Proper Strength Development for Athletes

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Strength is one of the most interesting, yet frustrating, topics in terms of physical qualities.

When things are good, strength is good. It gets blamed when things are not.

We see this a lot in golf. When a player wins a big tournament their fitness usually receives credit but if they aren’t playing well or dealing with injuries then their training becomes the reason why.

We see similar trends with other athletes. When an athlete is slow, strength training becomes the plague. An athlete that can be strong on the ball, puck, or opposing team gets praised for their physical ability.

The truth is that strength training is an important way to improve power and durability. Plenty of athletes get hurt playing their sport without training. The injury rate in sport is dramatically higher than strength training alone.

We also cannot just blindly say that strength training makes someone slow. When done right, it should help athletes move faster. Athletes becoming slow is usually due to any of the following factors:

  1. lack of speed training
  2. lack of strength
  3. excess body weight
  4. effort
  5. poor conditioning

Being too strong never makes someone too slow.

What is Strength Training? 

Strength training is using resistance to increase the force production of a muscle. Body weight or free weights are often needed to provide enough of a training effect.

Other forms of fitness may not be designed to improve muscular strength. Yoga, physical therapy, conditioning, and speed work are not designed to help with strength. They serve other purposes just not strength.

Start Early

Athletes can get started with strength training as early as 6. The key is that they need to start with the most basic movements, unloaded before moving into more complex exercises.

Great options for athletes that haven’t got into middle school include med balls, sleds, body weight, and really light kettlebells/dumbbells.

This group really benefits from working on pushups, rows, squat patterns, and core stability work.

Setting this foundation early, helps into high school and beyond. It is a lot harder to learn pushups and squats when you are in high school and have never done any formal training.

High school athletes are bigger and heavier which makes these exercises more loaded than they are for an 8 year old. Having that to build off can be really beneficial as athletes age.

Make the Time

The more time you can dedicate to strength training, the better it is going to be. This is true both in terms of years and in months. Finding a way to train for 12 months is going to be exponentially better than doing every 3 months.

Our testing data shows that most athletes will return worse than they left when they stop training. I know it sounds obvious but growing doesn’t help as much as some people want it too.

Instead of taking two steps back every time you stop training, try to do whatever it takes to continue walking forward.

Total Body Training with Foundational Movements

An athletes strength program should include some variations of squats, hinges, upper body pushes, upper body pulls, carries, and core stability training.

Some trainers/gyms/programs try to pigeon hole athletes into particular types of training that might not accomplish what they want.

I know there are a lot of physical therapy clinics that try to do this with healthy athletes. From a business perspective, it really helps the clinic to have cash programs. They will offer programs for athletes without truly being equipped to handle that type of training.

What some bad therapists will do is create dysfunctions to get you into their program. Healthy athletes are not broken so you need to train.

If the program you enter is not working on strength training then run for the hills. Again, strength training should include resistance so you need to be using appropriate weights. Stick to the movements that I listed above and you will be primed to improve your strength.