Strength training has increasingly become more popular as an additional method for athletes to improve performance in their sport. Whether it is golfers, triathletes or basketball players, the modern sports science community almost unanimously agrees that all athletes can benefit from some degree of strength training.
The 4 benefits of strength training for sports performance
7 November 2019
Not so long ago, the common wisdom was that athletes just had to focus on putting the hours in, practicing their sports to improve skills and performance. Strength training was often regarded to be more of a hindrance than help to athletes, as lifting weights often cause tightness and muscle soreness, which can impair performance.
However, due to the increasing competitiveness of sports, coaches and athletes have looked for methods that would give them an edge over the competition and strength training has gained a fundamental place in the preparation of athletes to be able to perform better more consistently.
There are several well documented advantages to strength training.
1. REDUCED RISKS OF INJURY
Arguably one of the biggest benefits that strength training, also known as resistance training, creates is physiological changes in the muscle, connective tissues, and bones. More specifically, the bones increase in mineral density and become stronger over time. This is rather significant, as in many sports there is some degree of shear force acting on the bones when performing certain movements, such as jumping, changes of direction or physical contact.
Strength increase occurs also in tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Because they are the support system of a joint, they are the first to take the toll from the impact of force, caused by blows, falls or awkward movements. A strength increase in these connective tissue results in improved resilience and resistance to impact, and subsequently injuries.
2. INCREASED STRENGTH
When an athlete undertakes a focused strength training programme along with sports specific drills, they can increase their power, which is the ability to exert force in the shortest amount of time. This is also commonly referred to as explosive strength.
More power generated in less time equals more explosivity, quicker and efficient movements. Moreover, the muscles learn to synchronize therefore utilising energy more efficiently and reducing waste.
Different types of sport will need to prioritise different types of strength. A sprinter will focus on training explosivity, a cyclist will concentrate on their endurance and a wrestler will train their maximum strength.
3. BETTER BODY COMPOSITION
It is a requirement for most athletes to have healthy levels of body fat while maintaining lean muscle mass, with specific ratio and percentage requirements varying according to the nature of the sport.
An appropriate amount of lean body mass contributes to increased agility, quickness and power, while reduced nonessential body fat improves cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
By implementing strength training, it is possible to attain the most efficient balance of lean to fat mass and body composition.
4. FASTER NEURO-MUSCULAR ACTIVATION
Often one of the most overlooked benefits of resistance training is neuromuscular activation.
Simply put; it is the process by which the brain sends signals to the muscle to recruit muscle fiber and activation patterns to perform a certain movement. The muscle reacts and sends feedback to the brain creating a loop, which over time, will allow the body to learn to optimise and improve such movements.
In many sports, the amount of force and quickness of a movement of an athlete can often make a difference in the outcome of the competition. Strength training not only improves the speed of the signal that is sent from the brain to the muscles, but also the quality of the signal, which can determine the optimal amount of force needed for a given movement.
When planning a strength training programme there are 3 main factors to keep in mind:
Individualisation: Every athlete has different characteristics and therefore can have different responses to exercises. Understanding specific needs is essential to build a training routine which will yield the best results for the individual
Specificity: Every exercise in a strength programme needs to be relevant and appropriate for the sport which the individual is training to produce the desired outcome. Movements should be prioritised over single muscle training. For example, It is more beneficial for a basketball player to perform squats than bicep curls, as the former has a direct beneficial carryover to the sport.
Periodisation: Every training plan should be planned and built systematically into different periods, each of which has a specific goal, whether it is to attain optimal fitness for the start of the season, reach peak performance in the important games and competitions, or facilitate recovery from tight and intense fixtures.
A COMPLEMENT, NOT A SUBSTITUTE
Strength training clearly has defined benefits for sports performance. However, it is essential to note that it is not a substitute for sports-specific training. Instead, it is an additional and complementary tool for coaches to further develop their athletes’ performance.
thanks to the following sources for helping us research this topic:
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