Why Youth Strength and Conditioning is CRUCIAL!
Why is youth strength and conditioning crucial?
The benefits of a quality strength and conditioning (S&C) programme, along with sound coaching, are clear for most to see when it comes to coaching adults. Research and practice have demonstrated time and time again, improvements in strength, power, speed, coordination, mobility, movement efficiency…the list goes on.
But when it comes to S&C for youths, there are still coaches and parents who are not entirely sold on the idea. And yet the evidence from research and coaching practice showing the positive effects of S&C from an early age is overwhelming.
In this article, I am going to discuss the physical demands of sport and hopefully show how important it is to prepare younger athletes for these demands from a young age.
Many fundamental activities that are performed throughout different sporting disciplines including sprinting, jumping, stopping, changing direction, pushing, pulling, throwing, catching and rotating, all require the ability to generate and/or reduce force.
The force of impact upon landing following jumping tasks for example (AKA vertical ground reaction forces), have been reported to be anywhere between 4-11 times body weight (BW) in activities such as landing after catching a ball, to double leg gymnastic landings. Even the landing forces from jogging puts 2 x BW through each leg upon contact with the ground (1). These figures highlight the repeated, high physical demands that we often see in most sports and the need to build robust athletes from a young age.
Sprinting, stopping and changing direction are all further examples of activities that put several times BW of force through the kinetic chain of the athlete. Add in the chaotic nature of sport, especially in competition and it’s easy to see how injuries occur, especially when the athlete is not equipped to deal with these high forces.
The ability to land efficiently and absorb force through the body (kinetic chain) is trainable and forms a large part of the work I do with my athletes. Common injuries that occur during high speed movements like rapid change of direction include ligament ruptures (e.g. ACL), bone bruises and menisci tears. These types of injuries are much more likely to occur if the athlete is unable to dissipate or absorb the forces from that particular high speed task.
Studies have shown that injury preventative programmes utilising multi-directional speed training, plyometrics and strength training are actually more effective with youths under 18 years old (2). Here is a prime example of how S&C interventions can help to reduce injury risk in youths and help to develop a robust athlete.
Having spoken with various coaches and parents regarding training methods for youths, the main area of concern appears to be with gym based, strength exercises (AKA resistance training).
When we look at the evidence however (both research and practice based), we find that appropriately prescribed resistance training along with supervision from a suitably competent coach has huge benefits for youth populations, that far outweigh any potential risks.
In the sport of Weightlifting (Snatch/Clean and Jerk) for example, training involves traditional strength exercises such as squatting, pressing, deadlifting variations etc. and the incidence of injury amongst high school students is much lower than that seen in activities such as gymnastics, basketball and football (3).
Further studies have shown a staggering 30-74% increase in strength following just 8-20 weeks of resistance training in youths.
“When habitual activity and informal play is complemented by age appropriate resistance training, unique benefits can be observed…including (improvements in) strength, bone health, body composition, cardiovascular health, movement competency and psychosocial well-being” (3)
So a well-structured, appropriate programme, that is supervised by an experienced, competent and suitably qualified S&C coach (e.g. UKSCA Accredited Coach), will not only make youths stronger, more powerful and reduce injury risk, but it can also improve their overall physical and psychological health.
As mentioned before, a large percentage of the University athletes that I work with first come to me with a low S&C training age. This means that in their first S&C session, many have low strength levels, are unable to perform basic movement skills such as squatting, hinging, jumping/hopping and landing efficiently, which leaves them at greater risk of injury and is likely to reduce performance potential.
And this is no disrespect to those individuals’, they just have not had the chance to learn these fundamental skills and develop a level of strength from an early age. If they had started an S&C programme from a young age and developed a good base of strength and physical literacy, then their athletic potential would be increased and their risk of injury would be reduced too.
My argument reflects the views of other S&C coaches and it’s as simple as this…if a child is ready to start playing an organised sport, then they are ready to start an appropriate S&C programme (3). In order to excel from a physical perspective, we need to build strong, powerful and skilled athletes who are robust enough to deal with the high demands of their sport. Surely it makes sense to start this process from a young age so that youths are suitably equipped for the demands of their sport?
Thank you for reading! Please comment below or get in touch if you have any questions or views.
- Steele, J. and Sheppard, J. (2016). Landing mechanics in injury prevention and performance rehabilitation. In: Joyce, D. and Lewindon, D. Sports injury prevention and rehabilitation. Oxon: Routledge. p121-138.
- Ho Yoo, Jae & Lim, Bee-Oh & Ha, Mina & Won Lee, Soo & Jin Oh, Soo & Lee, Yong & Kim, Jin. (2010). A meta-analysis of the effect of neuromuscular training on the prevention of the anterior cruciate ligament injury in female athletes. Knee Surgery, Sports Traumatology, Arthroscopy. 18. 824-830. 10.1007/s00167-009-0901-2.
- French, D., Jones, T., and Kraemer, W. (2014). Strength Development in Youths. In: Lloyd, R. And Oliver, J. Strength and conditioning for young athletes: Science and application. Oxon: Routledge. p66-79.