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What factors need to be adapted in youth resistance training?

Kalan Jones discusses training adaptations when working with our youth.

When developing a training program for adolescents, one must be aware of many different factors that will determine the effectiveness of the program. The program design must be based on goals that can be achieved by the age group of the children that are partaking in the program. When setting predetermined goals, these goals must be reachable and specific to the physical activities or sports that the children will perform.

Adolescents, from a physiological aspect, are very different from their adult counterparts. The growth and maturation process for adolescents varies with each individual. A child's maturation is often looked at according to his chronological age, but more importantly, maturation depends on a child's biological age. Biological age refers to the child's stage of growth, for example, the puberty stage. Puberty is the process where children undergo major hormonal changes that assist them in the process of maturing biologically into adults. Regardless of the child's biological age, he or she can benefit from a resistance training program. Adolescents participating in a resistance training program will undergo many physiological changes. These changes will assist their progress in overall fitness as well as developing skills to become better athletes. An additional goal would be to continue resistance training for a lifetime.

There are two significant physiological changes that adolescents will undergo while participating in a training program. The first and less significant physiological change that adolescents will experience is hypertrophy. Hypertrophy is defined as an increase in the size of the skeletal muscle cells, making the muscle fibres larger. Hypertrophy aids in movement by increasing the size of the muscle. This increase in skeletal muscle size will allow the muscle to produce more force. This change is fairly insignificant and rarely seen to a great extent in adolescents; however, it may be seen in certain individuals who have greater biological maturity or genetics. Adolescents lack a significant hormone that contributes to hypertrophy; that hormone is testosterone (Baechle & Earle, 2008)[1]. Because testosterone is absent in most adolescents, hypertrophy may not occur; therefore, it may not be a major factor in the changes seen in adolescent resistance training.

The second biological change involves the nervous system. Training involves neural factors within the nervous system of an adolescent that will facilitate increases in strength. Major neural changes that occur include; motor unit activation, motor unit coordination, motor unit recruitment, and motor unit firing. These neural changes lead to a higher expression of strength as well as improved coordination, agility, balance, and power (Faigenbaum, et al., 2009)[2]. A motor unit is a motor neuron, and the muscle fibres it innervates (Baechle & Earle, 2008)[1]. So the neural changes related to participation in a resistance training program for adolescents directly affect muscle fibres. A well-designed resistance training program has the potential to have a major impact on an adolescent's nervous system, increasing the efficiency of dynamic movements and skills. To force the nervous system to adapt properly, adolescents need to be taught proper lifting techniques when entering into a resistance training program. Adolescents should be taught fundamental movements that will improve all of the neural factors that were previously mentioned.

Adolescents must understand the importance of each of the techniques that may be used in the training regime. Safety is the most important training concept that adolescents need to understand. If these youth understand proper etiquette for resistance training and can produce correct body movements, then they will see optimum results from a training program.

The design of a resistance training program is very important, and it must be developed with specific purposes and needs of the participants in mind. There are many benefits that a resistance training program can provide for adolescents. A training program promotes muscle balance in the adolescent. Muscle balance, muscle development, and neurological factors all contribute to the factors that will impact the adolescents' progress in the training program.

The major goals that should be gained from a program include; injury prevention, improvement of motor skill performance, athletic performance, flexibility, strength, power, reduce obesity, reduce the risk of osteopenia and/or osteoporosis, and several psychosocial factors (Faigenbaum, et. al., 2009)[2]. All of the benefits, as mentioned above of resistance training, will facilitate the development of adolescents' coordinative skills and abilities.


In conclusion, a resistance training protocol should be developed with very distinctive purposes for adolescents. With the dual purpose in mind to force adaptations to the nervous system as well as individual muscle fibres, adolescents can experience physiological improvements. A resistance training program can improve neurological functions to a great extent and may or may not produce hypertrophy in muscle cells. These neurological factors play a major role in motor skills and coordination in adolescents. Resistance training may also induce hypertrophy, also aiding in major adaptations in the nervous system. There are many benefits that an adolescent can gain from a well-designed training program. Not only will their general level of coordination improve, but athletic abilities, prevention of injuries, athletic performances, and strength abilities will be enhanced.


  1. BAECHLE, T.R. and EARLE, R.W. (2008) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd ed. Champaign: Human Kinetics
  2. FAIGENBAUM, A.D. et al. (2009) Youth Resistance Training: Updated Position Statement Paper From the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, p. 1-20 [WWW] Available from:

Page Reference

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  • Kalan, J. (2009) What factors need to be adapted in youth resistance training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

  • Kalan Jones is a Graduate Assistant and works with the Chadron State College football team.