Resistance Exercise for the Preadolescent Athlete


Intro

As the world of youth athletics continues to become more and more competitive, parents and young participants alike have begun to search for ways to enhance performance and physical development. Encouraging preadolescent athletes to get involved in resistance exercise programs offers them with an opportunity to develop both personal and athletic maturity.

Preadolescent Athlete and Resistance Training Defined

Preadolescence is a phase growth that follows early childhood and precedes adolescence. It usually extends to 11 years old in girls and up to 13 years old in boys (± 2 years for both genders). This period offers a chance for parents, coaches, and athletes to cultivate efficient movement mechanics for safe sport and play activities.1

What exactly does the term “resistance exercise” refer to? Resistance exercise is a blanket term that involves the use of increasing loads to create improvements in health, fitness, and sports performance.1 It involves lifting weights for muscular strength, as well as the use of plyometric exercises for speed, power, balance, and coordination development. Resistance can be applied via barbells/weight plates, dumbbells, bands/chains/tubing, and machines. Boxes or hurdles as well as bungee chords are often added to plyometric exercises to enhance difficulty; however these methods should be used with discretion for young athletes. With both strength and plyometric training, rest intervals can also be manipulated to promote cardiovascular changes for appropriate energy system development.

Risks and Benefits Associated with Resistance Exercise During Preadolescence

The American Academy of Pediatrics contends that when designed appropriately, resistance exercise programs have no adverse effects on growth, growth plates, or cardiovascular health in participating youth athletes free of preexisting medical conditions. However, parents should consult a medical professional for screening to identify any underlying risk factors before enrolling their child in resistance training activities.2

Potential benefits of resistance exercise programs for preadolescent athletes include increased muscle strength and power, local muscular endurance, bone mass, resistance to injury, sports performance, and cardiorespiratory fitness, to name a few. Additionally, athletes have the ability to see improvements in blood lipid profiles, body composition, and mental health/well-being that are all too important in fighting various childhood metabolic disorders.3 Specifically with regard to plyometrics, young athletes will see increases in balance, proprioception (body’s awareness in space), and power through utilization of the body’s stretch shortening cycle.4

Despite the gains in performance and overall health, parents of athletes who have not yet undergone puberty should not expect their children to see increases in muscle size (termed hypertrophy) comparable to adults. Neither preadolescent boys nor girls have sufficient levels of testosterone, growth hormone, or insulin-like growth factor to promote major muscle gains, so hypertrophy is limited.5 Instead strength gains can be attributed to neuromuscular adaptations. Neuromuscular adaptations include increased motor unit activation and improved coordination of motor skills.6 These adaptations serve to enhance sport performance as well as prevent injury during athletic activity.

Listed below are basic guidelines for weight-training/plyometric training programs. These guidelines are not comprehensive and should not take the place of a credentialed strength and conditioning coach with experience in training youth athletes.

Basic Resistance Exercise Guidelines7

Age: 7 Years or Younger

Exercise Guidelines:

1. Introduce child to basic exercises with minimal to no weight

2. Teach exercise techniques with no to light resistance

3. Keep volume (number of sets x number of repetitions) low

Examples:

  • Exercises: lunges, push ups, body weight squats, physioball leg curls, bear crawls, glute bridges, horizontal pull-ups, single leg balancing, planks, proper hip hinge patterning

  • Equipment: TheraBand/resistance bands, bungee chords, suspension trainers (TRX/Jungle Gym), physioballs

  • Volume: 1-2 sets of 12-15 repetitions

Age: 8-10 Years Old

Exercise Guidelines:

1. Gradually increase the number of exercises emphasizing technique

2. Start gradual progressive loading of exercises

3. Increase volume with simple exercises

Examples:

  • Exercises: Romanian deadlifts (single and double leg), assisted pull ups, slider lunges/hamstring curls, goblet squats, kettlebell/dumbbell chest presses, kettlebell waiters/farmers carries, and medicine ball rotational partner passes in conjunction with techniques listed above

  • Equipment: light kettlebells/dumbbells and medicine balls in conjunction with the equipment listed above

  • Volume: 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions

Age:11-13 Years Old

Exercise Guidelines:

1. Teach all basic exercises with technique emphasis

2. Progressively load each exercise

3. Use little or no weight to introduce new, advanced exercises

Examples:

  • Exercises: Introduction of barbell squats, deadlifts, bench press techniques in conjunction with the above techniques

  • Equipment: Dowel rods for technique, youth barbells/hex bars, light rubber weight plates, light weighted vests, and cable machines in conjunction with the above listed equipment

  • Volume: 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions

Age: 14-15 Years Old

Exercise Guidelines:

1. Progress to more advanced youth programs in resistance exercise

2. Add sport-specific components

3. Increase volume with emphasis on safe exercise performance

Examples:

  • Exercises: Introduce Olympic lifting patterns (snatch, clean, jerk), squat variations, deadlift variations, cable resisted abdominal exercises, and higher velocity medicine ball throws in conjunction with techniques listed above

  • Equipment: Adult bars/rubber weights and specialty bars in conjunction with equipment listed above

  • Volume: 2-4 sets of 6-12 repetition

____________________________________________________________________________

General Plyometric Guidelines for Preadolescent Athletes5

Skill Level: Beginner (no experience)

Foot Contacts Per Session: 80-100

Examples:

  • Proper jumping, bounding, hopping, landing, and change of direction mechanics

  • Jumps, bounds, hops onto/off of 6-9 inch box

  • Agility ladder for coordination development

Skill Level: Intermediate (some experience)

Foot Contacts Per Session: 100-120

Examples:

  • Non continuous (with pause between repetitions) jumps, bounds, hops over hurdles or onto/from boxes at 9-12 inches

Skill Level: Advanced (considerable experience)

Foot Contacts Per Session: 120-140

Examples:

  • Use of bungee chords for broad jumps, bounds, hops both non continuous and continuous (without pause between repetitions)

  • Rotational jumps, bounds, hops onto/off of box or over hurdles

*Foot contacts = amount of times the foot strikes the ground

  • Depth Jumps (i.e. jumping off one box with subsequent jump up upon landing) should be used with extreme caution in preadolescent athletes.

  • Rest 48-72 hours between plyometric sessions for appropriate recovery

References:

1. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Blimkie CJ, et al. Youth resistance training: updated position statement paper from the national strength and conditioning association. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23(5 Suppl):S60-79.

2. Mccambridge TM, Stricker PR. Strength training by children and adolescents. Amer Academy Pediatrics. 2008;121(4):835-40.

3. Faigenbaum AD. Resistance training for children and adolescents: are there health outcomes?. Amer J Lifestyle Medicine. 2007;(1):190-200.

4. Chaouachi A, Hammami R, Kaabi S, Chamari K, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. Olympic weightlifting and plyometric training with children provides similar or greater performance improvements than traditional resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2014;28(6):1483-96.

5. Baechle TR, Earle RW. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Human Kinetics; 2008.

6. Faigenbaum AD, Westcott WL, Loud RL, Long C. The effects of different resistance training protocols on muscular strength and endurance development in children. Amer Academy Pediatrics. 1999;(104).

7. Kraemer WJ, Fleck SJ. Strength Training for Young Athletes. Human Kinetics; 2005.

Brittani Cookinham, PT, DPT, ATC, LAT

Is the Physical Therapy Manager at EXOS, a sports training facility in Frisco, Texas, and a United States Olympic team sports medicine volunteer. She attended Sacred Heart University where she obtained her Bachelors of Science in Athletic Training and her Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

Call: 214-618-3246

Visit Website


Editor's Pick:

Experts who work with professional & Olympic athletes share information for your youth athlete!

Watch The Athlete's Parent featured

on Fit Fueled & Fabulous

The information on this website is intended to provide users with resources and information which they may find useful and of interest.  We take all reasonable steps to keep this information current and accurate, but errors can occur.  The information on this site is therefore provided as is with no guarantee of accuracy, completeness or timeliness. The Athlete's Parent reserves the right to make changes to any information or services on this site without notice to the user.

The Athlete's Parent may include hyperlinks to third-party content, advertising, or websites, provided to our visitors for the sake of convenience. By using our website, you acknowledge and agree that The Athlete's Parent is not responsible for and does not endorse any advertising, products, or resources available from such outside resources or websites. The Athlete's Parent shall not be liable to any party as a result of any information, services, or resources made available through this website.