Safety Considerations for Youth Athletes Utilizing Resistance Training|
This article was generously provided by Michael Rose, MS (University of Pittsburgh) CSCS (Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist) of New Wave Soccer Conditioning.
New Wave Soccer Conditioning (newwavesoccer.com) is an on-line, soccer specific strength & conditioning program that includes videos, graphic pictures/photos, & written instructions for drills/exercises along with program design options for those individuals interested in purchasing the program (by clicking on any 'signup' link buttons on the web site).
There are a large number of children, who play only one sport during most of the year. This leaves those youth athletes more likely to develop injuries due to the repetitive stress on their bodies from playing the same sport for most of the year. Therefore, it might be a good idea for youth athletes (11-14 years old) to start a moderate resistance strength training program to help prevent such overuse injuries.
The major concern for individuals, who perform resistance(strength) training before reaching physical maturity, is the potential for causing damage to the epiphysis(growth plates) of their long bones. The damage in this area could cause premature closure of the epiphysis, which will stop any further bone growth.
However, it is important to understand that most of these types of injuries are caused by using incorrect lifting techniques, attempting maximal lifts(any weights that can be lifted for only 5 repetitions or less), and not training under the supervision of a qualified trainer.
It is important to note that when studies were done to examine the safety of resistance training for children, who utilized a properly designed program along with qualified adult supervision, there was no evidence of growth plate fractures. There is a risk of soft tissue injuries for children who use resistance training, but these injuries are also usually related to incorrect lifting techniques and trying to lift weight loads, which are too heavy.
Children should start out using weight machines in their resistance training and possibly some free weights for the less complicated single joint exercises. Learning to perform multi-joint exercises such as squats, by only using a broomstick handle will enable children to safely develop proper technique and improve neuromuscular coordination.
Following a properly designed training program with proper instruction and adult supervision, will keep the risk of soft tissue injuries to a minimum. While there is a potential risk of injury when participating in resistance training, this risk is actually much lower than the ones associated with participating in a sport itself.
Recent scientific evidence does suggest that children can participate in a resistance training program prior to reaching physical maturity, and obtain strength gains. However, it is important to keep in mind that the growth and development, which occurs during childhood, will itself contribute to strength gains made by children.
Therefore, it might be difficult to determine how much of the strength gains is the result of a resistance program. However, it is known that resistance training programs for children can produce strength gains beyond what is normal due to growth and development during those years. Individuals, who have not yet reached physical maturity, do not have the needed levels of circulating testosterone necessary to stimulate increases in muscle size.
Therefore, it appears that the majority of strength gains made by children from a resistance training program are the result of neural adaptations. This refers to an increase in motor unit activation. There is a greater recruitment and firing of motor units, which includes the muscle fibers(cells) they innervate. It is also important to know that increased strength can also be the result of improvements in motor skill performance and the coordination of the involved muscle groups.
Because strength gains made by prepubescent children are primarily due to neural adaptations and not increased muscle mass, it does appear that these gains will be lost soon after resistance training has been discontinued. Because increased muscle mass is not possible for prepubescent children participating in resistance training, this should not be a goal for their training program.
Once they become physically mature and the circulating levels of testosterone increases, there will be an increase in muscle mass while continuing to utilize a resistance training program. It is important to know that children mature physically at different rates.
Therefore, each individual has to make adjustments to his or her own strength & conditioning program according to when he or she reaches physical maturity. You cannot strictly follow a certain age for determining the design of your strength & conditioning program. Not all 13 year olds are at the same stage of their physical development. It is also important to keep in mind that children are not miniature adults, and should not train like adults.
Michael Rose, MS, CSCS offers an on-line, soccer specific strength & conditioning program at www.newwavesoccer.com.
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