Physiological issues surrounding the performance of adolescent athletes

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Naughton, Geraldine, Farpour-Lambert, N. J, Carlson, John, Bradney, M and Van Praagh, E (2000) Physiological issues surrounding the performance of adolescent athletes. Sports medicine, 30 (5). pp. 309-325. ISSN 0112-1642


More than ever, many young athletes are being encouraged to train intensely for sporting competitions from an early age. Compared with studies in adults, less is known about the physiological trainability of adolescents. The velocity of physical growth during the adolescent years makes research with a group of young athletes particularly difficult. The purpose of this review is to discuss a number of physiological issues that surround the performances of the adolescent athlete. Research has highlighted the role of growth hormone (GH) in the abrupt acceleration of linear growth that occurs during adolescence. In addition, GH has been shown to be sensitive to exercise following short term intervention studies. The reduced anaerobic power of the adolescent athlete compared with that of an adult athlete has been attributed to the intrinsic properties of the muscle that are yet to be fully understood. Resistance training studies in male adolescents, and to a lesser extent female adolescents, highlight the substantial relative strength gains that can be obtained. Aerobic trainability in young boys appears to improve markedly during the adolescent years. One of the most plausible explanations for this observation is the 'trigger hypothesis' which links increased aerobic improvements in adolescence with hormonal changes and substantial growth of the cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal systems. Studies of aerobic trainability in adolescent girls are too scarce to be conclusive. An understanding of the impact of long term intensive training on adolescent athletes is difficult to ascertain because physical stresses vary both between and within sports. There is, however, limited evidence to suggest that 'intense' training does not impair normal growth, development or maturation. Adolescent athletes who experience rapid growth as well as large increases in training volumes may be vulnerable to overuse injuries. Adolescents with exceptional sporting ability generate a great deal of public interest. This is exemplified in the international achievements of young athletes such as Martina Hingis (Switzerland) in tennis and Ian Thorpe (Australia) in swimming. However, there are concerns about the physiological limitations associated with sporting performances of adolescents. Compared with training studies in adults, relatively less is known about the trainability of adolescents. Yet adolescence is a stage of development characterised by unprecedented physiological changes in the musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory and reproductive systems of the body. To date, there is uncertainty surrounding the effects that aerobic and anaerobic performances have on the growth and sexual maturation of young athletes in different sports. Changes in maturational status during the adolescent period make the interpretation of research with this group of individuals particularly difficult. The purpose of this article is to review some of the physiological issues that influence research on the performance of adolescent athletes.

Item type Article
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 320000 Medical and Health Sciences
Historical > FOR Classification > 1106 Human Movement and Sports Science
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > Centre for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise & Sport Science (CARES)
Keywords five stages of puberty, maturity, growth substances, insulin-like growth factor, age factor, adolescent
Citations in Scopus 108 - View on Scopus
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