Jan 13, 2021
Benefits of Strength & Conditioning Programs for Young Women

In a recent article on Healio.com, Mary K. Mulcahey, MD, FAAOS, FAOA, outlined the importance of strength and conditioning programs for adolescent women athletes.

She noted the spike in participation in high school and collegiate athletics from women since Title IX was passed in 1972. Mulcahey continued by stating that girls start athletics at a later age and drop out of sports at twice the rate of their male counterparts by the age of 14.

Photo: David Stewart / Creative Commons

The conclusion she then draws is young women are more vulnerable to poor physical literacy — defined as both the ability and drive to be “physically active for life.”

Below is an excerpt from Mulcahey’s article.

The decreased emphasis on implementing strength and conditioning programs for female athletes may be due to inaccurate views of sex and athleticism held by both coaches and athletes. In a previous survey study, a coach of male and female sports teams indicated that girls may not be challenged as much as the boys because of the perception that girls are dainty and should not sweat hard. Additionally, some female athletes may fear “bulking up.” However, these beliefs are likely no longer valid. Studies demonstrate that when trained appropriately, female athletes can improve significantly more than male athletes in their given sport.

The concept of “synergistic adaptation” is important to keep in mind when developing strength and conditioning programs for adolescent athletes. Based on this idea, exercises that are incorporated into a strength and conditioning (S&C) program should be based on the physiological adaptations occurring throughout childhood and adolescence. For example, plyometric training programs for children have the potential to facilitate the natural neural changes experienced before puberty. In contrast, combining strength training with plyometrics is more appropriate for post-pubescent adolescents, since strengthening influences structural body components.

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Resistance training and high-intensity load programs (eg, plyometrics) have been shown to benefit female athletes. Previous studies have demonstrated a significant improvement in bone mass with the incorporation of resistance and plyometric jump training during a period of 9 to 15 months. Compliance with these activities among adolescent athletes is higher when the strength and conditioning programs are incorporated into physical education as part of the school curriculum, rather than struggling with compliance during summer vacation. Strength and conditioning programs that combine motor skill, resistance, and balance training with built-in periods of rest can decrease injury rates in adolescent athletes by as much as 50%.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association believes it is critical for youth athletes to have access to strength and conditioning programs that will adequately prepare them for their primary sport and that injury prevention training should be incorporated as a routine part of these programs. Injury prevention during adolescence is critical for female athletes participating in cutting and pivoting sports, such as soccer, basketball, and volleyball, which places them at high risk for sustaining an ACL tear.

Strength and conditioning programs improve athletic performance, decrease injury rates, and enhance lifelong fitness levels in female athletes. Strength and conditioning programs should, however, be tailored to the athlete’s sex and developmental level. Therefore, coaches should be encouraged to obtain the appropriate training and certification to be able to successfully design and implement S&C programs for both female and male athletes.

To read the full article from Mulcahey on Healio.com, click here

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