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  • Writer's pictureBreanne Kunstler

Resistance training for adolescent athletes: "Train smarter, not harder"

Our member and physiotherapist, Shae Martello, tells us how to prescribe resistance training to adolescent athletes to support strength, performance and safety during sporting activities.

Resistance training is a safe, effective way to improve physical performance in healthy adolescents when appropriately prescribed and supervised. Adolescent athletes can improve muscle strength and motor skills by engaging in specific resistance exercises. When we talk about adolescent athletes, we are referring to athletes aged 13-18 years. Every athlete has different training capacities and physical demands, depending on their sport or activity and their stage of development.

Resistance training prescription for a 14 year old netball player would be very different to an 18 year old shot-putter, but is still relevant and beneficial. Most likely, the athletes coach has already incorporated some form of resistance training into their program. This may be in the form of body-weight squats, push-ups, weighted lunges, or even more traditional machine-based strengthening exercises in a gym.

To begin, body weight will provide enough resistance to improve strength. Movement quality and technique is most important. The athlete must first learn a movement pattern and master it before adding load. Most athletes will already be practising movement patterns relevant to resistance exercises as part of their training drills.

Once an athlete is conditioned to a particular load, ensuring they display correct technique consistently, strength is not going to improve unless they further increase that load. Usually, with adolescents, resistance in addition to body weight is added using medicine balls, sandbags, resistance bands or dumbbells. The choice of resistance training types should be variable and based on the exercise goal. For example, an athlete who participates in long jump needs excellent leg strength, so squats or lunges would be most appropriate and bench press not as important.

The amount of load added depends on the athletes’ current strength. For adolescents, it is most appropriate to choose a weight with which they are able to complete around 10 repetitions, struggling on the final repetitions whilst still maintaining correct form, unable to do any more. This is referred to as their 10RM, their 10 repetitions maximum. In adult athletes, we usually base load prescription around their 1RM, which is the most weight they can lift for one single repetition, but it is not safe to assess for 1RM in adolescents.

Whilst it is tempting to push adolescent athletes at their peak, we need to be mindful of growing bodies. Rest and recovery as well as appropriate nutrition are just as important for developing skills as sports-specific and resistance training. Train smarter, not harder. If you are an adolescent athlete and would like to incorporate resistance training into a current training program, discuss this with your coach or a physiotherapist.

Shae Martello is a physiotherapist at Healthfocus Physiotherapy in Albury, NSW. Shae has an interest in researching how nutrition affects recovery in adjunct to physical activity, and also safe resistance training for adolescents to improve performance. Shae promotes physical activity to her clients by brainstorming how it can fit into their daily routine and helping them explore other options if they do not have an interest in conventional activities. Shae's personal favourite form of physical activity is resistance training and she attempts to educate all clients on the benefits, especially adolescents. Call (02) 6041 5744 to make a booking to see her today!

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