I see a recurring issue in training young athletes: Too many are doing sport-specific skill work without proper strength and conditioning training.
It is critical, especially at a young age, for an athlete's body to be prepared to handle the stress that comes from playing sports. Too often, this is not a priority. As athletes begin to show promise in a specific sport, they are often pressured into narrowing their focus to that one sport. This leads to overuse of muscles specific to the demands of the sport, putting an athlete at risk not only of burnout but of overuse injuries and weakened musculature.
Having a baseball pitcher play basketball in the off-season gives his throwing arm a chance to rest from the violent motion required to throw pitches of varying speed and movement. But having that same pitcher take pitching lessons from a private instructor three times per week and compete on a travel ball team on weekends will most likely increase that athlete's propensity for injury.
Forcing athletes to hone in on one sport has led to an increase in injuries, not an increase in performance. In fact, of all the athletes participating in youth sports who experienced injuries, 50 percent of the injuries were due to overuse.
That said, let's look at how a regimented strength and conditioning training schedule can benefit a young athlete.
Physical benefits of strength and conditioning
In 2010, a study by Faigenbaum and Myer explained how muscular strength, motor skill performance, weight control and bone strength improved greatly when youth athletes performed a resistance training program. Most importantly, a regimented strength and conditioning program improved an adolescent's ability to resist injury.
Not only does strength and conditioning make an athlete more explosive and powerful, it also teaches the athlete how to absorb forces. The ability of an athlete to move his or her joints through various ranges of motion fluently and free of pain is critical to reducing the incidence of injuries.
Mental benefits of strength and conditioning
Studies have shown an increase in positive self image, self esteem and body cathexis with regimented strength and conditioning training. The rigors of a strength program, within reason, help a young athlete gain focus, attention and dedication and build a foundation for a lifetime of health, wellness and physical activity.
When to bring in sports-specific training
During the off-season, strength and conditioning training should be a high priority. The goal is to make sure the athlete has the basic strength requirements to resist injury and become more powerful and explosive in the weight room.
During the pre-season, when athletes have a practice schedule, they can cut back on strength and conditioning training to 2-3 times per week. Once the season begins, the focus shifts to sport-specific training, but leaves room for strength training to maintain gains. At season's end, it is imperative for an athlete to begin an active rest phase for at least one week, taking off completely from both sport-specific skill training and strength and conditioning work.
- Brenner, J.S. (2007). "Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes." Pediatrics. 119;1242.
- Faigenbaum A.D. & Myer G.D. (2010). "Pediatric resistance training: Benefits, concerns, and program design considerations." Sports Med. Rep., 9;3;161-168.
- Avery et al. (1996). "Youth resistance training: Position statement paper and literature review." Strength and Conditioning.
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