Strength and conditioning training for pre-pubescent children has always been a topic of controversy. For a long time it was thought that any form of resistance training would result in stunted growth. Many uninformed individuals continue to believe and perpetuate this myth. Another myth associated with training adolescents is that they will not derive significant benefits from training due to insufficient hormone (testosterone) production. Since testosterone concentrations largely impact muscle growth, children have been thought not to adapt well to strength training. At a time where competitive sports for children are only getting more popular, physical preparation needs to be addressed to reduce injury potential and optimize skill development.
Recent work by Ferrete et al. (2014) in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research sheds some light on the effects that longitudinal strength and conditioning training has on fitness and performance markers in young athletes. The study took place over a 26 week competitive soccer season. Twenty-four 8-9 year old males were split into a training group (n=11) and a control group (n=13). Twice per week, the training group would participate in workouts that involved low volume resistance training with body weight or light external resistance, various jumping drills and high intensity sprint work. Both the control group and the training group participated in their regular soccer practices thrice weekly. Fitness and performance markers were acquired pre, twice during and post training. These included vertical jump, 15 meter sprint time, Yo-Yo intermittent recovery level 1, and sit and reach test. Post testing revealed significant improvements in Vertical Jump (+6.72%), Yo-Yo IRT1 (+49.57%) and Sit and Reach (+7.26%) tests but 15 meter sprint time was unchanged. The control group only experienced improvements in Yo-Yo IRT1 performance while the other parameters decreased.
This was the first study of its kind to evaluate the long term effects of strength and conditioning training on fitness and performance in pre-pubertal athletes. The results support this type of training in this population. The training group improved or maintained each fitness/performance parameter while the control group tended to show decrements (except for Yo-Yo IRT1). Interestingly, 15 meter sprint times did not improve significantly. The authors suggest that the increase in anthropometrics (height 135.6 ± 6.2 pre,145.1 ± 6.6 post and weight 34.1 ± 4.2 pre, 35.9 ± 4.3 post) from pre to post season can potentially explain this. Additionally, specific speed enhancing drills for enhancing sprinting were not trained which may also account for the lack of improvements. Regardless, this study demonstrates that 8-9 year old’s certainly can benefit from appropriate strength and conditioning training and that it had no adverse effects on growth markers.
Ferrete, C., Requena, B., Suarez-Arrones, L., & de Villarreal, E. S. (2014). Effect of Strength and High-Intensity Training on Jumping, Sprinting, and Intermittent Endurance Performance in Prepubertal Soccer Players. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(2), 413-422.