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Strength training for athletics has transformed from a taboo practice 50 plus years ago to the norm today. It is so pervasive even pre to early teenage athletics include it in their regimens.
The evolution of strength training methodology for performance enhancement has been haphazard at best. The methods of Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, and powerlifting are all used and claimed by their various proponents to be the best, but there is no general consensus, and if you went to 10 different strength coaches you would get 10 different ways to train an athlete in the same sport.
I’m not going to use this article to argue for a particular methodology, rather, I am going to provide you with what comes as close to being scientific law as possible when discussing human physiology and exercise, and how to apply that information. Specificity of adaptation, or the S.A.I.D principle as it applies to physical training is the most misunderstood and or misapplied principle in exercise. The key thing to understand here is that the adaptation of both the skeletal muscular and nervous systems to training is extremely specific.
One need look no further than the virtual plethora of defined forms of strength to see how varying stressors elicit unique changes in the skeletal muscular and nervous systems. Below is a brief, non-comprehensive list with basic descriptions:
Starting strength – maximum force production capacity in the first 30 milliseconds
Explosive strength – the ability to develop maximum force quickly
Reactive strength – the ability to quickly move from an eccentric to concentric contraction
Speed strength – the ability to move light loads quickly
Strength speed – the ability to move moderate loads quickly
Static strength – increased muscular tension with no change in length – the ability to hold a given load in a static position
Maximal strength – the maximal volitional force an athlete can generate in a given movement
By definition, and at face value, starting strength and explosive strength seem to be nearly identical, but each adaptation is so unique they have virtually no relationship to each other. In other words, you can improve one and not the other.
Another, perhaps more relatable example of training specificity comes from the science of motor learning. Motor learning studies have shown that activities, and the skill they require, which seem very similar when observed have virtually no carryover from one movement to the next. For example, a proficient tennis player will not be proficient as a badminton player without sufficient practice (and vice versa). Both sports are racket based, but they are completely different from your nervous system’s perspective and thus the skill (which is a function of neural acclimation to a movement pattern) acquired for one sport does not transfer to the other.
The lesson to be learned is that strength training should not be used with the idea it will directly enhance performance. For anyone beyond a rote beginner to strength training, increasing their squat will not directly translate to increasing their ability to jump. Far too many strength coaches are under the mistaken belief that simply increasing maximal strength will make an athlete better, or similarly, that because Olympic lifting is considered to be “explosive” it will make their athletes more explosive. It simply isn’t true, and the specificity principle proves that. Olympic lifting involves the use of heavy loads. There is no correlation between how fast you can move a load which is 70-80% of your 1RM (one repetition max) and how fast you can explode off the line in football, or how high you can jump to get a rebound. Both of those activities rely on explosive strength which can only be significantly developed with very light loads.
Don’t be confused, I am not saying that strength training has no use for athletics. What I am saying is that it is most often misapplied. A proper training program will address the specific needs of the athlete (and therefore sport). For example, an offensive lineman will want a combination of sheer mass and explosive strength as well as some degree of maximal strength for when locked up with another bull of a human being. Hypertrophy specific training should be used to develop the sheer mass, sport specific movements, or lightly loaded exercises which are very similar in movement pattern to sport specific activities for explosive strength, and powerlifting exercises for maximal strength.
The smart strength coach, or the self-directed athlete seeking to optimize performance should familiarize themselves with the myriad forms of strength and how they are developed, and then use that information to design a program which will develop the qualities needed in order to optimize performance.
Follow our newsletter for the next installment which will confuse the heck out of you by telling you how increasing your maximal strength CAN aid sports performance 😉 .
by Chris Mason
This is officially my first blog and I’m excited to share this new experience with AtLarge’s customers and fans!
First, let me tell you a little bit about me. I began competing in powerlifting 3 years ago (yea, still an amateur) with my best competition lifts being a 295 squat, 180 bench, and 305 deadlift. My numbers have been up and down over those 3 years, but never where I wanted them to be. For example, my ultimate goal was a 200 bench and I’ve only gotten a taste of 190. Powerlifting is definitely a self-rewarding sport, but can be a very frustrating one as well. My 190 bench was a 10 lb PR and I’m still complaining. What a meathead 🙂 .
I’d have to say that without my gym, Idolmaker Physique and Performance, none of my strength sports and iron game exploits would be possible. Idolmaker has helped to improve me as an individual, has presented me with many opportunities, and has even led me to the great people at the world famous Westside Barbell (whom I now consider to be family).
Yessica performing a Strongman medley
You saw the title of this blog, so you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Strongman yet? Powerlifting preceded Strongman, and I wanted to give a bit of my background prior to delving into my new strength sport of choice 🙂 .
You see, when a challenge presents itself, I’ve gotta take it! Randy Scoates, owner and head trainer of my aforementioned Idolmaker gym, runs a gym that is focused on exactly what he sells, physique and performance. That fact means we have a wide variety of members ranging from athletes doing strength and conditioning for their sport of choice, to competitive powerlifters, to competitive bodybuilders and beyond. Michael De La Pava is one of those athletes. He is a former Strongman competitor turned powerlifter. Michael also happens to own THE Strongman gym in Miami, The Battleaxe. He was the push that got me to give the sport of Strongman a try.
Yessica doing Strongman style squats
I remember watching Strongman on ESPN thinking, “Man, its pretty cool to say you can lift a freakin’ semi.” I may never be able to lift like Jouko Ahola, but I have always wanted to!
I was convinced, on short notice, to compete in my very first Strongman comp last year. The competition included a 110 lbs axle press, ATV deadlifts, truck pull, and Atlas/keg load. ALL of it was new to me! I loved it!
Yessica doing some upper back assistance work
Editor’s note: Yessica is a part of the new breed of women who clearly demonstrate that strength is beauty! If you are a woman and want to be the best version of you that you can be, watch this blog and do what Yessica does.
Yessica cleans up nicely 🙂
For the next 10 weeks I will be sharing my training regimen, progress, and hopefully inspire you to do a competition yourself! Here’s a few movements we did this past week. I like to call it cardio, but it’s volume for the cool kids ( I mean…it’s more than 5 reps, bro).
Log cleans 3×5
1. 75 lbs
2. 75 lbs
3. 85 lbs
Axel strict 3×5
1. 65 lbs
2. 65 lbs
3. 75 (2) dropped down to 65 (4)
1. 95 lbs
2. 135 lbs
3. 135 lbs
4. 115 lbs
5. 115 lbs
1×20 – 135 lbs w/ slingshot
Deloaded to 115 for 5
Overhead DB presses 3×12
DB bench press 3×20
Farmers walk 140 lbs
Axel press 115 lbs
Power stair 180-200 lbs
Circus DB 50 lbs
Squats (4×5) 205 lbs
Front Squats (2×12) 115 lbs
D-bell step ups (3×12/12) 25lbs
Sled pulls (4x100ft) 180 lbs
Ham curls (2×40) bands
Axel strict press (6×3)
1. 65 lbs
Bench (2 board) 3×5
1. 135 lbs
1×20 no board
1. 105 lbs
Alt. D-bell z press (3×6/6)
Skull crushers (3×15)
Band pull aparts (3×30)