Resistance Sports Science is home to the incredibly successful Junior Athlete Hub program which many junior athletes aged between 12-16 call their Strength and Conditioning home. This article aims to discuss why Junior Athletes should be actively engaging in Strength training, not only to increase physical capacity for their sport but to also minimise their risk of injury, Rehab past injuries and overall increase playing time.
Strength training for junior athletes is an essential cog in their wheel of development. For decades, false rumours suggested that Strength training for growing youth could stunt their growth and actually do damage to the longevity of their physical life. This is completely untrue.
The past and present coaches at Resistance Sports Science have been working with junior athletes for decades. We have worked with athletes from the age of 11 and have had the pleasure of playing a part in their long term development as an athlete. These athletes have since gone on to play semi and professional sport which highlights the significance of physical development as a teenager.
Strength training allows for adaptation. A 13-year-old athlete who begins strength training provides a stimulus to their bones, muscles and joints to either adapt and grow or stay the same and continue hurting. The human body is incredible in its ability to become aware of microtears in muscle fibres and then rebuild bigger, stronger muscle fibres adapted to the stimulus they were confronted with. This overtime makes the once difficult strength task a much easier project. In fact, once junior athletes grow to a point where the initial strength task is “easy”, this old stimulus will no longer provide strength or muscle growth adaptation, meaning the weight, intensity of volume will need to increase in order for the athlete to continue developing. This is progressive overload and it 100% applies to junior athletes.
When junior athletes sprint, jump, run, spin and land, without realising they can be placing their body under huge load over time. Most youth athletes play multiple sports, sometimes on the same day. We often find that AFL athletes love to play cricket in the summer and they may even dabble in basketball during school. Variety is a very important part in the mental stimulation, skill acquisition and longevity of any athletes career. The problem with junior athletes playing sport without any strength training history is the risk of injury from excessive load. Strength training creates a stimulus for athletes to grow and become more adaptable to their skills training and more tolerant to excessive joint forces.
With bigger, stronger muscles supporting our joints, our muscles will take impact forces before travelling towards the ankle, knee, hip and lower back. Often Junior Athletes are susceptible to injuries like patella tendinopathy, severs disease, stress fractures, ITB Syndrome, Osgood Schlatter’s and shin splints. These can all be avoided or at the very least minimised with a progressively periodised loaded strength program. If our Junior athletes can sustain more force through their muscles and are taught how to use these muscles in particular movements, we will decrease joint forces significantly, thus minimising their risk of injury. Injured athletes are not happy athletes! Every injury decreases confidence in their body, decreasing their total work output and eventually leading to long term degradation of their body as they mature.
With the majority of sports looking at recruiting athletes from the ages of 16-19, their physical and mental health is extremely important if their goal is to play professionally. Elite sporting organisations look at injury history, mindset and current physical assets before making a decision to recruit the youth athlete. From the ages of 12 upwards, we believe wholeheartedly that the decision to monitor current and future athletes sprint and jump load whilst increasing their strength capacity and force tolerance provides our young athletes for longer and more sustainable sporting careers.
For athletes who have already suffered from injuries at a young age and which have been recurrent, it is important to note that without a change in muscle adaptation, movement quality, body awareness, load management and joint tolerance, the chances of re-injury remain high. Through strength training, we can ensure athletes are durable, robust and ready to take on anything sport, school or life throws at them. Finding balance and variety in their training schedule on top of a healthy strength training routine will keep our athletes playing the sport they love and aspiring to play in higher leagues.
It is important to note that all junior athletes will be required to perform a detailed movement assessment before commencing any exercise regime. The Athlete Hub places much greater value on movement quality and bodyweight strength before the commencement of the externally loaded exercise. When Youth athletes demonstrate capabilities to move their body weight or light external weights with correct technique, they are then given opportunities to lift heavier and partake in more complex movements. Our coaches understand that providing a safe, fun learning environment for youth athletes is critical to the success of the program. All athletes are guided step by step through their resistance training journey and will only progress once our Athlete Hub coaches give them the right to do so.
By starting with bodyweight and lightly weighted movements, we give greater opportunities for youth adolescents to focus on muscle growth and movement quality. Together, these combined created a steady foundation of muscular strength and stability which significantly decreases the risk of injury when looking to train for strength. Youth athletes can expect to train for muscle growth and movement quality for anywhere between 3-12 months before moving on to strength training. In some cases, this may be more, depending on their age, movement quality, goals and level of activity.