Strength Development for Sports

In the preparation for athletic competition, there are many training modes one must undertake in order to achieve success.  The focus of this post is going to examine the place for strength training in the development of an athlete.  Individuals who participate in sporting activity should include strength development through resistance training during their training as a means of general preparation.  Although the application of principles will vary for athletes depending on their sport, all athletes can benefit from a well-planned strength training program being included in their training regimen.

The strength component of a training plan is one area where many misconceptions are present.  Many individuals either overemphasize the importance of strength, while others de-emphasize the importance or limit the modes by which strength is acquired.  It is very popular for coaches to fall into traps and thinking that one mode of strength building (i.e. bodyweight training, kettlebell training) can be the solution to all training problems.  While all methods of strength development can be components of athletic development, the systematic application of these methods is what will allow for optimal strength development in athletes.

Zatsiorsky and Kraemer (2006) outline three methods of strength development (or four if you consider the subtype of one of them a separate method).  These methods are classified as the following:

Maximal Effort Method- This method is performed to reduce inhibition in the nervous system (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006), and involves training at intensities of approximately >90% of a 1 repetition maximum (RM).  This will also involve lower repetitions being performed in a set (usually less than 5, however in dealing with smaller accessory exercises can possibly be as high as 8).  Typically this exercise is carried out with larger multijoint exercises (i.e. squat variations, bench press, power clean, etc).

Repeated Effort Method- The repeated effort method involves performing a high number or repetitions until failure;  this method is utilized to stimulate muscle hypertrophy (Zatsiorsky and Kraemer, 2006).  A subtype of this method is the submaximal effort, which is based on the same concept with the difference being the number of repetitions performed during the exercise.  The repeated effort methods involves repetitions higher than eight, while the submaximal effort method involves repetitions in the 5-8 range without taking individual sets to failure.

Dynamic Effort Method-  The goal with this method is to increase the rate of force development (Zatsiorky and Kraemer, 2006).  For athletes, this can assist in the development of explosive strength necessary in physical development.  This technique involves fast movement applied against moderate resistance (40-75% 1 RM).

All of these methods may be applied throughout an athlete’s training.  The proportion of time spent on each area of strength development will depend on the goals of the athlete, coupled with the training experience of an athlete.  Coaches and trainers will sometimes exclude a method due to misconceptions associated with it; for example, not performing maximal effort method because of concerns of developing too much muscle growth or “getting bulky” (which is not an adaptation caused by using this method of strength development).  There are certainly times in the development of an athlete in certain sports activities where methods will not yield as great a result.  This is usually the case of very high level or elite athletes, whereas athletes of lower level classifications (based on age and level of ability) can benefit from a variety of methods.  What is of the utmost importance is to understand the athlete’s training experience, along with the overall goals the athlete is attempting to achieve.

Recommended readings:

Zatsiorsky, V.M. & Kraemer, W.J.  (2006).  Science and practice of strength training.  Champaign: Human Kinetics.

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