Strength Training: Weight Training to Improve Sports
Learn how to improve your sports performance through correct strength training
Strength training is one of the latest trends in the fitness world, that is growing rapidly! Why strength training? When should you use strength training? Is strength training for you?
There are many different elements of strength training which can be used singularly or simultaneously, most of the time. Choosing the correct elements of weight training to apply to your program is key for optimising sports play and performance. To perform better you must improve on the technical skills YOUR sports requires.
I will now go through the elements of weight training in order to get you started on your path to optimising your sports performance.
Hypertrophy refers to increased muscle bulk and size. This is only one aspect of a sport-specific strength training program and one that should be included for only a select group of athletes. Football and rugby players require significant bulk to withstand aggressive body contact. It is important to be aware that for most athletes, too much muscle bulk is a hindrance eg. runners.
Remember that a larger muscle is not necessarily a stronger muscle!
Maximal strength is the highest level of force an athlete can possibly generate. Its importance will vary between sports but this relates more to the length of the maximal strength training phase than whether it should be included or not (1). The greater an athlete’s maximal strength to begin with, the more of it can be converted into sport-specific strength endurance or explosive power.
Maximal strength training can improve exercise economy and endurance performance. Interestingly, it does not appear to lead to a significant increase in muscle hypertrophy.
Rarely is an athlete required to produce a singular maximal effort in their sport. Besides powerlifting, most sports require movements that are much more rapid and demand a higher power output than is generated during maximal lifts. So while maximal strength training lays an important foundation increasing the potential for additional power development, if there is no conversion of this strength into sport-specific power, the program as a whole is much less effective.
An athlete can be exceptionally strong but lack substantial power due to an inability to contract muscle quickly.
Power training is used to improve the rate of force production. A range of methods such as plyometrics can be employed to convert maximal strength into explosive power.
Explosive power is not always the predominant goal of the strength training program. For events such as distance running, cycling, swimming and rowing, strength endurance is a major limiting factor. Again, the greater amount of starting maximal strength, the more of it can be maintained for a prolonged period.
Circuit training or the use of low weights and high repetitions may both be used to increase endurance. However, many strength endurance programs are inadequate for endurance-based sports – a set of 15-20 repetitions for example does not condition the neuromuscular system in the same way as a long distance event. An endurance athlete must practice their sport and increase endurance whilst participating in the sport, whilst also using things like circuit training and low weight/high repetition work to complement it.
The concept of periodisation is key to sport-specific strength training. Dividing the overall training plan into succinct phases or periods, each with a specific outcome, allows sport-specific strength to peak at the right times, whilst minimising the risk of over-training.
Periodisation in strength training allows more specific elements of strength to be built on a solid and more general fitness foundation. Athletes cannot progress week-in week-out indefinitely so periodisation permits variations in intensity and volume to promote performance enhancements for as long as possible. This is the safest way to make ongoing gains and optimised sports performance for the long term.