Development can be defined as a continuous process of change in functional capacity. Functional capacity can be viewed as the capability to exist- to live, move, and work- within the real world. In a society where movement governs how an individual experiences life it can be seen that every movement that is made occurs within that individuals surrounding environment whether it be at home, the gym, or on a playing field, movement occurs for a reason. The way in which an individual experiences movement can be greatly altered by a number of factors throughout his or her life, one of which includes the development, maintenance, and loss of strength. Today we’re going to be looking at strength and the impact that it has on youth development and performance. For the purpose of this post we will be referring to youth as the period between childhood and adulthood (i.e. the period between the onset of puberty and adulthood).
Youth strength training is a topic that has drawn both positive and negative attention over the past few decades. If you’re reading this you might be a parent, a young athlete, or someone who is interested in learning about how strength training can benefit a young athlete or individual’s performance in both sport and life.
Strength may be defined as the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to exert force. We can look at strength as an individual structural constraint that changes with growth and aging. An individual’s strength level is a constraint that interacts with other task and environmental constraints to permit or limit movements, therefore an individual’s strength levels can change the everyday movements which they perform across their life span. Strength is something which can be developed, maintained, and improved upon however it can gradually decrease over an individual’s life span if they do not take the necessary steps towards maintaining it or improving it.
In the past there were concerns associated with strength training for youth populations. Statements were made that perpetuated the idea that strength training was harmful for the growth of children and in some cases that it would be ineffective and lead to higher risks for injuries, and in most cases people believed that strength training for children would result in stunted growth, epiphyseal plate damage, lack of strength increases due to a lack of testosterone, and a variety of safety issues (1). However, as times have changed so has much of the research surrounding this subject.
First, let’s take a look at some of the current evidence surrounding the issues addressed with how strength training may affect the growth and maturation rates of young individuals and athletes.
As mentioned previously, the idea that strength training limits a young individuals growth is something that isn’t new in the industry. However, what we know now is that strength training can be beneficial in many ways. Traditional fears and concerns that resistance training would injure the growth plates of youths is not supported by scientific reports or clinical evidence. Instead, the stress placed on the developing growth plates and bones from resistance exercise appears to be very beneficial for bone growth, formation, and reducing the risk of injuries both at a young age and later in life.
Peak bone mass may be defined as the amount of bony tissue or the built up stores of minerals in the bone at the end of skeletal muscle maturation. Low peak bone mineral density can be associated with increase for risks of injuries at an older age. Attaining peak bone mineral density during child hood and adolescence is an effective way to reduce the chances of acquiring osteoporosis later on in life. Traditional fears associated with youth strength training have been replaced with more recent findings that indicate that regular participation in weight-bearing physical activities, such as strength training, is essential for normal bone growth and development (1).
From an injury prevention perspective, we know that participation in sport and physical activity comes with it’s own inherent risks an dangers. The complete elimination of these risks would be borderline impossible. However, strength training can be used as a tool to decrease the risk of potential injuries occurring. By increasing an individual’s level of strength and movement competency we set them up with the opportunity to sustain higher levels of force production and to handle higher levels of external forces acting upon themselves, which in turn may decrease the risk of injury from occurring.
Now let’s look at the how strength training impacts performance and health.
We’re going to look at the development of strength in a young individual as being synonymous with building the foundation of a house. The larger the foundation, the larger the house that we build on top of it can be. Each of us have a certain level of potential that we can reach in sport and training, that potential may be referred to as our physiological ceiling. What we know now is that by investing some time in the weight-room in our younger years we can drastically impact the potential that we have for further growth and athletic potential in the future. The level of muscular strength, endurance, power production, change-of-direction speed and agility, balance and stability, coordination and speed of movement in youth athletes of children and adolescents have been shown to significantly improve beyond normal growth and maturation when practicing a specifically designed strength training program(1,4,5).
When we start to look at some of the benefits of strength training it’s beneficial to gain a bit more of and understanding of how increases in strength affect youth development and performance. Take muscular strength, for example, the ability to produce high levels of force is imperative at all levels of sport. Having a higher level of strength influences the amount of force that an individual can produce but it also influences other characteristics of performance and fitness i.e. muscular power, change of direction, speed, running economy, jumping and landing, and endurance (1,4,5,6).
Higher levels of strength predispose individuals to having a greater potential to produce power. Seeing as force equals mass x acceleration and power equals force x distance / time we might begin to see that if we can increase force it will influence how much power we can generate. Granted at some point there will be a trade off between strength and power production as power has a component of distance and time associated with it.
There are many health benefits that have been associated with children taking part in strength training programs some of which include, the potential to increase bone mineral density, develop greater muscle strength and endurance, and maintain lean body mass, as well as provide a rehabilitation vehicle for various other conditions that impair growth (1).
With the prevalence of childhood obesity on the rise, it is important to illustrate the positive impact that resistance training can have on body composition in obese youth’s. Resistance training has been shown to maintain and in some cases increase the level of lean body mass of an individual. Regular participation in strength training programs has been shown to result in an improvement of body composition in obese children and adolescents (1), in addition to improving psychological well-being, as well as and helping to reduce both severity and incidence of injuries (4,5).
Physical activity, in this case strength training, can be viewed as a learned behaviour because just like the skills of reading and writing, it can be influenced by family, friends, and the environment in which the individual grew up in. As practitioners it can become apparent that an individual who is not brought up in an environment that encourages any sort of development of skills or strength to produce skills may lack the ability to perform in certain aspects throughout life.
When looking at strength as an individual structural constraint that can interact with other task or environmental constraints it may become more apparent that a child’s level of strength may affect some of the experiences that they encounter throughout life. Children who do not develop sufficient levels of muscular strength and movement skill competency may be less efficient “movers” on the playground and the sport field (2). It has been documented that resistance training also benefits an individual’s ability to make improvements in motor skills and performance, strength training leads to improvements in motor skills and performance while helping resist injury and building up a positive attitude by increasing confidence levels and self-esteem (1).
Strength training provides us not only with the opportunity to increase performance and health, but it also acts as a vehicle for growth on a deeper level. You see, it’s not just about helping kids get stronger and perform better in their sport. We have the opportunity to go beyond building a more positive attitude by increasing their confidence and self-esteem, by helping to equip them with some of the tools and characteristics that will transfer over to the things that they face in life. Much like we build their strength physically we can build it mentally by equipping them with the tools that help them overcome adversity, stay disciplined, fail and move forward, and overall become a better human being.
The improvement of athletic performance is something that as a society, we’ve been interested and heavily invested in for quite some time. Yet we still have so much room for improvement when it comes to investing in our youths development in both sport and life. If we truly hope to set our youth up for the kind of life long development that we’re after I would argue that strength training is a good driver in that specific process.
Training for the week
A. Back Squat- 4 x 5 @ 75% @ 2,1,1,1
B. Sumo Stance Good Morning: 4 x 7 @ RPE 8 @ 2,1,1,1
C1. Front Foot Elevated Split Squat: 3 x 8/Leg @ Rpe 8 @ 1,1,1,1
C1. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift- 3 x 8/Leg @ Rpe 8 @ 1,1,1,1
D. Deadbugs- 3 x 10/side
A. Incline Bench Press- 3 x 5 @ 75% @ 2,1,1,1
B. Bent Over Barbell Row (Supinated Grip)- 3 x 7 @ Rpe 8 @ 1,2,1,1
C1. Dumbbell Floor Press- 3 x 8 @ Rpe 8 @ 2,1,1,1
C2. Ring Row- 3 x 8 @ Rpe 8 @ 1,1,2,1
D1. Alternating Dumbbell Curl- 3 x 8/side @ Rpe 7.5
D2. Dumbbell JM Press- 3 x 8 @ Rpe 7.5
A. Deadlift (reset each rep)- 4 x 5 @ 75% @1,1,1,1
B. Barbell Hip Thruster- 4 x 7@ Rpe 8 @ 1,1,1,1
C1. Z-Press- 3 x 6 @ Rpe 8 @ 1,2,2,1
C2. Chin-Up- 3 x 6 @ Rpe 8 @ 1,2,1,1
D. Hollow Hold: 3 x 30s @ Rpe 8
- Behm, D. G., Faigenbaum, A. D., Falk, B., & Klentrou, P. (2008). Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology position paper: resistance training in children and adolescents. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 33(3), 547-561
- Fleck, S. J. (2011). Perceived benefits and concerns of resistance training for children and adolescents. / Beneficios y variables percibidas del entrenamiento de fuerza para los niños y adolescents. Revista Kronos, 10(1), 15-20.
- Fleck, S. & Kraemer, W. (2014) Designing Resistance Training Programs. Routledge. London.
- Granacher U, Lesinski M, Büsch D, Muehlbauer T, Prieske O, Puta C, Gollhofer A and Behm DG (2016) Effects of Resistance Training in Youth Athletes on Muscular Fitness and Athletic Performance: A Conceptual Model for Long-Term Athlete Development. Front. Physiol. 7:164.
- Lloyd, R. S., Faigenbaum, A. D., Stone, M. H., Oliver, J. L., Jeffreys, I., Moody, J. A., . . . Myer, G. D. (2014). Position statement on youth resistance training: the 2014 International Consensus. Br J Sports Med, 48(7), 498-505.
- Lloyd, R.S., Faigenbaum, A. D., Myer, G. D., Oliver, J. L., Jeffreys, I., . . . Pierce, K.(2012) UKSCA Position Statement: Youth Resistance Training. UKSCA 2012; vol.26