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Plyometric Programming Guidelines for Youth Populations

plyometrics kids

By: Keith Weiner, MS, CSCS

There has been much controversy regarding the safety and efficacy of plyometric training for the child athlete (between the ages of 10 and 14); however, there is little research available stating the dangers in performing such an exercise program for this particular population. Plyometric training utilizes the Stretch Shortening Cycle, which is defined as a quick, powerful movement that begins with a rapid stretch of a muscle (eccentric contraction), followed immediately by a rapid, explosive shortening of the muscle (concentric contraction) (1-5). Out of the 6 peer-reviewed resources used to compose this commentary, only one states a potential negative impact of plyometric training for children. This resource states that while the growth plates are open, highly intense activity and injury may cause them to close prematurely, resulting in limb length discrepancies therefore depth jumps and other high intensity lower body drills are contraindicated (4).

The aforementioned statement should always be held in consideration when utilizing strength and plyometric training with children; however, there is a far greater amount of research supporting the benefits of a well-designed plyometric exercise program for such young age groups. Plyometric exercise programs for children should be used to develop the neuromuscular control and the anaerobic capacity that will transfer over to participation in sport and athletics during childhood throughout the advancement to higher levels of competition (4). Children have the opportunity to begin playing competitive sports at the age of 7-8 and even before that time, young school aged children engage in playground games and recreational sports where they run, skip, hop, kick, jump, and throw (3). Common games such as hop scotch, jumping rope, and jumping jacks can be characterized as plyometric because every time the feet hit the ground the quadriceps are subject the Stretch Shortening Cycle (1). Plyometric training has been proven to be an appropriate intervention for improving the motor ability of children to perform these activities (3). Plyometric exercise has been proven to enhance a child’s speed of movement, increase power production, strengthen bone and facilitate weight control (1,3,4). Plyometric training may also decrease sports related injuries, which prove to be beneficial for young female athletes who appear to be at an increased risk for knee injuries as compared to young male athletes (1,6).

Taking into consideration that the early adolescent child is not just small adult, a strength and conditioning coach must be able to decide at what point a plyometric program is advisable for an individual child. The biological maturity of a youth does not necessarily coincide with their chronological age and can actually differ by several years. It has been consistently shown that youths have lower voluntary muscle contraction ability and the younger the child the longer it takes to reach peak tension as opposed to teenagers or adults (2). In movements such as the countermovement jump a limited range of motion has been observed in the ankle and knee of children during the take off due to immature joint functions (different firing patterns in children compared with adults), low ability to perform the jump because of lack of experience, or possibly a physical limitation (2). Coaches and trainers should emphasize good jumping techniques focusing on upright posture, proper body alignment, avoiding excessive side to side movement in vertical jumps, soft landings and instant recoil to prepare for the next jump (2,3).

A properly designed, safe plyometric program will progress from relatively simple to more complex drills. All depth jumping from boxes or benches should be avoided until the child is able to develop proper landing posture and mechanics (6). As with any exercise performed by any age group, quality should be emphasized over quantity. An appropriate plyometric program for children should be 8-10 weeks in length with a 10-25 minute plyometric session performed 1-3 times a week giving 2-3 days rest between workouts (3,6). Programs should begin with 50-60 low intensity jumps per session making appropriate progressions to medium intensity jumps on an individual needs basis (3,6). Low intensity jumps include, but are not limited too, squat jumps, split squat jump, double leg ankle bounce, and lateral cone jumps (6). All training sessions should be preceded with a proper warm up and concluded with a proper cool down. At the first sign of ankle, shin, knee, or low back pain the program should be immediately discontinued. A sound muscle strengthening program along with or before a serious plyometric program, as well as a program involving aerobic, flexibility, and agility training, may also lead to an improvement in the motor pattern recruitment to better exploit the Stretch Shortening Cycle (1,2). All in all, it is important to remember the age group you are working with and keep it fun!

References:
1). Faigenbaum, A. D., Chu, D. A. 2001. Plyometric Training for Children and Adolescents. American College of Sports Medicine “Current Comment”

2). Sahrom, S. B., Cronin, B. J., Harris, N. K. 2013. Understanding the Stretch Shortening Cycle Ability in Youth. Strength and Conditioning Journal. pp.77-85

3). Johnson, B. A., Salzberg C. L., Stevenson, D. A. 2011. A systematic review: Plyometric Training Programs for Young Children. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. pp. 2623-2632

4). Potach, D. H., Chu, D. A. 2008. Plyometric training , Age Considerations. essentials of Strength and Conditioning. pp. 422

5). Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C. 2010. Plyometric Concepts for Performance Enhancement. NASM Essentials of Sports Performance Training. pp. 207- 224

6). Dintiman, G. B., Ward. B. 2011. Speed Improvement For Young Athletes. Encyclopedia of Sports Speed. pp. 348 (13-1)- 370 (13-23).

 


keith sports trainerKeith is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA to which he is also a member. He is also a Performance Enhancement Specialist through NASM, a certified personal trainer through ACE and Level 1 Speed Coach through the National Association of Speed and Explosion. Keith also has his Master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion with a concentration in Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention from the California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a Sports Performance Coach and Personal Trainer at Elite Sports Performance & Physical Therapy in Foxboro, MA, where he trains athletes of all ages.