Can strength training at a young age improve sports performance?
Researchers have found that children who participated in supervised strength training programs had significant improvements in sprint speed, agility time, vertical jump and long jump. Data representing sport skills improvements resulting from strength training programs is not well documented. However, research (Pfeiffer and Francis) has reported children participating in Olympic lifting (i.e., snatch and clean and jerk) showed significant gains in isokinetic shoulder flexion after 8 weeks of training. Most data on this subject has come from coaches, parents and athletes.
Unfortunately, the "more is better" attitude is still common. Clearly, strength training should not simply be added onto a young athlete's training program but rather incorporated into a periodized conditioning program that varies in volume and intensity throughout the year. Strength training
during childhood and adolescence may provide not only a foundation for dramatic strength gains during adulthood, but, as children and adolescence gain self confidence in their physical abilities they may be more likely to experience success and less likely to drop out of sports.
Can strength training help reduce my chances for an injury?
It appears that the focus of most youth programs is on the development of sport-specific skills rather than on the development of fundamental fitness abilities. Instead of participating in a variety of sports, children and adolescents are participating in the same activity for longer periods. Some coaches and parents have argued that early sports-specialization was the key to success, but is now appears that broadly based participation in a variety of skills and activities is related more to later sports success than early sports specialization. Emphasizing sports skills over fundamental fitness abilities not only discriminates against children and adolescents whose motor skills are not as developed, but it also may lead to acute (macrotrauma) and repetitive microtrauma, or overuse injuries (e.g., stress fractures, tendonitis, and bursitis) According to the American College of Sports Medicine, an estimated 50% of overuse injuries sustained by young athletes could be prevented if more emphasis were placed on the development of fundamental fitness skills, as opposed to sport specific training. Because youth athletes often are forced to train longer and harder to excel in their sports, encouraging them to participate in conditioning programs that prepare them for the demands of their sport merits consideration. Encouraging children and adolescents to participate in preparatory conditioning (which includes strength, aerobic, and flexibility training) prior to sports-specific training seems to be a reasonable recommendation.
Should athletes continue to work out during the season?
YES! Detraining can cause permanent or temporary withdrawals from strength training due to any number of factors such as injury, travel, the start of a season and motivation. Research has suggested that there can be significant decreases in strength after discontinuation in both preadolescent boys and girls by as much as 3% per week. Children participating in sports such as football, soccer and basketball did not maintain their strength gains (they achieved during the training program) by just participating in their respected sports.
Researchers also suggest that sport activities alone will not maintain training-induced gains, and emphasize the significance of an in-season maintenance program. There is still a debate among researchers whether children should participate in maintenance program once or twice per week to maintain their strength or at least reduce the loss of strength. Scientists
predict that similar findings would hold true for adolescents as well.
What should my child eat before, during, and after exercise?
In order to perform at their best during exercise, practice, and games, children need to be eating the right foods at the right times. Making sure that your child fuels his or her body for activity is imperative for success.
About 60-90 minutes before beginning an exercise bout, children should eat a snack containing moderate amounts of carbohydrate with smaller amounts of protein and fat. This allows the carbohydrate from the food to be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, peaking performance during the exercise bout. Some great examples of this is a medium piece of fruit with 1 oz of cheese, a small bagel with peanut butter, or yogurt.
During activity, you want your child to stay hydrated while replenishing any lost electrolytes from sweat, breathing, etc. Depending on the length of activity, the weather conditions (the hotter it is, the more your child will need to drink due to fluid loss from sweat), and how much your child perspires, either plain water or sports drinks like Gatorade Perform are perfect. Make sure your child is getting a small drink (4-6 oz of fluid, as tolerated) every 15-20 minutes during activity. (If your child complains of a "sloshy" feeling in his stomach, have him take smaller drinks more often. This allows for the fluid to absorb better and not stay in the stomach, creating that "sloshy" feeling.)
The optimal time to eat after finishing an activity is 30-60 minutes post exercise. This allows for the greatest amount of the nutrients in the food to be absorbed by the body and aide in recovery from exercise. The best pairings during this time will be a high glycemic index carbohydrate paired with a moderate amount of protein. Great examples of this are lean meats (like chicken, turkey, or fish) with a potato or fruit, egg whites with a tortilla or fruit, or yogurt with an open faced turkey sandwich. Make sure that your child is replenishing fluids by drinking water, milk, or juice after exercise as well.
Rob Weatherly, CSCS, USAW
Sarah Walentynowicz, ACSM
Velocity Sports Performance
March 28th, 2011