Some lessons on strength training learned over 60 years

I wanted to summarize some practical conclusions from my personal experiences so that young coaches and athletes starting out would not make the same mistakes I have made in my journey.

There is no form of human motion that does not require some expression of force; therefore, all sports will derive benefit from sport appropriate strength training. The physical quality of strength is the underpinning for the optimum development of other biomotor qualities. That being said it is crucial to have an in-depth understanding of the strength and power demands of the sport you are preparing for and design the program to meet those demands while also considering the qualities of the individual athlete.

The weight room can be a trap because gaining measurable strength (Chasing numbers) can be seductive. To a certain extent there is a direct return on the investment, the more you do the more strength you gain, especially at younger training ages and in the anabolically enriched (Often it’s the biology not the training program) teenage male athlete.  It is imperative that you never lose site of the fact that strength training is about developing strength you can use and apply on the field, court, track, or pool, and this does not always equate with strength you can measure in the weight room.

Even though we know better there is still a huge influence from bodybuilding training methods, the emphasis in these programs is on training the muscles. This can be very seductive, but questionable in the transfer to sport performance. My mantra after learning by going down the path of bodybuilding and coming to a dead-end street is to never lose sight of the fact that you must train movements not individual muscles. Athletic movements depend on muscle synergies and coordination; it is not a bodybuilding contest. Develop “go muscles” not” show muscles” that look good at the beach but do not transfer to function.

As far as Olympic lifting the key here is to remember that you are not training Olympic lifters but that you are training athletes who are using the Olympic lifting movements to increase explosive power. There are many adaptations of the Olympic lifting movements with dumbbells, sandbags and kettlebells that will fit a wide variety of sports and level of athlete. Get beyond the bar, as the sole mode of resistance here and it will offer a wide range of possibilities for improving explosive power.

Perhaps one of the biggest lessons I have learned and has been reinforced over the last 15 years is the roll of strength training with the female athlete. Strength training is a must for the female athlete starting out at or before puberty and continued throughout her career. The female athlete must strength train more often and never stop including training right into taper/peaking phase of competition. My rule of thumb is to emphasize volume of intensity is selecting the distribution the work. Female athletes will get more bang for their buck from the time invested. A good comprehensive strength-training program will help to create a favorable endocrine hormonal environment that will have a very positive influence on body composition

It is not about facilities and fancy equipment. Think bodyweight before external resistance. You can strength train anywhere and anytime. Do not make your program dependent of facilities. The same goes for time, something is better than nothing. In certain sports and where there is an extended competitive season a 15 to 20-minute workout three to four time a week is better than one hour long session a week. Make the strength-training blend with the sport training where possible. Never underestimate the value that a short sharp session can have to prime the endocrine hormonal system and positively stimulate the nervous system.

I certainly could go on, but I think it is best to end with a concise definition of strength training that I have evolved over the years: Strength Training is coordination training with appropriate resistance to handle bodyweight, project an implement, move, or resist movement of another body, resist gravity and optimize ground reaction forces.

I will continue to search for better ways and more efficient strength training methodology. I personally strength train at least three to four days a week, an imperative necessary with aging to try to offset the effects of gravity. For me the journey continues.