Training for Younger Athletes

Photo: Mark Forder

Young athletes have different physiological needs to adults which is something that is often overlooked and needs to be accounted for by coaches, the athletes themselves, and also the parents. The physiological needs all come down to one simple cause: Growth. Adolescence is the stage at which we grow at a very fast rate, physically, psychologically and cognitively (Stang, J, Story, M, 2005) which means that when an adolescent is training as an athlete, they have different needs to an adult in training. They require more recovery and nutritional needs to grow physically and cognitively and psychological support for healthy mental development.

Growth requires recovery which is why we must recover after training to become stronger. The same goes for young athletes, only they need to grow more, so they require more recovery than an adult would. It’s pretty simple, the more they are growing, the more recovery they require. For this reason younger athletes must be careful not to do too much training as it could stunt their growth by not allowing proper recovery, overloading them to a point they cannot recover from. If all of their energy is used up and directed from growth to training, hormonal imbalances will occur and growth will become stunted. Hence, it is better to get adolescents to do less training rather than more.

Instead of doing more training, do specific training. Train inside training zones below the lactate threshold to develop fitness (aerobic ability) and then above the lactate threshold to develop anaerobic ability. The most effective way to train endurance without putting too much stress on your body is to train just below the lactate threshold so that you are on the border line of your aerobic capacity. This way your body is still well oxidised and you don’t have to train as long as if you were to train at a really low intensity.

Train speed rather than strength. Strength training puts adolescents at risk of injuring growth plates, the weakest area of the bones, which in turn stunts physical growth. It’s okay to do some light resistance training on the bike as this can help strengthen bones (Stricker, P, 2015), however, training at high intensities with lower resistances will do the same without putting so much strain on the growth plates and trains the VO2 max system, getting as much out of one training as possible to promote recovery. Riding on a gear requirement supports this where the young athletes cannot use harder gears, developing the athletes without affecting their growth. It forces them to train at lower resistances even when riding at high intensities. The muscles are developed without over straining them so when they grow the muscles develop correctly and specifically for cycling. As kids grow into adults, strength will develop accordingly to the sport if they keep training.

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