Is Strengh god?

04 Sep Is Strengh god?

Is Strength god?


Nope, this post isn’t about religion but it is about dogma. Specifically, it’s about the dogma on both sides of the argument as to how important strength is to athletic development.There’s the strength coach, no doubt burly chested with back hair traveling up his neck and protruding from his stained sweatshirt, who believes that his athlete’s development is related entirely to the numbers his athletes put up with a barbell. His purpose to is to make athletes stronger and the stronger the better. To him, their performance in their sport is dependent on the numbers of whatever lifts he deems worthy in the weight room.

He believes there can never be enough strength, so his athletes are going to go heavy and increase their maximal strength, all year round.

Then there’s the performance coach, no doubt also a rehab specialist in the private sector, who thinks he’s an iconoclast because he personally does heavy squats from time to time despite the disapproval of his colleagues. He doesn’t care, though. He lives by his own rules.

But, he believes the role of the strength coach or trainer is very slim indeed to the athletic development of athletes and that a good athlete is born and never made through strength training.

To him, the purpose of a strength and conditioning coach is to correct imbalances and prescribe sport specific movements in every movement plane to keep the athlete from any harm. He scoffs at the dumb strength coach who believes he has any great part in the success of athletes. Great athletes are born, never developed.


Let’s Go Back To School

Everyone will usually agree that a good athlete needs to be powerful .  Athleticism, of course, requires a host of other key factors as well including adequate range of motion, stability, reactive ability, adequate proprioception, actual speed of movement, etc. but let’s stick to discussing power right now as it directly relates to the question of how important strength is for athletic development

So let’s settle down and stop overcomplicating things: power = force x velocity.

Simplified, power can be defined as applying force in minimal time. Power requires velocity (speed of movement) as well as force.

A lot of performance coaches talk about power training and yet conveniently forget about the “force” part of the equation. Force is a representation of maximal strength or more specifically limit strength (meaning the percentage of your absolute strength that you can actually utilize in an active contraction. While you can train to use more of your potential absolute strength, it is never readily available to you unless you’re in a situation of extreme duress: think woman lifting bus off of her kid.)

So, let’s look at how important force, in terms of limit strength, is to power activities — specifically the vertical jump.  Say there’s two 190 pound athletes with the same proportions.  One of them can squat 350 pounds, though, while the other maxes out around 250 pounds, it’s easy to see that the first athlete has the ability to generate more force relative to his bodyweight. All things considered, the first athlete should be the more powerful athlete. This is simple to understand, don’t complicate it.

If you like numbers, this may help you understand it better: if they were both to perform a vertical jump, the athlete who could squat 350 pounds would only have to use around 54% of his maximum strength to move his body while the athlete who could only squat 250 pounds would be using around 76% of his maximum strength to move his body. You tell me who has the potential to jump higher?

Ah, so the burly strength coach laughs, and exclaims that strength is god in athletic development. Make an athlete stronger and he will be more powerful. The more powerful athlete is a better athlete.

One problem though — just as the performance coach forgot about force, the strength coach forgot about velocity, specifically rate of force development or the speed at which you can develop force.


But Can He Move?

Athletes not only need to apply great levels of strength, but also be able to apply them quickly. Think about cutting on the field. An athlete has to stop his momentum, absorb force, immediately transfer the energy, and then apply a great deal of force to the ground again to quickly accelerate to top speed. This ability to generate maximum force quickly is rate of force development.

Generating true maximum force or limit strength takes longer than generating explosive force. So, doing a maximum squat will take longer than doing a maximum vertical jump.

If you dedicate all of your time for an extended period (and this only comes after a great deal of time and dedication) to training maximum strength, there can come a point where you have increased your strength above the speed that you can apply useable force in athletic movement.

This is the stereotypical athlete who is a beast in the weight room but useless on the field.

So the performance coach rears his ugly undoubtedly soul-patched face into the argument again and whips out his 28 page speed work manual that includes every variation of moving feet in and out of little  squares placed on the ground known to man. He’s going to work on speed dammit, because he’s not going to be like that Neanderthal strength coach who just builds strength that can be applied to sport.

Don’t get carried away there, though. Speed of movement is directly related to force. In fact, speed of movement, in isolation, is the part that is in fact genetically determined and very, very, very difficult to actually improve. Tap your foot as fast as you can for a minute. Work on that for a year and see how much you actually improve. I’m betting not a lot. An elite runner may not actually move their feet more times than an average runner but an elite runner instead produces more power every time their foot touches the ground.

So, your version of speed work isn’t doing a whole lot for the average athlete, but I’m sure you only train the most elite athletes.


Intend to Move Fast

So with all this talk about the extremes of strength and speed training, how do we really increase power? We know that to increase power, we need to increase force and this is done through traditional weight training methods using big movements in an attempt to increase limit strength.

This would be the properly planned out programming utilizing big pull, squat and push lifts and training them in the 85%-95% 1RM zone.

To increase rate of force development though, you will need to increase the speed of contraction. This can be done through the same means but actively trying to move the bar as fast as possible.

This can also be done through training the strength speed zone – 55%-85% of 1RM. So, we take a moderate weight and move it as fast as we can, improving rate of force development.  When we use Olympic lifts in training, this is the training zone we should keep it in. The Olympic lifts are great to improve rate of force development because you MUST move the bar fast if you are to complete the lift with any appreciable load.

This doesn’t mean that you have to exclusively use Olympic lifts to develop rate of force development but it is a good tool.

Other methods such as jumps and throws can specifically work velocity of movement and contribute to increased rate of force development.

Other more advanced methods include repetitive hurdle jumps and depth jumps which train the stretch-shortening cycle and improve reactive strength, helping athletes learn to absorb impact among other things. The correct use of these can be saved for another discussion.


Put it to freaking bed

Coaches and trainers will talk about increasing speed in the weight room through weight training by lifting really light weight really fast for a bunch of reps. I’m tired of hearing this crap. Remember that you are trying to create power in the weight room. This includes velocity, but it also includes force. Using a load less than 55% of your max in whatever movement or exercise you’re performing will not create enough tension in your body to improve force, so you’re doing nothing.

The neuromuscular system needs weight to recruit more muscle fibers and to coordinate this recruitment better so that improvements in power can occur. If you don’t understand this concept and are prescribing speed training, you are a ignoramus and have no business arguing with anyone who has even a high school level understanding of biomechanics and physiology.

Likewise, we need to remember why strength is important for athletes. Strength is vital but only if applied for the correct purpose. Let’s think before we talk and hold ourselves to a higher standard here, people.


Would you like to argue with me? Cool, do it in the comments.



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