STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE FEMALE YOUTH ATHLETE
We’re excited to have Strength & Conditioning Coach Todd Davidson guest posting on the #YADacademy blog today, utilising his extensive knowledge base to chat with you guys about the importance of mobility training for youth athletes. Thanks, Todd! We’ll have to get you back again to share more of your expertise with us all soon!
Prior to puberty, girls are physiologically the same as boys where Strength & Conditioning is concerned. As soon as puberty kicks in, however, there are specific implications that coaches and parents of female youth athletes need to be aware of.
In this blog post, I’ll be discussing:
• What changes occur during puberty that warrant considerations where Strength & Conditioning programs are concerned
• Why (and when) female youth athletes will need specific programming considerations
• Which types of movement patterns may need particular attention for the female youth athlete
From a Strength & Conditioning coaches perspective, when puberty kicks in for the female athlete, some of the following key changes will occur:
• Ligaments increase in laxity (looseness) (Belanger et al 2013)
• Quadricep strength increases faster than hamstring strength (Myer 2009)
• Girls become heavier as fat mass increases (also known as peak weight velocity)
• Adolescent awkwardness may result as bone growth precedes that of muscle and tendons
So what does that mean for a Strength & Conditioning program?
Firstly, landing mechanics may need revisiting as taller, heavier female athletes may need a period of adjusting to their new frames. (For a comprehensive breakdown of plyometrics, see this article).
Secondly, exercises which target the posterior chain (the back of the body; think: hamstrings, glutes and even the back itself) may require even more of an emphasis as girls go through puberty. Example posterior chain exercises include, but are not limited to: RDLs, hip thrusts, single leg deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts.
Finally, measures of performance that are relative to bodyweight (for example. V02 max, powder, strength to weight ratio, etc) may suffer if the underpinning strength levels do not increase at the same rate as the increase in mass. This is why helping female youth athletes develop control and strength in squatting, lunging and jumping tasks is critical before their bodies go through the inevitable increase in height and weight.
Effectively, youth female athletes need to more forward in order to stay still where strength to bodyweight ratio is concerned, since it is this strength to bodyweight ratio that will underpin how efficient they are at moving their own bodyweight in their sport.
This is also where an effective working relationship between a female youth athlete and a Strength & Conditioning coach is absolutely crucial.
Without an understanding of what changes occur physiologically as young girls go through during puberty, decreases in strength, power and efficiency (and increases in weight) can be easily misinterpreted if the reasons behind these are not carefully and professionally explained to a youth female athlete.
For the sake of brevity, whilst being overly simplistic, emphasising what the body can do and de-emphasising what it looks like is a starting place. However, the subject of male coaches communication about issues such as the menstrual cycle and body image, and explaining these changes to female youth athletes in a professional manner is one that requires much more attention than it currently receives.
With wider hips as the female body prepares for child birth, and looser ligaments, focusing on integrating simple jumping and landing tasks into sports practice and physical education warm ups can help provide the necessary training stimulus to reduce the staggering number of young girls who experience devastating knee injuries such as an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury, which are up to seven times more likely in young girls when compared to young boys.
On a final note, do not confuse female youth athletes having strong quadricep strength (relative to their hamstring strength) as having strong quads. To steal an analogy from a former colleague of mine… a toothpick is stronger than a strand of spaghetti, but neither are very strong.
Whilst female youth athletes cannot do anything about the hormonal changes which cause their hips to widen and their weight to increase, they absolutely can (and should) be focusing on increasing their movement quality in squatting, lunging and landing patterns, and prioriting strength of the major muscles in the lower limb.
• The most accelerated growth spurt (a.k.a. peak height velocity) occurs around 18-24 months earlier in female youth athletes… meaning movement and strength training needs to happen earlier to offset the subsequent increases in height and weight.
• During this growth spurt quadricep strength increases at a faster rate than hamstring strength in girls.
• Landing and posterior chain exercises might need more of an emphasis in female youth Strength & Conditioning programs.
If you are a parent, sports coach, or just someone who wants to understand more about the programming considerations for female youth athletes, or you want to find out more about the role that psychosocial factors and the menstrual cycle have on performance of female athletes, check out the additional resources below.
Sources and recommended reading
Belanger, L, Burt, D., Callaghan, J., Clifton, S. & Gleberzon, B. J. 2013. Anterior cruciate ligament laxity related to the menstrual cycle: an updated systematic review of the literature. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 57 (1), p. 76.
Myer, G. D., Ford, K. R., Foss, K. D. B., Liu, C., Nick, T. G. & Hewett, T. E. 2009. The relationship of hamstrings and quadriceps strength to anterior cruciate ligament injury in female athletes. Clinical journal of sports medicine, 19 (1), pp. 3-8.
Lloyd, R. S. & Oliver, J. L. 2012. The youth physical development model: A new approach to long-term athletic development. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 34 (3), pp. 61-72.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Davidson is a Strength and Conditioning Coach accredited by the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association. Having learned his trade as an intern with the Strength and Conditioning teams of Great Britain Boxing and Great Britain Paralympic Table Tennis in the build up to the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016, Todd has since introduced Strength and Conditioning to an all-girls school in England and is currently undertaking a Postgraduate Certificate in Physical Education through St Mary’s University, with the long-term aim of integrating Strength and Conditioning into the national Physical Education curriculum. Follow Todd on Facebook and Instagram for more athlete development content.