2017, a great year of sport!

2017 was a great year of sport, from the Women’s Euros to the FINA World swimming Championships. And 2018 has started off with a roar with the Winter Olympics and Commonwealth Games continuing on with the World Cup this summer!

The individuals competing in these events have something in common, they all have talent, but more importantly they are willing to earn their right to compete at the highest level and work on many different aspects of their abilities to compete at their best. For me as a sprint, strength and conditioning coach, to see them compete is inspiring and it also lets me evaluate how I coach and train and ask what really makes a difference.

Strength and conditioning training

Strength and conditioning (S&C) training is now commonplace, and is mentioned a lot by commentators:

“she has been doing a lot of work in the gym”.

But what does that mean? We’ve all gone to the gym and threw some dumbbells around to make ourselves feel good but does this actually help?

S&C is in fact an essential component of a successful athlete or team at the highest level,  whether it is an explosive or endurance event. Therefore, will those bicep curls make you run faster? Well the obvious answer is no they don’t!

Perform better

However, Olympic lifting and functional techniques can and are used due to the replication of the triple extension at the hip, knee and ankle joints coupled with the explosive movements involved (Durck, 1986). Most sports require an explosive triple extension of the legs or arms meaning that the athlete with greater maximal muscle strength, rate of force development, and greater muscle fibre activation will be able to perform better due to less physiological limitations (Ben Rosenblatt, 2011).

As a coach of youth athletes at club level, I have seen many athletes from young to late teens, and in many circumstances strength always seems to be a limiting factor. As part of my warm up or training session, I regularly include strength activities such as lunges or squats and I observe that most of the athletes I work with struggle with these basic exercises.

Risk of injury

As a direct result of this, if they cannot perform simple triple extension/core strength activities at low speeds, how will they be able to effectively control these types of movements at ‘game pace’? Including when there is 2-3 times body weight travelling through their limbs over a fraction of a second, while grappling with another player!

The answer is that they don’t and the skill is performed poorly or slowly but with the added caveat of a greater risk of injury. This is seen in many youth sports, particularly in girls sports where physiological changes after the adolescent growth spurt cause neuromuscular deficiencies that can result in injuries (Hewett et al, 2006), particularly ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries. This is not a good injury to have!

Should youth athletes participate in strength training?

Firstly, it is important to address some misconceptions. One, the risk of injury! It has been found that under careful guidance and planning the risk of injury is considerably lower in the gym environment compared to during a standard training session.

Second, there is a misconception that weight training will stunt a child’s growth. However, this is not the case.  Careful planning and management of sessions combined with low loading for youth athletes to master technique will result in strength improvements (Pierce et al, 2008), where neuromuscular pathways are improved and muscle fibre activation is increased, without lifting heavy weights.

By including progressive, low loading and well managed strength training sessions into a youth athlete’s training regime, this will have a positive effect on their development through:

  1. Improved coordination
  2. Greater motor control
  3. Faster muscle activation
  4. Higher quality of skill execution

More often than not, this results in a performance increase which will have a knock on effect of enabling the athlete to learn new skills faster (Pierce, 2008) and help them to avoid injury.

So, does strength matter in sport?

The answer is ‘Yes’, and in almost all sporting contexts! By adding a well managed strength programme into an athletes schedule that runs concurrently alongside their regular training, will develop their functional abilities with regard to skill execution, explosive speed, higher work rate, and efficiency of movement. It will also help to protect against injuries!

So, if you want to be more competitive then add some functional strength training to your programme!

Get in touch (https://www.perform-strong.co.uk) if you have any questions about this blog or your strength programme.

 

References

http://www.acsm.org/public-information/sportsmedicinebasics/youth-strength-training

Durck, (1986) Squat and power clean relationships to sprint training. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 8 (6): 40-41

Pierce, KC. Brewer, C. Ramsey, MW. Byrd, R. Sands, WA. Stone, ME and Stone, MH (2008) Youth resistance training. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 9-23

Rosenblatt, (2011) The application of weightlifting to sprinting. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 21: 38-41

Hewett, TM. Myer, GD. Ford, KR. and Slaterbeck, JR (2006) Preparticipation physical examination using a drop vertical box jump test in young athletes. The effect of puberty and sex. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 16: 298-340