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Effects of Balance Training on Balance Performance in Youth: Are There Age Differences?

Simon Schedler, Katharina Brock, Fabian Fleischhauer, Rainer Kiss, and Thomas Muehlbauer

rqes cover September 2020

Good postural control is fundamental for children and adolescents to cope with activities of daily living (e.g., climbing stairs, standing in a moving bus) and to successfully engage in physical activities (e.g., running, hopping, cycling). However, several studies have shown differences in balance performance in youth, with adolescents typically outperforming children. For example, Riach and Hayes (1987) found postural sway during static bipedal stance to decrease with increasing age in children aged two to fourteen years. Similar results were obtained during a dynamic balancing task (Walchli, Ruffieux, Mouthon, Keller, & Taube, 2018), showing that six-year-olds sway significantly more on a swinging platform than eleven- and fifteen-yearolds. Moreover, postural responses after anticipated (Haas, Diener, Bacher, & Dichgans, 1986) as well as nonanticipated perturbations (Shumway-Cook & Woollacott,
1985) reportedly mature with age in youth. Finally, a recent systematic review and meta-analysis (Schedler, Kiss, & Muehlbauer, 2019) investigating differences in balance performance between children and adolescents revealed small (dynamic steady-state/proactive balance) to large (static steady-state balance) effects in favor of adolescents.

Age-related differences in balance performance in youth have been attributed to advanced maturation of the postural control system (Woollacott & Shumway-Cook, 1990), neural (Haas et al., 1986) and physical (Riach & Starkes, 1993) developments, and increased motor experiences (Gouleme, Ezane, Wiener-Vacher, & Bucci, 2014) in adolescents compared to children. These factors may also lead to differences in the trainability of balance between children and adolescents. On the one hand, trainability of balance might be higher in adolescents compared to children due to their almost mature postural control system, which might be a prerequisite for pronounced training adaptations. On the other hand, children might be better trainable due to their lower level of performance leaving them with higher adaptive resources compared to adolescents.

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