Let’s get started with an outline of the benefits of strength training for athletes, and why athletes should engage in a structured strength training program.
Why is strength training important for athletes
In my work as a Strength & Conditioning Coach for Olympians, we follow the approach that everything we do is ‘athletes-centered and coaches-driven’.
What does that mean?
The athlete is in the centre of attention, and everything we do as coaches is geared towards the best for the athletes.
When speaking about the coach, and coaches, it’s not only me, the Strength & Conditioning Coach, it’s also the Head Coach of the sport, who is in charge, and everything I do is supporting the Head Coach as good as I can in the best interest for the athletes.
Why is strength training in the best interest of the athletes
There are two main goals:
- Preventing injuries
- Improving performance
Preventing injuries, why injury prevention?
Pretty simple and straightforward, only a healthy, non-injured athlete can perform and can bring his or her best possible performance.
In addition to that, the lesser you are injured, the longer your career. This is often overlooked, but the history of sports is full of athletes, who had to stop their career at some point because their body simply didn’t hold up anymore. In many cases, this could have been prevented, if the athletes would have taken better care of their bodies.
Bold statement? Maybe, but definitely true.
Improving performance, why improving performance?
This is probably a no-brainer, that’s what competitive sport is all about, competition and to bring the best possible performance into the competitive arena.
Now, that I have outlined the goals and responsibilities of a strength and conditioning coach, the next question is, why is strength training important for athletes, and can help to achieve the goals of preventing injuries and improving performance.
Why is strength training is important for athletes to prevent injuries
In a nutshell, there are two types of injuries, acute injuries and chronic injuries.
- Acute injuries are injuries that happen due to a single traumatic event, like sprains, strains, dislocations, etc. These incidences are part of the sport and can’t be changed, as Strength & Conditioning Coaches, we have very little influence on this type of injury.
- Chronic injuries are damages to the body due to overloads, imbalances, etc. This type of injury, we can influence and this is where the Strength & Conditioning can help with a well-balanced dedicated and directed strength training program for the athlete, that considers the demands of the sport and the individual needs of the athletes.
In very simple words, a stronger muscle is a more resilient muscle, the stronger the muscle groups surrounding a joint, the more the joint is protected, the stronger the active movement apparatus, the less load on the passive movement apparatus.
Why is strength training important for athletes to improve performance
From my experience, no other topic is debated as heatedly in some sports, as the benefits of strength training for athletes.
Why is that?
To be honest, I don’t really know. Part of the answer can be found in the fact, that strength training seems to be used synonymously for any weight training activity, and it is important, that strength training is not strength training.
What do I mean by that?
I have outlined in the article 6 Facts what Strength Training does to you that there are different types of strength training and the different types of strength training lead to different adaptations.
As simple examples, if you employ maximum strength training methods, you will become stronger, if you train for muscular hypertrophy, you will gain muscle mass, you will become faster and more powerful if you work with different power training methods and you will endure longer if you engage in strength endurance training.
To explain the effect of different strength training methods and the resulting adaptations, check out the table from the article How often should I Back Squat, that shows different strength training methods and the effect of the different strength training methods on muscular hypertrophy.
This table explains well, that different strength training methods can have either a large influence on muscular hypertrophy or literally no effect on muscular hypertrophy.
How to choose the right strength training method for athletes
The first step for the performance expert is to look at the demands of the sport and what is needed in this particular sport. With this information, you select the right strength training method or strength training methods.
With this in mind, and coming back to the example from above, that also means, if you choose the wrong training method the strength training can be counterproductive.
And this is probably where the discussions start, that strength training makes athletes slow and whatever ideas are out there.
If I look at some of my athletes, especially from the speed and power dominant sports, like Track Cycling and BMX Supercross, by no means are they slow and that is because we choose the correct strength training methods to make them even faster.
However, if I would choose the inappropriate training methods, I would end up making them slower.
Bottomline, strength training is not strength training, and you need to know what are the adaptations of the strength training method you are choosing.
Part 2 of this article will outline the benefits of strength training for any athlete, regardless of sport.
The benefits of strength training for athletes regardless of sport