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Effects and Dose-Response Relationships of Resistance Training on Physical Performance in Youth Athletes

Resistance Training, Physical Therapy
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Added on October 28, 2016

By Zachary Theinert/PT Staff – IvyRehab east Windsor, NJ

A somewhat controversial topic with today's youth athletes in an ever growing fitness industry: Is resistance training (RT) safe? Is RT effective in improving performance? The answer might seem obvious, why wouldn't RT improve youth athlete performance? But the answer is much more complicated than that. How must the parameters of exercise prescription change based on the athlete's age, sex, sport, and injury history? How can we maximize athlete performance, while minimizing the risk of injury and in many cases reinjury. The research on RT for children and adolescents largely looks to transfer study findings from healthy untrained individuals to youth athletes, but is this generalization appropriate? Training adaptations are vastly different for trained versus untrained youth, so why should our programming be based on the latter?

The article this dialogue is based on found a total of 43 studies, from 1985 to 2015, which met the review's inclusion criteria. Analysis of over 1,500 athletes was performed and identified the ideal dosing parameters for HEALTHY youth athletes (aged 6-18), using a conventional RT program, to include a training period of more than 23 weeks, 6-8 repetitions per set, 5 sets per exercise, at 80-89% 1 rep max, with 3-4 minutes of rest between sets. Moderate effects of muscle strength and vertical jump performance were noted with smaller effects on liner sprint, agility, and sport specific performance.

Again, what stands out to me is the training parameters are based on healthy youth athletes and the authors of the study do a great job of making this clear for the reader, stating that this is something that needs to be addressed in future studies. But, as rehabilitation experts, this gives us a target goal for progressing our athletes and preparing them for return to sport at their prior level of function. A 23 week training regimen is something to note as very rarely does a physical therapist find themselves supervising an athlete's programming for such a long period of time. One big reason being insurance boundaries, the other perhaps related to the stigma surrounding physical therapists by the public that our services are only to be used when recovering from injury. As experts of identifying and treating movement dysfunction, I believe we are the best providers for monitoring this return to sport phase and ensuring it is done maximizing athlete performance and minimizing injury risk. So many athletes are now specializing in one sport making the potential for overuse injuries and muscle imbalances that much more common. Direct access affords PTs the ability to monitor these athletes after the immediate post-injury period ends. A "check up" visit I believe should be encouraged to make sure the athlete is progressing appropriately and flaws in the biomechanical system can be identified before they become major issues.

I digress, the small effects of speed, agility, and sport specific performance only seem to suggest that muscular strength is only one component of these more complex skills, but should continue to be used for improving performance.

There was a lack of research studies included in the systematic review that analyzed female youth athletes, so the results of the study can only partially be generalized to prescribe training programs for females. However, from the studies of female youth athlete performance there were larger training induced improvements in sport-specific performance noted compared to their male counter parts. The author's suggest this difference may be accounted for by analyzing an athlete's biological maturity as females tend to mature faster than males and are more adept at making training adaptations, but once again more research is needed.

Resistance training using free weights was determined to cause the greatest improvements in muscular strength, agility, and sport specific performance, but requires close supervision to ensure it is performed properly. In instances where supervision is not possible, machine-based RT becomes more practical.

The article goes into more detail and discussion on some of the limitations of the results they presented, but these were the highlights. Happy reading.





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