Following a Facebook discussion on the GB judo underground page I have decided to write a post about strength training for adolescents. There appears to be two common misconceptions, firstly that resistance training is bad for adolescence and secondly that they should be working on only judo skills. Hopefully I will dispel both of these.
Long-Term Athlete Development:
The LTAD model was introduced to British judo in 2006 and around this time to most sports in the UK. I am not going to discuss the rights and wrongs of this model in this post (although I am happy too in the future) but I will highlight what Balyi suggests in relation to strength training.
Balyi suggests there are “windows of trainability” based upon an athletes developmental age (where they are in relation to maturation and peak height velocity). There has been huge criticisms of this because there is very little evidence to show there is accelerated adaptation in these stages but much of this criticism is based upon a lack of evidence and not evidence to the contrary. Balyi’s work did do something great for sport in the UK though, it suggested children could do strength training younger than 16yo and there is a lot of evidence, and consensus statements to suggest this is fine.
Figure 1: Windows of trainability presented by Balyi.
Strength training is dangerous for adolescence:
There is a wealth of evidence that structured, progressive and guided strength training is hugely beneficial to children whether athletes or not. I work in an environment where we coach full-time athletes and to see “good judo players” come to us at 16-18yo who have never lifted is often difficult for us to comprehend (the judo is often very limited too but that’s another story!). Here are some of the consensus statements shared in the FB group with their conclusions underneath and these are just some of the many:
“A compelling body of scientific evidence supports participation in appropriately designed youth resistance training programmes that are supervised and instructed by qualified professionals. The current article has added to previous position statements from medical and fitness organisations, and has outlined the health, fitness and performance benefits associated with this training for children and adolescents.”
“With qualified instruction, competent supervision, and an appropriate progression of the volume and intensity of training, children and adolescents cannot only learn advanced strength training exercises but can feel good about their performances, and have fun. Additional clinical trails involving children and adolescents are needed to further explore the acute and chronic effects of strength training on a variety of anatomical, physiological, and psychological parameters.”
“Youth—athletes and nonathletes alike—can successfully and safely improve their strength and overall health by participating in a well-supervised program. Trained fitness professionals play an essential role in ensuring proper technique, form, progression of exercises, and safety in this age group.”
“Based on the scientific evidence and expert opinion, resistance exercise can be positive when part of a balanced activity programme. Providing that professionals who understand the key principles of child growth and development adequately screen and supervise participants, then the combination of low risk of injury and positive physiological, psychological and sociological benefits can promote health and perfor- mance in all groups.”
Common themes throughout these are –
You should focus on skills:
I would argue that for 10-12yo’s (just a guide because we’re talking about developmental age) skill training should be prioritised. They’re in What Balyi would describe the “learn to train stage” and I wouldn’t agree with this structure approach. This doesn’t mean they cannot do both and it doesn’t mean the coach cannot support the athlete in this. For example, how many coaches “walk around the mat” to “flush lactate” after a session, especially Randori? So with a young group why not practice unresisted squats or squats with a broom handle to “flush out the lactate” instead? Whether pre-adolescents need to flush out lactate or not is another questions but regardless wouldn’t this be a better way to end the session?
So what should you do?
I understand that this is an area that worries parents (and probably coaches) quite a lot and I am not trying to be flippant in this post. The real question is what should you do? Well, the answer is above really – structured/progressive and supervised. So how do we do this?
My honest opinion, and some won’t like it, is that I wouldn’t trust anyone to take my S&C classes without at least degree knowledge and if I was a parent paying I’d want an S&C MSc and UKSCA qualifications. The days of trusting someone who is a “personal trainer” who has probably done a two week YMCA course is gone I am afraid. If you get the right person then the structure and progression should look after itself.
There is a wealth of evidence to support the use of strength training in children and adolescent, the general consensus suggests this should be structured, progressive and supervised in order to be safe.
I think it would be good to have some sort of coach education and parent education in this area because judo is a demanding and often brutal sport, strength training will help athletes throughout he tough transition stages and help prevent injury.