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Rest and recovery time critical for youth strength training programs

This is an excerpt from Youth Strength Training by Avery Faigenbaum & Wayne Westcott.

Rest and Recovery

While more has been written about how to design strength-training programs than how to recover from practice and training, working with youth of any age involves balancing the demands of training (required for adaptation) with recovery (also required for adaptation). Although some parents, teachers, and coaches still have a “more is better” attitude, the perception that boys and girls can recover from hard workouts faster than adults is not supported by research.

Since children and adolescents are still growing and developing, we believe that youth may actually need more time than adults for recovery between high-volume and high-intensity training sessions. Although a day off between workouts might be adequate for youth who participate in recreational strength-training programs, training to enhance sport performance involves higher levels of physical as well as psychological stress. Therefore, well-planned activities are needed in order to maximize recovery and return to an optimal performance state. Thus, appropriate recovery is particularly important for youth who participate in more than one sport, specialize in one sport year round, or participate in extracurricular strength and conditioning activities.

Since recovery is an integral part of any child's training program, we incorporate less intense training, or LIT, sessions into our youth programs as part of our periodized training cycle. Instead of simply taking a day off, our participants have LIT sessions that include activities that facilitate recovery, enhance joint stability, improve range of motion, and reinforce learning of specific movement patterns. LIT sessions are valued by our young participants as an important component of our multifaceted approach to enhancing performance and optimizing recovery. Since the greatest adaptations take place when the muscles have recovered from a previous training session, LIT enables participants in our programs to train hard when the muscles are at their strongest.

Since the greatest adaptations take place when the muscles have recovered from a previous training session, less intense training (LIT) enables participants to train hard when the muscles are at their strongest.

Youth in our strength-training programs typically perform an LIT session after more demanding training sessions. For example, if our high school athletes train with relatively heavy loads on Wednesday, they will perform an LIT session on the following workout. As a general guideline, during an LIT session participants will train at a reduced intensity while focusing on proper exercise technique. The LIT sessions may include several exercises for the major muscle groups as well as prehabilitation exercises for the lower-back and shoulder regions. That is, exercises that may be prescribed for the rehabilitation of an injury are performed beforehand as part of a preventive health measure. We have observed that LIT sessions that are sensibly incorporated into youth strength-training programs facilitate recovery and reduce the risk of injury while providing an excellent opportunity to reinforce key movement skills and optimize training adaptations.

In addition to varying the strength-training program, teachers and coaches need to pay just as much attention to what is done between training sessions as to what is done during training sessions. Strength training can place relatively high stress on the body, and therefore the importance of optimizing recovery needs to be reinforced regularly. This is particularly important for young athletes who are still growing, developing, and socializing with their friends. Youth coaches should realize that the “more is better” attitude is counterproductive and will likely result in injury, burnout, or poor performance.

More Excerpts From Youth Strength Training