Strength Training for Sport

If you are an athlete, recreationally or professionally, strength training (also referred to as resistance training) should be a staple in your performance plan. At all levels, athletes should be including strength sessions for optimal performance in their sport. In this blog, we’ll discuss the benefits of strength training for sport, things to consider, and how to approach strength training.

Benefits of Strength Training

We’ve discussed this a lot in previous blogs, which I will list at the end of this article for reference. In general, strength training is essential for the following:

  • Injury prevention 

    • Resistance training allows for physiological adaptations that create more resilient bodies. This creates increased protection for the athlete. 

    • A progressive, safe resistance training program will help promote growth and strength increases in the strength of ligaments, tendons, tendon to bone and ligament to bone junction strength, joint cartilage and the connective tissue sheaths within muscle.

      • For example, as lower-body strength levels increase, the incidence of stress fracture is reduced. This is due to an increase in bone strength. 

    • Many sports require repetitive movement patterns that lead to overuse injuries. The incidence from these injuries, such as swimmers shoulder and tennis elbow, can be reduced by adding in strength training to the athlete’s training protocol. 

  • Power & strength development

    • Power = Force x Velocity, therefore the stronger you are, the more force you can produce, and thus the more powerful you are. Building strength is imperative and a foundational piece to performance. 

      • Many sports require athletes to be powerful in several planes of motion. For example, tennis players must possess rotational power as they strike the ball, and volleyball players must possess both lower body power (for explosive jumping) and overhead power.

What to consider

  • Current training volume

    • How much volume are you currently executing? 

    • Do you have the time to add in more? If not, what do you have to alter in order to add strength training into your schedule?

    • How is your current recovery? Do you have the physical capacity to add in a resistance training program? If not, what do you have to alter in order to add it in?

  • Time of season

    • Off season– this is the time when you want to maximize the volume of your resistance training program, because your sport-specific practice is low. 

    • In-season– during this time, your sport practices and games are of pivotal importance and the goal is to optimize sport performance and win games. This is when resistance training will be lower and focused more on maintenance. 

  • Athlete injury history

    • Are there any injuries to be aware of? This will help with exercise selection. Strength coaches should know if certain movements need to be avoided/minimized, and if the athlete has any weaknesses from a previous injury.

      • For example, an athlete may need to avoid axial loading for a period of time due to a back injury. In this case, we can load the squat pattern effectively through another movement that is not a back squat, such as a belt-squat or goblet squat. 

  • Athlete training history

    • How old is the athlete?

    • How long has he/she been training?

      • An athlete who has years of experience with strength training will have a very different program than a novice athlete. The more experience, the more specific the strength training program. 

  • Sport requirements

    • Energy system requirements

      • For example, tennis employs the ATP-PCr energy system, which is an energy system that is known for short bursts (a few seconds long) of powerful movement. In that case, exercises that help advance an athlete’s performance in this energy system are essential.

    • Movement requirements

      • What movements are common to the sport? 

      • Is there overuse in a certain movement? 

      • Are there movements that cause imbalances?

How to add in strength training

  • Needs Analysis

    • Analyze your sport and your individual strengths/weaknesses

      • For example, a CrossFit athlete who has relatively weaker legs will want to make this weakness a focal point in their training plan, since the sport requires a lot of lower body strength and power. 

    • Create goals

      • What goals would you like to achieve with your sport? How can resistance training get you there?

        • For example, a basketball player may want to increase her vertical jump (an indicator of lower body explosive power). This will help with her sports performance. Strength training can help build this power up through the use of several movements, such as power cleans and squats. 

      • What weaknesses do you want to attack?

      • Remember SMART goals…be realistic and set up several goals at different points in your timeline.

  • Create a periodized plan 

    • This is where a coach is extremely helpful. You want to consider all variables of your training and have an unbiased perspective developing your plan of attack. 

    • What equipment and resources do you have available? Are you training with minimal equipment or at a gym?

    • What do your training sessions look like? What movements are prioritized? Do they fit your goals and your sport?

      • Make sure to build your training sessions with sound training principles.

        • For example, include power movements before accessory and aerobic work.

    • How will intensity and volume be managed?

    • What progressive overload approach are you taking? 

      • Linear progression, 5/3/1, Juggernaut training, Conjugate method, etc.

    • Develop training cycles that lead to your competition dates.

      • Plan at all levels: microcycles (daily), mesocycles (weekly), macrocycles (annually)

      • Include a tapering plan so that your performance is optimized for your games/meets/competition dates. 

    • For the Annual plan…

      • Look at the full year and determine your off-season and in-season dates

      • Plan around potential scheduling conflicts, like vacation time or final exams.

    • Determine metrics to track

      • Sleep, recovery scales

      • Weights, volume

      • Speed

  • Execute!

    • Be consistent.

    • Stick to the plan.

    • Track progress.

    • Adjust accordingly. 

Previous Blogs

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