Why develop strength?
Strength underpins everything. You could say that good movement underpins everything, but this is incorrect. Strength is required to hold and move through different positions (good movement). E.g. good movement when landing from a jump – there’s knee valgus, therefore, is there a lack of eccentric strength to control the body as it lands? E.g. a single leg bw RDL – they are wobbling around, clearly unbalanced, therefore, not moving well – is this due to a lack of strength in various muscles in the lower body, as well as trunk strength to maintain proper posture and position (form)?
Strength also underpins the sexier athletic qualities:
· Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning
Each of these will be addressed below.
A stronger athlete is capable of lifting more weight. Therefore, at lower intensities, a given weight can be lifted more times than it could have when the athlete was weaker. This allows for more muscular damage to be caused. Additionally, lifting a heavier weight means that more muscle fibres need to be recruited, meaning that more can be damaged. More damaged muscle fibres means that there are more muscle fibres needing repaired, and when they are repaired they grow bigger and stronger.
Stronger muscles mean that the body can produce more force. For this to translate into speed, the strength needs to first translate into power. This happens in 2 ways; stiffness of the ankle complex, and expressing this strength in the lower body in a very short amount of time (power). Stiffness of the ankle complex requires great amounts of eccentric strength of the calf, as well as concentric strength to then push off the ground again. Isometric strength is required here too, as for a brief moment with each stride there is an isometric contraction, with the heel just off the ground. No isometric strength = heel collapsing onto the ground = less speed. Also, arm strength is required to help propel the athlete forward with powerful pumps.
Very similar to with strength. Large degrees of eccentric, isometric and concentric strength are required. However, this is not just with the calf complex, but with the whole lower body and trunk. The upper body and neck are also important, with the head having to flip round as fast as possible, with the help of the arms to pump out of one position into another to sprint again. The trunk is required to translate all of the power of this sudden upper body COD into the lower body. Any lost power (energy leaks) means slower COD.
Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning:
With aerobic conditioning, increased strength means that each stride/rotation, etc. is slightly more energy efficient. With anaerobic conditioning the same is true. However, strength is even more important for anaerobic conditioning. Here, for example by utilising circuit training to anaerobically condition an athlete, a ceiling can be reached. For example, even by manipulating the work:rest times and ratios, eventually there is only so much work that an athlete can do at a given load. E.g. if an athlete cannot squat much more than the bar, and they are doing bw squats of squats with the bar in a circuit, they can only do a few squats before they become fatigued and slow down, no matter how long the work period is in the circuit. Being stronger would mean they become fatigued less quickly, therefore, they can work at the required high intensity for longer, to get the desired anaerobic conditioning effect. Additionally, even if the athlete continued to do the circuit for a number of weeks, and fatigue was adapted to (i.e. they could perform the squats with the bar as fast as possible for the given work period without having to slow down) they are then limited by the load. They may be proficient at squatting the bar, but is they cannot squat more than that then they cannot progress the intensity of their circuit training to a higher level.
Distinguishing between the 2, flexibility is your ability to hit certain positions, muscles usually relaxed. Think; trying to touch your toes. Mobility is the athletic quality we are looking at. It is the ability to get into and move through different positions. Flexibility is required for mobility. However, with mobility muscles are working rather than all relaxing. As mentioned earlier in this article, for good movement quality, strength through these positions is required. Additionally, any extra flexibility needs strengthened to make it mobility rather than flexibility. Mobility is active and useful for sport, flexibility builds towards mobility and is passive.
Increased strength means that more force is exerted. Power is the expression of force in a short time domain. More power means either more force expressed in given time, or same force expressed but in a shorter time that previously. More strength can be translated into more power. This is especially true for parts of the force/velocity curve (shown below). At the end of the curve where speed is paramount, it is more likely that stiffness qualities will result in power gains as opposed to increasing maximal strength at the other end of the curve to elicit power gains. Of course, as mentioned earlier in this article, stiffness qualities do require strength.
How to develop it?
Work hard. That is the golden rule. If you lift heavy you will get stronger over time. This is simplistic, but also the golden rule.
However, this differs for novices and experienced lifters, and can work in 2 ways.
For novices, they need simple linear progression at submaximal loads, adding load gradually each week when appropriate.
For experienced lifters the 2 ways are strength through volume, and strength through lifting heavy.
Strength through lifting heavy is the golden rule mentioned above. Rough guidelines are sets of 3-5 reps at more than 80% of 1RM.
Strength through volume refers to the strength pyramid. At the base of the strength pyramid is volume, lots of volume, at loads of 50-80% (roughly) provides a base for strength. It also results in hypertrophy, and more muscle means that over time more force can be produced (greater strength) with the proper training. However, this strength at low %s of 1RM for multiple reps does not automatically translate into a higher 1RM. You then need to work up the pyramid, step by step like a ladder until the top of the pyramid is reached and a new stone laid on top. To get up each step, you do less reps than the step before, but with more load. An example of the strength pyramid is below.
Enjoy your training,