Youth Strength and Conditioning

Preparing the Athlete to Run Faster and Jump Higher

Sports like netball, hockey, lacrosse, football, and rugby, to name a few, have very specific technical sport skills, and with the aid of the sports coach, can be practiced, trained, and developed. From a fundamental point of view these specific technical sport skills require a range of physical capacities and particular skills. For example, throwing a ball requires the ability to generate force (which can be viewed as a capacity), and the specific skills, including, aiming, coordination, accuracy - all entwined in the type of throw and relative to the task or goal. 

We can use this capacity and skill concept within other movements that are generally used in most sports – for example, sprinting, cutting (agility – change of direction quickly), and jumping. 

All movements require the musculature system to generate force (capacity), along with the technical skills, coordination, and balance. Obviously, this is a simplistic approach to a complex problem, however, simple ideas and concepts helps to plan and deliver effective training drills and sessions.  

Understanding the difference between physical capacities and skills can help to reduce the risk of over-specificity! What do I mean by over-specificity?  This is when a technical sport skill is often loaded to form some sort of overload and then trained. This rarely works, as loading the sport skill changes the mechanics and probably the skill elements, which may lead to reduced performances, and wasted time with the athlete. 

Therefore, rather than trying to load or overload a technical sport skill, we can take a physical capacity approach and train a specific quality. After a block of training, we can then re-introduce the sport skill, with the goal that the athlete can practice the skill and use their new developed physical capacities (improve motor performances) within the specific sporting environment.  This may be observed as improvements in acceleration, agility, jump ability, or running economy. 

For example, the rate of force development (RFD) is the ability to generate force relative to a timeframe. RFD is frequently measured in a relatively short timeframe or at different points in a movement and expressed in milliseconds (ms), e.g. in the first 100 or 200ms in a vertical jump.  This may sound like overkill or overanalysing, and just getting stronger or more powerful is the same thing but remember that most sporting movements are performed within extremely narrow timeframes usually <300ms, and therefore, the athlete who can generate force quickly (a higher RFD), this could make a big difference!  Studies show that RFD is a trainable quality.  Interestingly coaches can use a range of training modes to develop RFD, including - 

Dynamic Strength Training 

We know that regular strength training is beneficial due to the neuromuscular adaptations (6). For example, recruitment of higher threshold motor units, alterations in rate coding or the frequency of the impulses sent to the higher threshold motor units, and intramuscular coordination (1). These neural adaptations also seem to help in developing a higher RFD.   

Studies have used different strength training protocols to compare improvements in RFD. A study by Heggelund et al. (2013) reviewed maximal strength training (heavy loads above 85% 1RM) and regular strength training (loads between 60-70% 1RM). The results of the study reported greater RFD improvements in the heavy loads than the loads of 60-70%.  The RFD improvements when using heavy loads is probably due to the recruitment of motor units and intramuscular coordination.  

However, study by Guglielmo et al (2009) reported improvements in RFD when using loads of 70% 1RM, but these athletes were asked to move the loads explosively. 

So, what can we take from these studies? This means that we can increase RFD using both heavy loads (>80%1RM) and moderate loads (<80%1RM). The heavy loads seem to recruitment higher motor units to improve RFD, where the moderate loads performed at faster velocities seem to develop intramuscular coordination, especially in the concentric action.  

Another interesting study was completed by Muehlbauer and Gollhofer (2012), where the researchers wanted to investigate jump height via strength training both in male and female participants (ages 16 – 17 years old). The strength training was prescribed twice a week for eight weeks. The participants performed exercises with loads between 20 – 80% 1RM, with explosive actions. After the eight weeks, the participated were tested in their strength levels and jump height.  Both males and females improved their strength and jump height, but what was surprising, is that the female participants significantly increased their jump height, and their RFD (effect size 1.37).

Isometric Strength Training

Isometric training is regularly used in youth strength and conditioning, as the exercises are easier to learn, and the strength adaptations are specific to a joint angle (2). The isometric-mid thigh pull is an example of an isometric strength exercise, where the athlete pulls on a static bar (deadlift type position), for a maximal effort for approximately 3 - 5 seconds. As this type of exercise requires neural drive to activate as many motor units as possible, alterations in the neuromuscular system will lead to strength developments and changes in RFD. However, as the exercise is in a static position the strength adaptations will occur at a specific joint angle and doesn’t seem to transfer well to dynamic movements. 

Sensorimotor training – Balance Type Training

Sensorimotor or balance type training is frequently prescribed to athletes who are in rehabilitation and/or returning back to sport (7, 9).  Even though the loads are extremely low, there is some evidence that balance training may help in RFD.  Performing balance-type exercises, which challenges posture will alter neural function, but this time it’s believed that the neurological changes are via a feedback loop, as the sensory function is helping with joint integrity and stiffness (3).  This is different to regular strength training, as strength training stimulates motor unit to generate force, whereas balance training may help to enhance joint stiffness in the initiation or as a platform for strength/force production (4).  


Practical Applications

As most sports require the athletes to perform dynamic movements like sprinting and jumping, along with other technical sporting skills, it is essential that we train and develop physical capacities like RFD. By training and developing RFD through various training methods (table 1), this will prepare and aid our athletes when practicing specific sporting skills, leading to higher performances.  

This is yet another reason for youth athletes to be exposed to strength training. All sport coaches want their athletes to sprint faster and jump higher.  Exposing youth athletes to different forms of strength training, dynamic, isometric, and even balance-type exercises, these can improve specific qualities, drive neuromuscular alterations which can help to improve sprinting, jumping, and cutting performances.

Table 1


Youth Strength & Conditioning Platform for Schools, Sport Clubs, and Academies.

Our platform helps to deliver effective training and tracks athletic progress and development, with the core objectives of reducing the risk of injuries and to promote both sport readiness and performance.  The platform’s features include - 

  • Strength and conditioning tests and dashboard to compare and contrast athlete metrics
  • Athlete app - athletes can discover new exercises and train independently
  • Track data - monitor athlete’s training loads, RPE, and training adherence
  • Reports - simply create squad, team, and individual athlete reports
  • Full curriculum - follow a strength and conditioning curriculum with a library of session plans 




  1. Behm, D.G. (1995).  Neuromuscular implications and application of resistance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 9(4), 264 – 274. 
  2. Bogdanis, G.C., Tsoukos, A., Methenitis, S.K., Selima, E., Veligekas, P., & Terzis, G. (2019).  Effects of low volume isometric leg press complex training at two know angles on force-angle relationship and rate of force development.  European Journal of Sport Science, 19(3), 345 – 353. 
  3. Bruhun et a; (2003).  The effects of a sensorimotor training and a strength training on postural stabilisation, maximal isometric contraction and jump performance.  Int J Sports Medicine, 25, 56 – 60. 
  4. Gruber, M., & Gollhofer, A. (2004).  Impact of sensorimotor training on the rate of force development and neural activation.   European Journal of Applied Physiology, 92, 98 – 105.
  5. Guglielmo, L., Greco, C., & Denadai, B. (2009).  Effects of strength training on running economy.  Int J Sports Med, 30(1), 27 – 32. 
  6. Haff, G.G., & Whitley, A. (2001).  A brief review: explosive exercises and sports performance.  National Strength & Conditioning Association, 23(3), 13 – 20. 
  7. Hale, S.A., Hertel, J., & Olmsted-Kramer, L.C. (2007).  The effect of a 4-week comprehensive rehabilitation program on postural control and lower extremity function in individuals with chronic ankle instability. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 37(6), 303 – 311. 
  8. Heggelund, J., Fimland, M.S., Helgerud, J., & Hoff, J. (2013). Maximal strength training improves work economy, rate of force development and maximal strength more than conventional strength training.  Eur J Appl Physiol, 113, 1565 – 1573.
  9. Holme, E., Magnusson, S.P., Becher, K., Bieler, T., Aagaard, P., & Kjaer, M. (1999).  The effect of supervised rehabilitation on strength, postural sway, position sense and reinjury risk after acute ankle ligament sprain.  Scand J Med Sci Sports, 9, 104 – 109. 
  10. Muehlbauer, T., & Gollhofer, A. (2012).  Sex-related effects in strength training during adolescence.  A pilot study.  Perceptual and Motor Skills: Exercise and Sport, 115(3), 953 – 968.