A common misconception regarding resistance training is that it is unsafe and ineffective for youth athletes. Provided that the training program is implemented and supervised by a qualified coach, the risk of injury is actually quite minimal. Additionally, while it is true that young athletes are unable to build substantial amounts of lean body mass from resistance training, other neurological adaptations can occur that may facilitate performance improvements. For example, young athletes can improve the recruitment and synchronization of motor units which can increase force production and rate of force development. This can transfer to increases in running, jumping and change of direction ability. However, many parents and coaches remain skeptical about having their young athletes participate in resistance training programs.
A new study published ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of bodyweight training versus body weight plus additional resistance training on athletic performance measures in youth athletes. A total of 39 male athletes (~14 years of age) were randomly assigned to a bodyweight training group (n=25) a body weight plus resistance training group (n=14) while a group of age-matched boys (n=23) served as the control group. Over a 7-week period both training groups performed two bodyweight workouts per week. Of the training groups, only one performed resistance training on two additional days of the week on non-consecutive days. Before and after the training intervention, all subjects underwent testing in the vertical and horizontal jump, 5 and 20 m sprint, 2 kg medicine ball throw and maximal push-ups. The body weight program was comprised of various calisthenics as well as unilateral and bilateral exercises. The resistance training program involved multi-joint exercises such as squats, presses, deadlifts and rows for 2-3 sets of 5-15 repetitions with resistances ranging between 40-70%.
The results showed that the group that performed resistance training in addition to bodyweight training made the greatest improvements in 5 and 20 m sprint time (ES = Small), horizontal jump (ES = Small) and maximal number of push-ups (ES = Small). The bodyweight training only group meaningfully improved in the 5 m sprint, horizontal jump and push-ups (ES = Small) but to a lesser extent than the resistance training group. No groups meaningfully improved in the countermovement jump or medicine ball throw. This study demonstrates that resistance training twice per week for seven week offers superior performance benefits to calisthenics alone in youth male athletes.
Winwood, P. W. (2017). Short Term Effects of Resistance Training Modalities on Performance Measures in Male Adolescents. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. In press.