The importance of foundational strength in the youth


The physical and psychological benefits of the youth playing and participating in sports is generally well known.  However, what we fail to realise is that these benefits will only reach their full potential if aspiring young athletes have a level of movement competency and muscular fitness that prepares them for the demands of their sport in practice and in competition. 


A study over 10 years highlights that strength indicators in English children are on the decline.  In this study the capacity to hold a bent arm hang, the number of sit ups they could do and their handgrip strength over the study period all dropped to a significant value. (Cohen et al, 2011).  Similar trends are being observed with reductions in muscular power in adolescents in Spain with reduction in their capacity to broad jump and vertically jump over a similar time period (Moliner-Urdiales et al, 2010).  Both of these studies are already 5 + years old, so I am sure that the trend is likely to be the same or worse. 


This data starts showing concerns for the physical literacy of the current generation.  Yet alone the postural demands of teenagers with the inclusion of iPad’s, iPhones and laptops and sitting time at school to name a few.  Many teenagers are not clear on how sitting and being static for long times around their sport affects their capcity to move effectively as an athlete.  For example, to swim well you need to get streamlined, many “elite” junior swimmers now are so tight in their backs and chest from leaning forward all the time, they struggle to lift their arms overhead cleanly and typically shoulder pain is the end result.    


Let me spell things out clearly, from a sports performance perspective or even for a health and wellness perspective, stronger young athletes are better prepared to learn complex movement patterns, master sport tactics and withstand the demands of long-term sports training and competition (Faigenbaum et al, 2016). Right now is the most important time in youth athletic development to embrace the need to gradually build the strength and improve the movement literacy or capacity of our young athletes, at all levels.      


I will spell it out another way, regardless of sporting success of any youth athlete when they are young, if they do not address neuromuscular deficits (strength deficits) and work on building their "foundational strength" early in life they are less likely to sustain high-level performance and are more likely to suffer a “preventable” sports injury as their volume of training increases.  In many sports a high level of force production and force attenuation is required to perform many athletic movements, being strong helps the youth athlete to prevent injury, learn the movement patterns of their chosen sport more effectively, deal with the demands of the training volume and also increases their potential to run faster and jump higher.


Please let me know from that what there is not to like. Take home message, fix your movement concerns and add strength training into the program.  Weaker athletes will lose in the long run either through injury or other athletes will pass them by that commit to strengthening their bodies. It is time to embrace evidence based practice. 


Blessings RK.



Cohen D, Voss C, Taylor M, et al. Ten-year secular changes in muscular fitness in English children. Acta Paediatrica 2011;100:e175–77.


Moliner-Urdiales D, Ruiz J, Ortega FB, et al. Secular trends in health-related physical fitness in Spanish adolescents: the AVENA and HELENA studies. J Sci Med Sport 2010;13:584–8.


Faigenbaum AD, et al. Citius, Altius, Fortius: beneficial effects of resistance training for young athletes: Narrative review. Br J Sports Med; 50:3-7, 2016.


Ross Kinsella