Strength and Performance Improvement
You’ve heard about how important strength is to performance, right?
It’s true, strength can play a key role in sports performance- or at least, in sports that work against a reasonable resistance (including sprinting/ jumping/ etc), but what do we mean by strength, and at why point is it less important to work on?
First off, let’s get clear.
Absolute and Maximum Strength
Often, when people talk about being strong, they talk in absolute terms. This “absolute strength” is simply the total amount of force that can be applied deliberately towards an outcome- for example, the total weight lifted – irrespective of any other parameters. For an individual, we talk about “maximum strength”- basically the total absolute strength of the individual, regardless of time, bodyweight, etc. We know more force can lead to more explosive athletes, don’t we? So, stronger is better, right?
Well, kind of…
For beginners, developing maximum strength, and a therefor higher absolute strength, will often transfer to performance. If you’re not strong enough, then getting strong enough should be a priority- no question! Go lift!
But there’s a couple of reasons why this may not be the best approach for people after you build a solid foundation.
Let’s look at transfer…
How much of that “maximum strength” can transfer to the performance? We can term this “special” or “task specific” strength, and THIS type of strength absolutely depends on the parameters, including time to produce force, bodyweight, posture/ body position and more.
First up, let’s look at time to produce force, or “rate of force development (RFD)”.
Getting to maximum strength takes time (generally 0.4s or longer!). Most sporting movements (sprint, jump, etc) take place in less time than that, often under 0.2s!
So what does this mean? It means that beyond a certain point, the strength that you can actually USE in your sport is less dependent on your maximum strength, and more dependent on how much strength (force) you can produce in a short space of time! Hence, training for RFD specifically.
Next up, bodyweight.
We’ve discussed absolute strength, but more important in lots of sports is the concept of relative strength. This takes into account the athletes bodyweight, not just the total weight lifted. Makes sense, particularly if the main thing you need to shift in your sport is yourself! Even in strength sports, relative strength is an important consideration if you’re subject to weight categories, and sometimes, pushing bodyweight up too much just isn’t worth the trade off in, either in health or in terms of successful performance!
Finally (for this post), we need to consider body position.
Does the strength we’ve built really apply to the strength we need from a mechanical point of view? This needs to take into account the muscles and muscle actions, the specific joint angles and inter/ intramuscular coordination. The SAID principle states that we adapt to the demands we place on our body. If these demands aren’t specific to the type of strength required in the sport, then it won’t transfer over. A good bicep curl is great, but might not have a huge impact of a 20m sprint!
So, now you know a little more about it, it’s probably time to work on getting stronger. The question is, what type of strength should you focus on?
As always, if you just want to jump straight in, you can contact us here.
Josh Kennedy MSc, ASCC, CSCS