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5 Considerations all field athletes need to know about strength training

Almost every sport under the sun has some sort of strength component. The benefits of improving one's strength may directly or indirectly aid and improve an athlete's performance.

Strength Training: Almost every sport under the sun has some sort of strength component. The benefits of improving one’s strength may directly or indirectly aid and improve an athlete’s performance. The degree to which this improvement occurs will depend on the reliance of strength and the nature of the sport. However, the benefits of strength training don’t necessarily occur due to the adaptations strength training provides. Instead, it may have a profound ability to improve and express all other parameters of athletics. Other parameters could be; coordination, power, stability and speed. All of these things lend themselves to one another and may correlate with improvements in strength, or even more importantly, improvements in one’s performance of their sport.

It’s well documented the benefits of strength training for the general population, this blog will look in depth at some of the considerations when using this type of training for athletes outside of strength sports.

1 – How Strength Training Can Benefit Non-Strength Athletes?

Let begin with the most obvious one , getting stronger ! Being stronger than your opponents is a big win. Particularly in sports where strength is a contributing factor, e.g. MMA, rugby, shot put, football, basketball. The degree to which this strength can be used will depend on the context of the sport itself, nonetheless, it can and will assist the athlete. You don’t want to be the weakest player on the field or in your weight class, being thrown around by the larger, stronger people. You want to be the one doing the throwing! In addition to this, strength is one of the first stages of assessment I will use with any client, as weaknesses will diminish their ability to express other properties such as power and speed. For example; if a basketball player cannot at least squat their bodyweight, how will they be able to slam dunk a basketball?

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training

2 – Strength Should Improve Performance, Not Interfere With It

It’s important to understand that athletes train strength to improve performance, not interfere with it. So if you are not a strength athlete, spending all your time lifting weights is likely not in your best interest, the majority of your time and energy should be spent training for the sport you are trying to be good at. Meanwhile, strength training is there to improve and assist you in expressing the skills required in that sport.

Relying too heavily on strength training in some cases may interfere with performance

Relying too heavily on strength training in some cases may interfere with performance, as it has a large fatigue cost and can diminish some of the athletes previously acquired sport specific athletic capabilities. Often athletes will smash themselves in the gym and then be sore for days, leaving them unable to give it their all when they go to train for their sport, this is not the way to go! The sport comes first, resistance training should supplement your sport and be structured to work around that.

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training

3 – The Best Exercises Designed To Develop Strength Are In The Gym/Under The Barbell

Often coaches or PT’s with little understanding for motor skill development will attempt to emulate the same movements or techniques that the athlete will use in competition under load. They have the impression that doing so will make them stronger when they attempt to do the same movement next time with competition equipment/standards. Most of the time, this is not a good thing, as it alters the athletes previously acquired skill development.

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training

A common example of this is in basketball, whereby, I have seen myself, PT’s take the client through basketball shooting exercises ( despite not being a basketball coach ) with a medicine ball that is 10x heavier than a standard basketball. The coach will prompt the athlete to shoot the same as they do in the game, with the medicine ball instead. What the coach does not understand is just how different this is to the demands of the sport, while also detrimental to the athletes technical proficiency and motor pattern they would have already developed during their basketball career. The heavier ball will negatively alter everything about the athletes standard shooting mechanics, therefore, making the exercise almost pointless, having little to no benefit to the actual act of shooting a normal basketball itself.

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training

Instead, a better way to go about this, would be to develop the athletes strength using normal barbell and free weight movements, improve their upper body strength overall, doing so will then carry over to their sport without diminishing the skill. The goal is to make the athlete strong under the bar, then make the now stronger athlete better at their sport.

4 – Timing

The timing and application of resistance training will be dependent on the athlete’s sport, skill, injury history, competition schedule, training and more. The first priority for most athletes should be to train the sport itself, with resistance training designed to supplement this. If resistance training is getting in the way of the athletes performance in either training or competition, then their program should be re-evaluated and altered.

If resistance training is getting in the way of the athletes performance in either training or competition, then their program should be re-evaluated and altered.

For most sports, the off-season is where the improvements in strength are made, some athletes may dedicate more time toward building muscle or strength. During this period more time can be dedicated without the need to necessarily practice the skill of the sport itself. Doing so during this time allows the athlete to dedicate more energy in the gym in order to ensure they bring a new and improved athlete to the table during the season. This training will be of varying intensities and often greater volumes to the training that is done in-season. The reason why this is done during the off-season, is that this type of intense training comes at a large fatigue cost and would inhibit their ability to perform during the season or in sport specific training.

In-season or competitive training may be more dedicated toward maintaining the athletes fitness, or improving weak points of their game. This will often require the athlete to dramatically decrease their total weight training volume, while doing just enough to work on what they need to in order to level up their physical performance. Less time is deliberately allocated toward heavy lifting due to the large fatigue cost and priority of developing the attributes of the sport.

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training

Competitive athletes in physically demanding sports are in a similar situation in that they often have to deal with the demands placed on their bodies from practice and play of their sport – often these activities will negatively impact their weight training sessions. Additionally, the strength and conditioning coach is usually not working in sync with the sport coach and cannot consistently predict the athletes performance in the gym. As a general rule the athletes weight room performance will be based on the severity of the most recent practice or game. Sports that involve lots of running, such as distance track events, basketball, and soccer may be hard to couple with heavy squat training, while other sports like swimming or grappling, where the whole body is involved will negatively affect the entire body and carry over to all lifts.

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training

Strength training should occur when the athlete is most recovered and provide ample time to recover for competition.

Strength training should occur when the athlete is most recovered and provide ample time to recover for competition.

5 – Strength Training Methods

When applying strength training to an athlete other than those of strength related sports, it is important to consider just how much strength training the individual will need, what they are trying to work on, and just how complex or detailed the stimulus should be. It’s important to note that many athletes in competitive sports do not train with weights, as their sport may never directly require them to, therefore, they would be considered beginners when it comes to strength training. The tools required and application of loads should be relatively simple and straightforward, as they are beginners, almost anything will work, and they may find benefit from doing the most simple of exercises or programs. In saying that, as an athlete develops both in their sport and in the gym, they may improve and shift their training toward the intermediate stage, whereby somewhat more complex training tools may be used, however, they will still see much benefit by doing the basics.

Unless an athlete competes in a strength sport they will never truly reach the advanced stage of resistance training, as they have no need to, and the amount of time required to achieve this will require far more energy than their training schedule for their sport should allow. It is likely that athletes in sports that are less dependent on strength, the lighter field events, sprinters, baseball players etc, will have no need need to advance much beyond the initial intermediate phase of training. These athletes are engaged in activities that are more dependent on skills acquired in the practice of their sport than the strength and power provided in the weight room.

5 Considerations All Non Strength Athletes Need To Know About Strength Training, image of a Pitcher

In summary, the most important component of being an athlete, outside of strength sports, is to train that sport! Resistance training should be designed to ensure the athlete can express their skills in as much as possible and continuously assist them in improving their performance. If you are an athlete and unsure how to go about your strength or conditioning training, hit the contact button, shoot me a message and we will discuss how I can help you.

Portrait of Michael Sechos

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