Resistance Training in Youth Athletes

Generating high levels of muscle strength and power are important for performance in any sport, let alone American Football. Developing these attributes at a young age can be seen as an advantage to a developing athletic career, but could resistance training (the means to developing such attributes) hinder future development?

Is it safe?

Previously misleading reports have caused apprehension for youth athletes when it comes to resistance training. A report in 1987 which reported the number of hospital admissions concluded that resistance training in youth populations was unsafe. However, this report recorded injuries which were accidents from poor technique and lack of/poor supervision, thus it is redundant. 

More recent research suggests that resistance training for youth athletes can be both safe and beneficial. 

What are the benefits?

Resistance training in youth populations has been shown to significantly increase the following athletic qualities:

  • Strength 
  • Power 
  • Agility

Additionally, resistance training has been reported to reduce injury risk.

How?

Resistance training can take the form of free weights or use of machines. Your programme will depend on your equipment access and current training proficiency. However different modalities are beneficial for targeting physical characteristics. 

Free weight training refers to moving a weight freely in space e.g. use of a dumbbell or barbell which is not attached to a support structure. This style of training reduces stability, therefore increasing the recruitment of stabilising musculature. This has greatest transferability to sport specific movements e.g. sprinting or jump height.

Research suggests that when the aim is to build strength in youth athletes, high intensity resistance training (> 80% 1RM) is the most effective method. In fact these changes might be seen in a short timeframe such as 8 weeks when performed twice per week.

When looking to develop power, weightlifting is an option. At present there is limited research for this in youth populations, however the current published research suggests promising results. Weightlifting is a complex training method, which requires hours of perfecting technique, however the benefits it can have on muscular power are worth the time investment. Spend more time developing your strength first, and work on your weightlifting technique second. Be sure to find a coach knowledgeable in weightlifting to take you through the techniques and so avoid injury. 

The challenges and how they can be overcome

There are a number of potential barriers when it comes to implementing resistance training at youth level:

  1. Access to appropriately trained staff, with knowledge of sport-specific requirements can be difficult to come by – Speak to your coach to see if they have any contacts or reach out to football academies such as the Filton Pride, who might be able to give you contacts for suitable coaches. Once you’ve got a name, look up their qualifications and experience – do they suit your needs? 
  2. Time restrictions due to other commitments such as school qualifications. – The question to ask yourself is how much do you want it? Can you find half an hour a couple of times a week to commit to making your football prospects better? Consider training as a mental break from study.
  3. Access to resistance training due to location or funds – When starting off with any training, the key is to master the basics such a body weight squat or press up. This can be done at home, in your lounge or garden. At first you don’t need any fancy equipment and if you have found a suitable (and perhaps online) coach, then you can send them videos of your technique for them to critique. 
  4. Pain and discomfort – Don’t hide an injury. Get advice from a medical practitioner if you are concerned.
  5. GUYS – you’re worried you’re not growing or putting on size – Don’t worry! Once you hit the biological maturation phase (teen years) and your testosterone levels increase, so does the stimulation for muscle protein synthesis i.e. your muscle strength develops. Now, whilst you’re lean, your performance in sprinting and jumping will increase and more so if you train these specific qualities with resistance training.
  6. GIRLS – you’re worried the boys have overtaken you in size and other changes are happening to your body – Don’t worry! The majority of women go through this and it can be handled to allow you to continue playing and training. But because of these changes, it’s now more important that you perform resistance training to avoid injury such as improving your landing mechanics to reduce knee injuries. Speak with someone you can confide in if you have any worries. 

If you have any further questions on this topic, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

References

Hammami M, Negra Y, Billaut F, Hermassi S, Shephard RJ, Chelly MS. Effects of lower-limb strength training on agility, repeated sprinting with changes of direction, leg peak power, and neuromuscular adaptations of soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2018;32(1):37–47.

Styles WJ, Matthews MJ, Comfort P. Effects of strength training on squat and sprint performance in soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(6):1534–9.

Chelly MS, Fathloun M, Cherif N, Amar MB, Tabka Z, Van Praagh E. Effects of a back squat training program on leg power, jump, and sprint performances in junior soccer players. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(8):2241–9.

Young WB. Transfer of strength and power training to sports performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2006;1(2):74–83.

McQuilliam, S.J., Clark, D.R., Erskine, R.M. et al. Free-Weight Resistance Training in Youth Athletes: A Narrative Review. Sports Med(2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-020-01307-7

Barker A, Lloyd RS, Buchheit M, Williams C, Oliver J. The BASES expert statement on trainability during childhood and adolescence. Sport Exerc Sci. 2014;41:22–3.

Lloyd RS, Faigenbaum AD, Stone MH, Oliver JL, Jeffreys I, Moody JA, et al. Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med. 2014;48(7):498–505.

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