CSCS Youth Program Design

Sep 10, 2022

Photo Credit: Keith JJ/Pixabay

By: Danielle Abel, MSN, FNMS, CSCS(c)

As a strength coach, you might be asked to train youth athletes that have not yet gone through puberty. Knowing that hormones are primarily responsible for muscle hypertrophy, it may not be possible to truly increase muscular size in children. Still, you can likely help them increase neuromuscular adaptations through training. 

Resistance Training Adaptations

Youth can increase their muscular strength, power, and endurance with consistent resistance training. These improvements can increase their motor abilities and, therefore, their associated sports performance.

Also, the literature shows that regularly participating in resistance training can help children and adolescents manage body fat, improve insulin utilization, and improve their cardiopulmonary function. 

Potential Risk and Concerns

Interestingly enough, sports-specific forces are more difficult to predict and actually increase youth athletes' risk for injury compared to resistance training. The primary logic behind resistance training being less risky is that resistance training occurs in a controlled environment. 

The belief that resistance training can be harmful to children is not documented in the research. Unfortunately, these thoughts and perspectives are not adequately informed.

When injuries have occurred in the weight room, it's been related to inadequate supervision, lack of technical competency, and inappropriate training loads. 

Practical Application: Programming

Resistance training should be included as part of a multi-faceted approach to fitness for children and adolescents. Since there is no minimum age recommendation for youth resistance training, it can be helpful to assess their ability to follow directions and gauge their interest in learning how to lift as a way to determine their readiness. 

Muscular strength really should not be the primary goal of resistance training. Instead, it's probably more helpful to focus on promoting interest and excitement in physical activity and providing an avenue for youth to learn about their bodies.

The quality of the instruction and the progression rate are two key concepts related to programming for youth. The quality of instruction simply means being patient enough to demonstrate proper technique and be able to explain it in an understandable way. 

Proper form and technique should supersede load progression. So, it can be more helpful to continually improve technical competency of movements over adding more and more load, which increases their risk for injury via increased musculoskeletal tissue stress. 

Warming up with dynamic exercises should be used, just like in adults, to increase muscular temperature and prepare the body for movement. 

Keeping documentation of training via video logs can be helpful in allowing youth athletes to evaluate their technique improvements over sheer training load progressions (of course, get permission before doing this). 

Regression to progression ideas might include

  • Equipment that properly fits the size of the adolescent or youth
  • PVC pipe to learn a movement
  • Long wooden stick or rod
  • Unloaded barbell

Finally, to evaluate "strength" progressions in youth and the effectiveness of your programming, it might be helpful to use low fatiguing tests like jump tests and handgrip strength. The literature shows that these have correlational similarities as compared to 1RM progression, which might not be ideal for testing strength progress in young athletes. 

Lastly, you should aim to train between 2 and 3 non-consecutive training days per week, allowing for adequate rest and recovery between sessions. 

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