The effects of resistance training, overtraining, and early specialization on youth athlete injury and development

J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Sep;58(9):1339-1348. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07409-6. Epub 2017 Jun 8.


Introduction: In 2014, 60 million youth ages 6-18 participated in some form of generalized athletics. Around 3.5 million children are injured annually participating in organized sport or recreational activities. While sound physical education can decrease the burden of youth sports injuries, the median annual physical education budget of $ 764 for USA elementary, middle, and high schools may not allow enough flexibility to apply evidenced-based guidelines.

Evidence acquisition: The topics were selected after a careful review of the 2016 National Strength and Conditioning Association Position Statement on Long-Term Athletic Development. Articles used to summarize the topics were located by using and cross-referencing sources from this statement. PubMed searches were also conducted using the key words "youth sports injuries," "early sports specialization," "training and maturation," "training versus developmental stage," and "long-term athletic development."

Evidence synthesis: Youth resistance training has been shown to decrease not only the risk of injury, but also of the development of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Adequate recovery time also decreases injury risk, and resources such as the RESTQ-Sport are available to help coaches identify stress-recovery imbalances, which can be detected two months before an athlete becomes overreached. Through early detection of overtraining, a significant proportion of overuse injuries can be prevented. Early specialization causes fewer muscle groups to be worked and increased repetition, theoretically increasing the risk of injury and early sport dropout. Prior to puberty, increased neuronal activation and adaptation can be achieved through focusing on agility, balance and coordination, thus taking advantage of increased synaptoplasticity. In these early years, neuronal stimulation is more important than muscle hypertrophy, which plays a greater role in athletic development after puberty.

Conclusions: A substantial proportion of youth injuries are preventable. Coaches and physical educators who correctly understand and apply the principles outlined in this review can help youth under their supervision engage in healthy training for sport.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Athletic Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Child
  • Cumulative Trauma Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Education and Training / organization & administration
  • Physical Education and Training / standards*
  • Resistance Training*
  • Risk Factors
  • Youth Sports / standards*
  • Youth Sports / statistics & numerical data