Strength training is an essential element of fitness for virtually every sports man and woman. Long gone are the days when coaches believed resistance exercises only added unnecessary bulk to the athlete, hindering their ability to execute skill.
The benefits of strength training to athletic performance are enormous and many. Not only is it an integral conditioning component for power athletes such as football and rugby players, performance in the pure endurance events can be improved with a well-structured strength routine.
However, aside from perhaps bodybuilders, sport-specific resistance training requires a more refined approach than simply lifting heavy weights to complete exhaustion. A physiological analysis of any game or event will confirm that most athletes require explosive power, muscular endurance, maximal strength or some combination of all three in order to excel. Rarely is pure muscle bulk the primary concern and when it is, other elements of strength are equally as important.
Elements of a Strength Training Program
Synonymous with most people’s perception of strength training, 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 very aggressive body contact. For most athletes however, too much muscle bulk is a hindrance. And 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 (2,3). Interestingly, it does not appear to lead to a significant increase in muscle hypertrophy (4).
Rarely is an athlete required to produce a singular maximal effort in their sport. With the exception of powerlifting, most sports require movements that are much more rapid and demand a higher power output than is generated during maximal lifts (5,6). 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 and 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.
Strength endurance can be developed through circuit training or the use of low weights and high repetitions. 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.
The concept of periodization 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 minimizing the risk of over-training.
It also 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 periodization permits variations in intensity and volume to promote performance enhancements for as long as possible.
Strength Training Articles
The Sport-Specific Approach to Strength Training Programs
The bodybuilding approach to strength training still predominates. But a more refined approach that incorporates the concept of periodization is much more effective. Here’s how the various elements of strength fit together in the overall plan…
How To Design Resistance Training Programs For sport
Resistance training is an integral part of any sports conditioning plan. This complete guide covers the various design elements of a successful, sport-specific strength training regimen…
Weight Training Programs For Basic Strength
The first phase in a strength training program should prepare the body for more demanding subsequent training. Crucial even for experienced athletes…
Weight Training Programs For Increasing Muscle Mass (Hypertrophy)
Some athletes will benefit from increased lean weight and muscle mass. However, many bodybuilding routines are too time consuming and fatiguing for athletes who must reserve their energy for other types of training…
Two More Weight Training Routines For Building Muscle Mass
Two routines suitable for the hypertrophy phase of a resistance training program…
Weight Training Programs For Maximum Strength
Strength training for muscle mass and training for maximum strength is not the same! Most athletes will benefit from a period of maximal strength training before converting it into more sport-specific types of strength…
Power Training For Sport
Many athletes require explosive power to be successful in their sport. Once maximal strength strength has been developed there are several methods to convert it into sport-specific power…
Muscular Endurance Training
Once a firm foundation of strength has been built it should be converted into power or strength endurance or both, depending on the sport. Here’s how muscular endurance is developed…
Strength Training Alongside Other Types of Training
How does strength training interact with other components of fitness? Does endurance training have a negative effect on strength and power? And does strength and power training negatively effect aerobic power or flexibility?
Dumbell Exercises for Every Major Muscle Group
Machines or free weights? Strength training with dumbbells has some discernible advantages…
Classic Kettlebell Exercises
Do kettlebell exercises offer any performance advantages over regular free weights and dumbbells?
Kettlebell Training Program
Kettlebell training has become popular with western athletes in recent years. While some kettlebell exercises would make a useful addition to a sports strength training program, the principle of specificity must still be adhered to…
Medicine Ball Exercises
Medicine balls are an excellent tool for re-creating movement patterns in many sports. They are particularly useful for upper body power training…
Stability Ball Exercises and Routine
Stability ball exercises are ideal for the anatomical adaptation phase and for rehabilitation. They also work the stabilizing muscles often neglected in intense strength training routines…
Resistance Band Exercises and Routine
Resistance bands offer an athlete an extremely versatile form of resistance training. They can also be adapted to mimic very closely sport-specific movements make them an ideal training tool…
Isometric Exercise for Static Strength
Static strength training is useful for a number of sports and for rehabilitation. These isometric exercises can be performed with little or no equipment…
Using Power Cleans in Sports Conditioning
Power cleans can be useful for developing explosive power (in appropriate sports). Use this technique guide and animated images to see how the lift should be performed…
A Sample Off Season Strength Training Program
The off or closed season is typically about rest and regeneration. But that doesn’t mean doing nothing at all…
Forearm & Rotator Cuff Exercises
Use this program to help prevent common overuse injuries to the shoulder and elbow. Rotator cuff damage and tennis elbow affects may athletes particularly those who play racket sports and golf…
Sample Powerlifting Routine
Powerlifting is one of most demanding forms of strength conditioning. This sample routine is for advanced lifters who want to increase maximal strength…
Sample Olympic Weightlifting Routine
Olympic weightlifting routines and exercises are finding themselves into more and more sports training programs. But are they suitable for all athletes?
Sample Abdominal Exercises
You don’t need an exotic mix of abdominal exercises to get a flat stomach of 6 pack abs – not if you follow a good nutrition and training plan in general. These time-tested exercises are all you need!
Core Stength Training – Not Just About Your Abs!
Developing a powerful core is considered a must for both improving athletic performance and for developing a healthy, balanced physique. But as you can guess you won’t achieve great core strength just through crunches and variations thereof.
1) Bompa TO. 1999 Periodization Training for Sports. Champaign,IL: Human Kinetics.
2) Hoff J, Gran A, Helgerud J. Maximal strength training improves aerobic endurance performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2002 Oct;12(5):288-95
3) Johnston RE, TJ Quinn, Kertzer R and Vroman NB. Strength training in female distance runners: impact on running economy. J. Strength Cond. Res. 11: 224-229, 1997
4) Moss BM, Refsnes PE, Abildgaard A, Nicolaysen K, Jensen J. Effects of maximal effort strength training with different loads on dynamic strength, cross-sectional area, load-power and load-velocity relationships. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1997;75(3):193-9
5) Komi PV. Neuromuscular performance: factors influencing force and speed production. Scand J Sports Sci. 1979 1:2-15
6) developing explosive muscular power: implications for a mixed method training strategy. NSCA J. 1994 16:(5)20-31
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.