As a former athlete who participated on the high school and collegiate levels, who has trained for a living for 10 years I’ve learned to evaluate a training regimen differently. When I was a freshman football player weighing 135 lbs. at 5’11” and a bench press that maxed out at a whopping 95 lbs. my focus was to be bigger and stronger as fast as possible. Like most high school programs my strength and conditioning coach was a teacher who ran the weight room for additional pay. Not saying I walked away learning nothing, but not a lot of scientific knowledge was gained from someone whose background in the weight room stemmed from 1970’s philosophies and college major was in education.
An example of what I’m talking about is how I was taught to squat. Having long thin legs and not being that strong as a freshman football player, I looked for any edge I could get. So I asked my coach to compensate for my shortcomings if it was okay if I widened my stance and pointed my toes out. His answer was ‘sure as long as long as you keep your back straight’. What seemed like a good short term solution had huge rammifications later in my ahtletic career. That stance lead to a steady battle with hip flexor issues and weakness in my hip complex. The trickle down effect of those problems were issues with my knees later in my athletic career.
Another drawback in a lot of the athletic training programs is the focus on strictly power training. Most sports measure of strength is a one rep max for bench, squat, deadlift, and/or hang clean. These lifts are okay but there are multiple forms of strength not just one. Below is a summary of different forms of strength and how they are used in sports and activities.
First there is speed strength, as the term implies, is strength displayed with speed. Most examples of speed strength are found in sports, such as the ability to jump quick, swinging a bat or club, throwing objects, and punching. Absolute strength is defined as the maximal amount of weight an individual can lift at one time. In sports power lifting comes closest to displaying absolute strength. Limit strength which few of us will ever experience, is the amount of weight that an individual can overcome when inhibitions are removed. The classic example of this is a parent moving a car off their trapped child through adrenaline. Relative strength applies to lifting your maximum weight in relation to your body weight. It is a useful method for comparing strength among individuals. The best example is how many pull ups an individual can do relative to their body weight. Strength endurance refers to the number of reps that can be executed with a sub-maximal weight. In other words, exhibiting the same amount of strength for a certain number of reps, usually measured after reaching 20 or more reps. Starting strength is the amount of force that can be generated when first starting an explosive movement, like a sprinter getting out of the starting block. Explosive strength is the ability to maintain an initial, quick explosive contraction of muscle. It can be generated using little or no resistance, moderate, or maximum resistance. Dynamic isometric strength is simply the strength required to perform the transition from negative (eccentric) to a positive (concentric) contraction. General strength applies to an overall fitness conditioning to develop all major muscles and joints. Special strength is specific to executing specific sports skills. The special strength exercise must duplicate the same technique, the exact range of motion, and the same type of muscular contractions as seen in the sports skill. Functional strength is most often used to enhance a person’s sports performance. Now follow me on this one, special strength exercises are considered functional, but functional exercises do not necessarily meet the criteria to be special. For example if you are a runner who performs squats and runs, when you try to switch to something like cycling you may experience soreness because even though both involve the legs you are using different muscles. All of these forms of strength tie in together in one form or another. That is why to maximize your abilities you should train in various manners to be proficient in all forms of strength.
I learned this the hard way when I got to college and put on twenty pounds of muscle and lost athleticism due to a lack of knowledge in how to build balanced strength. At Emerge our ATP (Athletic Training and Performance) program focuses on a balanced regimen that stresses injury prevention and long term performance improvements, not quick fix solutions. I will end by aking is your training program helping or hurting your athletic career?
Jason Tokun, Certified Fitness Professional