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.

Misconceptions of Strength in Athletics and General Fitness

All you need is a barbell and plates . . . . . . .

Bodyweight training is the only thing you really need . . . . . . . .

A kettlebell and an open field will be all that is necessary to make you strong . . . . . .

Strength training will make a female bulky. . . .

If you have been into reading anything about physical preparation or fitness,  you may have come across statements such as these.  There are professionals in the field of exercise that will tout certain training modes over others, especially if it is their “thing”.  What is going to be discussed are some issues as they relate to strength training that individuals commonly perceive to be absolute truths.  Falling into some of these thoughts could hamper some of your progress as far as your fitness goals are concerned.

However, there are truths to the above statements.  For instance, if someone where to do push-ups, pull-ups, bodweight squats and lunges everyday, they would get stronger and achieve a certain level of conditioning.  The same can be said for any of the above methods in the initial statments; there are countless stories of athletes, strongmen, and bodybuilders who had nothing but a barbell and some rusty plates in their garage to train with.  Without getting too deep into this, the human body will adapt to a stress which will cause changes to the body.  The problem is that once the body adapts, one will cease to see changes occur.  If you do limit yourself to one execise mode or another, it is definitely important to some how vary your stimulus with your exercise to continue to progress.  This becomes all the more important for competitive athletes who limit their training to certain types of training.  As a for instance, I knew a coach once who had his athletes performing a plyometric (or a jump program as individuals who understand this stuff would refer to it) and thought (no, he knew for a fact according to him) that this was all his athletes would need to make themselves better on the field.  What he failed to realize is that without some level of strength, the benefits from this type of routine would be limited– it’s that whole needing to be able to apply force thing.

So without going any further with this I will just address some of the issues as it relates to how people understand strength development.  What I don’t address here will be discussed in a future post.

1. Bodyweight exercises are all you will ever need

I think bodyweight strength movements are outstanding for helping to develop strength and just overall conditioning of the body.  As a matter of fact, I think most young athletes would all be better served is they could actually perform bodyweight movements (I could have counted way to many athletes I dealt with at the college level who would not perform ONE good push-up).  The problem here again lies in functioning in absolutes.  If you are a competitive athlete (no matter at what level) you at some point will have to add external resistance to your exercise, or for that matter, work on the development of MAXIMAL strength (which depending on your sport or chosen activity, can become very important to your overall development).

While anyone who is a football fan has heard the legendary stories of Herschel Walker (who was an athlete at a level that most people cannot even dream of getting to) doing is regimen of push-ups, pull-up, and sit-ups, there will be other things that have to get done, most notably using resistance.  This also means that athletes at some point should train HEAVY.  Now there are right and wrong ways to go about training to get to that point, but notheless it is something that eventually is necessary for athletes to do.

2.  Strength training and females

Everyone has dealt with the issues of females not wanting to strength train heavy for fear of getting “bulky” or too muscular.  While I am not looking to get into a discussion of physiology for the purposes of this post, females (yes, I am saying females as in all, don’t start telling me about your “genetics”) don’t have the capability to add on muscle mass due to lower resting levels of testosterone.  This means females resort to limiting themselves to spin classes, the lates froms of dance aerobics (I refuse to mention any by name), or the next “bootcamp class”.  Meanwhile, much of the complication with their training and meeting their fitness goals may be achieved by doing some basic strength training with RELATIVELY heavy weight.  This means not only doing high rep sets which do not tone muscles, but rather doing even some 3-5 reps sets of basic compound exercises.

The strength training issue is something that particularly needs to be addressed with young female athletes.  While working at the collegiate level, it amazed me at how when some athletes just dedicated themselves to basic strength training how their performance improved and the number of injuries they experienced decreased; or, when they did get injured how quickly they recovered.  It almost made things easier for me when I worked with these athletes because just about anything that covered working on their strength seemed to help them.  The bottom line is that for females to improve in their sport, they need to train to improve their strength.

I will address some of the other issues in a future post.  For now just remember that everything as it relates to strength training is a tool to be used to achieve a goal; their is not one perfect training modality that works best for everything.

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