Volume and Recovery Guidelines for Young Athletes
When implementing plyometric training to enhance performance in youth, the suggested approach is to integrate resistance, plyometric, and speed training into a progressive conditioning program in which the volume and intensity of training periodically change throughout the year. The systematic structuring of program variables—along with individual effort, qualified instruction, and adequate recovery—will determine the outcomes associated with the resistance, power, and speed training.
In general, the volume (i.e., repetitions and sets) of a particular plyometric activity is increased first to ensure that the athlete has appropriate neuromuscular control before increasing the intensity or frequency of training. Young athletes should be given adequate time to recover between sets in order to maintain a high level of performance; however, studies have shown that recommendations regarding rest intervals for adults may not be consistent with the needs and abilities of children and adolescents because of differences related to growth and maturation in response to physical exertion. Thus, a shorter rest interval between sets (about 1 to 2 minutes) may suffice for children and adolescents when performing this type of training.
The importance of adequate recovery between training sessions is sometimes overlooked in youth conditioning programs; these programs often seem to be primarily focused on rest between sets or on the allotted time for protocol completion. For plyometric training programs, instructors should remember that training athletes of any age involves balancing the demands of training with the need for recovery, which are both required for adaptation. This is particularly important for youth who play multiple sports and engage in additional conditioning outside of their sport practices.
The total work performed within an exercise session (total sets and repetitions) is the volume of exercise. Too often, nonplyometric programs base volume solely on one particular variable or component of training and do not take into account the cumulative workload from competition, practice, and other conditioning efforts. For example, guidelines for volume prescription related to a single plyometric training bout based on experience level suggest that adult athletes with novice experience should employ a training volume with 80 to 100 foot contacts per session while adult athletes with more experience can use 120 to 140 foot contacts per session. Other guidelines for trained adult athletes suggest that up to 400 contacts is considered appropriate if the exercise is low intensity and that a maximum of 200 contacts is appropriate if the exercise is high-intensity exercise.These volume recommendations are difficult to use because they consider only an isolated variable, not to mention ignoring the influence of other confounding variables such as sport training, sport competition, and recreational free play. The prevalence of adult-only recommendations and the need to consider multiple variables make it difficult to determine proper volume guidelines for youth.
Thus, other training factors, most notably technical performance and fatigue response, need to be considered along with experience level and intensity of exercise when determining a young athlete’s training volume. In addition, activities that occur outside of the plyometric training programs (e.g., exercises performed with other fitness trainers or sport coaches) should be considered when evaluating a young athlete’s overall training exposure. In short, young athletes are not miniature adults, and strength and conditioning exercises need to be carefully prescribed in order to avoid overtraining and injury.
The prescribed exercises, sets, and repetitions for a plyometric exercise program should serve as an attainable goal for the athlete, but these variables should also be modified as needed. The initial volume should be low so that the athlete can learn how to perform the exercise with proper technique. Volume (or resistance, when applicable) should be increased after the athlete can properly perform the exercise at the prescribed volume and intensity. The professional who supervises the athletes should be skilled in recognizing proper technique for a given exercise and should provide constructive feedback when appropriate. Once the athlete becomes proficient with all exercises within a progression phase, he can advance to the next successive phase.
Also, young athletes should participate periodically in less intense training exercise (LITE) in order to reinforce learning of specific movement patterns. Because recovery is an integral part of all training programs, high-intensity or high-volume training sessions should be balanced with LITE sessions as well as other recovery strategies to help maximize training adaptations while minimizing the risk of overtraining.
Although children and adolescents should be encouraged to engage in 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily,6 high-intensity training should be performed only two or three times per week on nonconsecutive days; this will allow time for recovery between training sessions. Some young athletes may participate in strength and conditioning activities more than three days per week; however, factors such as the training volume, training intensity, exercise selection, and nutritional intake should be considered, because these factors may influence an athlete’s ability to recover from and adapt to the training program.
As training programs become more advanced, and sessions become more frequent, the importance of reinforcing proper exercise technique should not be overlooked.1 Moreover, youth coaches should be aware of the symptoms of overtraining (e.g., muscle soreness that lingers for several days, decreases in performance, and lack of desire to train) and should realize that some children with relatively immature musculoskeletal systems may not be able to tolerate the same amount of exercise that most of their teammates can tolerate. Of potential relevance, recent data indicate that participation in organized sport activities does not inevitably ensure at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity during practice sessions.Plyometric training may also provide coaches with a supplemental mechanism to ensure that youth gain the health effects of an active lifestyle.