Evidence supporting the incorporation of resistance training into the athletic development of adolescent athletes continues to mount. With proper programming and instruction from a qualified coach, resistance training can have a significant impact on enhancing performance and reducing injury potential. In team sports like soccer, football and basketball, the ability to change direction rapidly is a major limiting factor. The majority of sprints that occur in these sports are often less than 10 meters before an abrupt change of direction is required. Because of this, coaches spend a great deal of time on drills that work on developing this skill. Though change of direction ability certainly can be improved with technical training, it is becoming increasingly evident that strength training can also significantly increase change of direction speed.
In a brand new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the effects of a long-term strength training program on change of direction ability in adolescent athletes was investigated (Keiner et al. 2014). 112 elite male soccer players from professional academies were divided into a strength training group (STG) and a non-strength training group (NSTG). Over a two year period, both groups performed the same soccer training schedule which included practicing approximately 3-4 days per week. The STG included 2 strength training session per week in addition to the soccer specific training. The workouts included front and back squats, deadlifts, rows, bench presses, neck work and core work. The strength training was periodized with training blocks emphasizing exercise technique, hypertrophy and strength. Before and after the training period, performance values for strength (1RM and relative strength) and change of direction were acquired.
The results showed that relative strength values moderately to significantly correlated with the change of direction parameters. On average, the STG performed 5-10% better than the NSTG on the change of direction test (displayed in the image above).
The results of this study further support the benefits that greater relative strength has on indices of performance (i.e., change of direction) in adolescent athletes. It would have been interesting to see how the improvements in relative strength affected other performance measures such as vertical jump and 10 and 20 meter dash. Based on previous research (discussed in this post), it is quite likely these parameters would also have improved. It’s becoming increasing clear that adolescent athletes can benefit from strength training. This study suggests that the benefits can be seen in as few as two strength sessions per week over a longitudinal training program.
Keiner, M., Sander, A., Wirth, K., & Schmidtbleicher, D. (2013). Long term strength training effects on change-of-direction sprint performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1): 223-231