Strength & Conditioning for Juveniles
Kieran Nolan MISCP, MSc (Sports Med)
When should a child start a strength and conditioning program?
Is it safe for a child to lift weights?
These are two of the most common questions asked by parents and coaches at our clinic. Currently no evidence indicates a minimum age for participation in correctly designed strength & conditioning programs. Any aspiring athlete deemed ready to participate in structured sports is ready for and would benefit from strength and conditioning that is specifically tailored to their individual needs.
S&C for children & adolescences is a far removed concept from the world of bodybuilding or max strength training where the emphasis is on how heavy an individual can lift. Appropriately designed S&C programs for these groups should focus on training fundamental movements targeting specific motor control deficits that each individual will display upon screening. Prior to starting any S&C program participants should be assessed for injuries, asymmetries and other motor control deficits by their Chartered Physiotherapist. Results of screening can then guide the individualisation of programs, placing the focus on correction of any ‘red flags’, or potential sources of injury, which the individual may have.
S&C at Sports Med. Ireland utilises resistance training, stability training, mobility exercises, core activation, agility drills and plyometrics to increase strength, power, cardiovascular fitness, skill performance, mobility and stability. Typically our athletes learn basic movement patterns such as squatting, pushing, pulling, jumping, hip hinging and core bracing. The complexity of the exercises progresses as the training age of the athlete increases.
Latest evidence suggests that decreased muscle strength, poor physical fitness, substandard fundamental movement skills and inadequate rehabilitation of previous injuries can all contribute to sport related injuries in youths. Risk of injury also tends to increase during growth spurts as the rate of musculoskeletal growth often surpasses the rate of neuromuscular adaptation; this can result in abnormal movement mechanics and potential injury while performing certain activities, e.g. awkward landings from jumping. This highlights the importance of addressing these troubling trends via increasing strength and skill - enhancing training.
S&C of juveniles should be taken by qualified professionals who understand the principles of paediatric exercise science. Individualisation should be based on training age; this is the length of time from initiation of regular appropriate fitness training until the present time. Ideally children should have increased their training age (or base level of structured training) prior to onset of puberty (when most responsive to training). Continued progressive training will then allow adolescents capitalise on the body’s post-pubertal increases in testosterone, growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor to become stronger, more powerful and less prone to injury and fatigue. As training becomes more complex screening should be done regularly to avoid a return to poor movement mechanics.
· Age appropriate strength and conditioning has been shown to yield significant benefits in children.
· Children deemed ready for organised sport (7 years of age) are typically ready to commence supervised movement training.
· The earlier an individual starts individualised movement training the better prepared they will be for participation in sports through enhanced skill and movement proficiency.
· Strength and conditioning programs should always be directed by suitably qualified professionals with an understanding of paediatric exercise.