitness that is influenced by a combination of neuro-muscular and biomechanical factors. There is a great deal of evidence demonstrating the relationship between the ability to express force and sports performance in existing scientific literature.
There is substantial research and observational evidence to support the development of strength abilities in children. This developmental factor appears to be related to maturation of the central nervous system, with training benefits associated with enhanced motor unit recruitment, firing frequency, inter-unit synchronisation and neural myelination.
Adolescents typically demonstrate a non-linear increase in strength development. This is driven by ongoing neural development enhanced significantly by changes in muscle cross-sectional area and tissue architecture. Strength development is modulated by increased hormonal concentrations (testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1) that are associated with the onset of puberty.
Clinical studies provide evidence for significant health benefits from regular resistance training in youths, which can include positive alterations in overall body composition, reduced body fat, improved insulin-sensitivity in adolescents who are overweight, and enhanced cardiac function in children who are obese. Additionally, muscular strength and resistance training have been associated with improvement in measures of self-image, self-esteem, body cathexis (the concentration of mental energy on the body) and general outlook on life in youths as well as adults.
Regular participation in an appropriately designed resistance training programme is recommended to enhance bone mineral density and improve skeletal health in youths as well as adults. Resistance training does not injure the growth-plates of youths. Reports and observations indicate that the mechanical stress placed on the developing growth plates from resistance exercise, or high strain eliciting sports such as gymnastics or weightlifting, may be beneficial for bone formation and growth. Childhood and adolescence are key developmental periods for increasing bone mineral density, and failure to participate in moderate-to-vigorous, progressive weight-bearing physical activity during these stages of growth may predispose individuals to long-term bone and connective tissue health implications.
The magnitude of the training effect (i.e. alterations in body composition, strength, power, hypertrophy etc.) is a function of gender, the training mode and method (e.g. training intensity, training volume) and the programme design. Due to the complex motor control and force characteristics required of compound movements, free weight movements that use large muscle mass and multi-joint exercises are more likely to facilitate both muscle development and superior neural activation patterns over resistance machines, in youths with the appropriate technical competency. Both free weights and variable resistance machines, in turn, have a greater efficacy than isometric and isokinetic training programmes. The evidence to date indicates that the more effective programs last more than 8 weeks and involve multiple sets per exercise. Training benefits have been shown to increase proportionally with the weekly frequency of resistance training sessions.
Scientific literature supports multi-faceted programmes that increase muscle strength, enhance movement mechanics and dynamic postural control and improve functional abilities as being the most effective strategy for reducing sports-related injuries in young athletes. Such activities serve to enhance motor-capacity in individuals and are preparatory for the force-management requirements of many sporting tasks such as collisions, jumping, landing, accelerating and decelerating.
Injuries that occur as a direct result of participation in resistance training are generally the result of poor technique, excessive loading beyond the technical or mechanical proficiency of the individual, inappropriate fatigued training or poorly designed or ill-fitted equipment. The predominant factor (associated with all of the above) appears to be a lack of qualified and experienced supervision. These problems appear to be essentially the same as those encountered by adults.
Resistance training prescription should be formulated according to training age, motor skill competency, technical proficiency and existing strength levels. Attention to initial postural alignment and technical competency during all exercises, throughout the training programme, is essential to ensure safe and effective practice, irrespective of resistance training mode. Progressive prescription of initial training volume and resistive load should reflect the athletes training age and technical proficiency. Such progression should provide the child with sufficient exposure to aid motor control development, while providing a suitable volume for physical conditioning.
Training should be supervised by qualified and experienced professionals who understand the mechanical requirements of correct exercise technique, appropriate fatigue management practices, the fundamental principles of paediatric exercise science and the appropriate teaching methods and activities in coaching youth training programmes. The training delivery should be in a developmentally appropriate environment that encourages a safe, effective and fun experience for the young athlete.
Author: Clive Brewer
* Youth is a representative term for young people which includes children (male and female who have not fully developed secondary sex characteristics) and adolescents (the period between puberty and adulthood, typically biological age of 18).
©Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK – Youth Resistance Training June 2015, to be reviewed June 2018.
- Lloyd, R.S., Faigenbaum, A.D., Stone, M.H., Oliver, J.L., Jeffreys, I. Moody, J.A., Brewer, C., Pierce, K.C. et al., Statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus Br J Sports Med 2013 0:1–12.
- Pierce, K., Brewer, C., Ramsey, M., Byrd, R., Sands, W.A. & Stone, M.H. Opinion paper & Literature review: Children & Youth Resistance training. Prof Strength Cond J 2008; 10:9-23.
- Lloyd RS, Faigenbaum AD, Myer GD, et al. United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training. Prof Strength Cond J 2012;26:26-39.
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