Take a look at athletes today… professional, Olympic, collegiate, even high school athletes. There's a definite, even dramatic, trend of increasing muscularity in almost every sport. It's no surprise to see well muscled track and field athletes, huge football and baseball players, and even the female soccer players now look like middle-weight boxers!
Everyone now knows the importance of muscle for sports performance. Muscle is the engine of your body and typically a bigger engine makes a body go faster. That said, there IS a limit to that simple equation, "bigger engine, faster performance." But where is that limit?
WARNING: Veins DO NOT = sports performance…
When it comes to strength training and sports performance there are a few schools of thought, but basically you can boil those down to:
"it works," or "it doesn't work."
The 'traditionalist-hold-outs' that still believe weightlifting "doesn't work" think that it makes you slow, it adds muscle to your frame without the joint/ligament integrity to support it, and it adds a higher risk of injury to your training program. They often think that body weight exercises and/or gymnastics exercises are superior for delivering real world strength, or like the wrestlers and MMA guys say, "Mat Strength."
Harder than it looks…
However, the weightlifting-for-sports-performance people say (in a nutshell):
- muscle adds strength and power,
- more strength and power in anything makes you perform better, and
- there is no better way to add muscle and strength than to add "overload" resistance through the use of heavy barbells and dumbbells (and maybe a few other cool things like tires and hammers, etc.)
Here's the deal…
They're both right!
Now days there is no question that more muscle mass and strength improves your general fitness, quickness and power. And pretty much every sport benefits from those improved qualities (even finesse sports like golf).
Even Phil Mickelson has started building muscle…
Just about every university and high school has a weight room for its athletes to train in. And every professional athlete now spends their off-season weightlifting and improving their STRENGTH and MUSCLE MASS for the upcoming season.
But weightlifting is weightlifting, right? It's NOT the sport. You have to get on the field or on the court and learn the strength needed for your sport. The golfer needs to swing the club and do drills that improve "club swinging strength" on the course, the football player needs to do footwork and agility drills on the field to really improve his "football speed," right? It's like my old Karate instructor used to say,
"you can't learn to punch unless you throw a punch!"
And unfortunately many athletes these days (especially younger athletes) are making the case for these "non-weightlifting" proponents. They take up weightlifting to improve their performance but do it ALL WRONG, and hurt themselves and hence their performance in the process!
These novice lifters sacrifice good full range of motion movements to try and lift heavy weight, and fail to properly and slowly progress the amount of weight they're lifting so that they build the tendon and ligament strength as they build the muscle. This inevitably sets them up for failure.
If the novice lifter survives this "hap-hazard" strength training program and add a little muscle and strength to their body without an injury they still fail to truly realize the improved sports performance on the field or court because they don't "teach" that new muscle how to move explosively with proper power movements (like Olympic lifting and plyometrics) and correct field drills. Or they attempt to do some of the "power movements" with horrific form and cause injuries or set themselves up for a guaranteed future injury like the lifter below using bad low back posture.
How is your Olympic lifting technique? If you're doing plyometrics are you staying within the appropriate number of ground contacts each session? And then progressing them appropriately (here is a system to proper progression of plyometrics training).
So, back to the question…
Should athletes strength train to improve sports performance or just focus on sport-specific body weight drills for their sport?
John Cortese, our Elite Performance Camp lead trainer, recently finished a literature review of 15 peer-reviewed studies on weightlifting, strength and sports performance and found that improved strength is STONGLY correlated (no pun intended) to faster speed and hence sports performance. Athletes that had a stronger squat (or even just started doing squats) had significantly greater speed and sports performance power than those that did not. Heavy squats and heavy power cleans ARE significantly correlated with greater sports performance (e.g., running speed and quickness).
However, his review also found that combining "in-the-gym" strength training with "on-the-field" sports conditioning drills was FAR BETTER for improved sports performance than strength training alone. And I don't mean just "practicing" your sport like you have to do everyday anyway, I mean real sports performance… body weight drills like form-sprinting, first-step starts, lateral agility, plyometric push-ups, etc.
So the answer IS "both." An athlete needs to do both strength training using barbells and dumbbells (and tractor tires, and sledgehammers, and ropes, and straps, and chains, etc. like we do at Athlon), and they need to be doing some "body weight" field drills that are appropriate for improving their sports performance.
He said, "it was very obvious from the literature review that following a smart program that included both [strength training and field drills] at varying intensities created the fastest most powerful athletes, hands-down."
(and the fastest, most powerful athletes are almost always the ones getting their hand raised in victory on the first place podium)
The reason for this is fairly intuitive… just because you add the muscle doesn't mean it automatically knows how to coordinate itself to run faster, or punch harder, or jump higher, etc. You have to teach that new-found muscle and strength how to properly apply itself in a particular sporting environment or movement pattern. This is right inline with one of the most common principles of biological systems (and skill improvement) that all physical therapists, personal trainers, strength coaches and physicians understand and use… the "S.A.I.D." principle:
"…if you want to learn to punch you have to throw a punch!"
The Take-Home Message
Strength and conditioning in the weight room following sound principles of safety and progression is an absolute must if you want to step on the field and compete with the average athlete these days. However, you must also incorporate body weight skill training drills into your strength and conditioning program in order to truly realize and increase your performance (and hence realize the TRUE benefit of improved performance, i.e…
Athlon Elite has put together the most comprehensive, effective training program for Athletes in SLO County…
Click the link above or go here: www.ElitePerformanceCamp.zreply.com and learn about this program and how it puts together ALL of the components of a performance enhancement program, both "in-the-gym" and "on-the-field" to GUARANTEE you're walking off the field with the "W" EVERY TIME!
Call us at (805) 440-0215 to get a free consultation about this program and how it WILL help YOU!
Until next time,