Strength and Conditioning for injury prevention in female youth athletes

It is well established that strength and conditioning (S&C) is pivotal for not only performance enhancement but also injury prevention in athletes. Female youth athletes are no exception to this, and evidence shows that balanced S&C programs (resistance, motor skill, and balance interspersed with appropriate rest) can decrease injury rates in youth athletes by 50%.  

S & C should be incorporated into female athletes’ training before the onset of puberty. This is because female athletes benefit most from building muscle mass during this time period to enhance performance and reduce the risk of injury. As we know, the risk of injury in women’s AFL is quite substantial; with AFLW athletes experiencing ACL injuries ~8x more than their male AFL counterparts in the first two seasons- proving the need for preventative S & C is essential for these athletes.

 

Some of the risk factors for ACL injuries in female athletes include changing direction, rapid decelerations, landing on a single leg with a flexed trunk, poor core stability, weak hip abduction strength and increased knee valgus just to name a few. Regardless, all factors that can be minimized through sport specific S & C programs (woohoo).  

Early specialisation or not? 

Sport specialisation is defined as intensive, year-round training in a single sport. ‘Early’ specialisation (<12yo) athletes have been found to be not as successful as athletes who participate in a range of sports until 12 years old. There is also evidence that young athletes with overuse injuries are more likely to be specialised than uninjured athletes. The Australian Sports Medicine Collaborative (ASMC) position statement indicates that to avoid injuries youth athletes shouldn’t train/ compete >16hrs/week regardless of the total number of sports played.  

What age should youth female athletes be training S &C? 

 

Female athletes should incorporate strength training to their game as soon as they are participating in the sport. 

 

What should youth female athletes be training? 

Overall, there should be a focus on neuromuscular training; this includes resistance training, dynamic stability, balance, core strength, plyometric, and agility exercises.  

 

Female youth athletes should be training upper body and lower body via body weight exercises to begin. Once they have become ‘competent’ at a basic level with form/technique and reaching 15-20 reps, they can then move to more advanced exercises like barbell weight training and sports specific movements. It is important to be training single leg exercises, especially landing practice as to replicate a game situation.  

Further, hamstring, gluteal, and quadriceps strengthening and stretching of the hip adductors is pivotal in injury prevention for these cutting/landing athletes and should follow a ‘synergistic adaptation’ model. This model suggests tailoring training to match growth stages as to minimise the risk of injury in vulnerable growth spurt periods- I.e plyometrics for pre-pubescent athletes with the addition of resistance training in post-pubescent athletes.   

How often? 

Neuromuscular training performed in 10–15 min bouts, two to three times/week, with a weekly accumulated training volume of 30–60 min has been found to have the greatest preventive effect for lower extremity injuries in youth athletes. 

Girls- Time to get strong!  See our women's health physios in the Shire (Woolooware), Bondi Junction and Cammeray for advice on the right plan for you!