Neuromuscular training for youth athletes typically involves calisthenics, plyometric exercises, change of direction drills and speed training. Ample research has demonstrated that pre-pubertal athletes can significantly improve markers of performance with neuromuscular training despite experiencing minimal changes in muscle hypertrophy. However, the timing or sequencing of neuromuscular training may impact training adaptations. For example, when athletes train for neuromuscular development and aerobic fitness conditioning on the same day, there is potential for the interference effect to limit performance gains. This is an important consideration for coaches of youth athletes who typically do not have the luxury of holding separate sessions for specific training qualities on separate days due to time constraints. Therefore, it would be useful for coaches to know the optimal sequencing of training qualities when limited to a single training session ~3 times per week.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated the sequencing effects of neuromuscular training and traditional tennis training on performance markers in elite youth tennis players. A total of 16 trained tennis players (~13 years old) were matched and randomly allocated to a group who performed neuromuscular training before tennis practice and a group who performed neuromuscular training after tennis practice. The neuromuscular training protocol was the same for both groups and involved maximal countermovement jumps, box jumps, drop landings, medicine ball throws, hurdle hops, depth-jumps, lateral bounds, acceleration/deceleration and change of direction drills. Workouts were performed 3 times per week for 5 weeks. Workouts were held either 30 mins before or after tennis practice. Before and after the training intervention, all subjects were tested for sprinting speed, 5-0-5 agility, countermovement jump, overhead medicine ball throw and tennis serve velocity.
The results showed that the group who performed neuromuscular training before tennis practice experienced small to moderate improvements in sprinting speed, agility, countermovement jump, overhead medicine ball throw and serve velocity (effect sizes ranged from 0.22 – 1.08). By contrast, the group who performed neuromuscular training following tennis practice experienced trivial or negative changes for all performance markers with agility showing the largest decrement. This study demonstrates that neuromuscular training can effectively improve markers of performance in youth tennis players when performed prior to tennis practice, but not after. Therefore, coaches should refrain from implementing this type of training after team practices.
Fernandez-Fernandez, J. et al. Sequencing Effects of Neuromuscular Training on Physical Fitness in Youth Elite Tennis Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In press.