Importance of Strength for Improved Performance

Contents of the article

  1. Introduction

  2. The Strength-Speed Continuum

  3. Importance of Strength

  4. Training for Power Development

  5. Converting Power to Speed

  6. Summary
















Introduction

A common misconception is that an increase in muscle mass/ strength will cause an individual to be slower in speed. This can be the case if training is not progressed into more velocity based movements, which is commonly seen in ‘gym lads’ and body builders whose main focus is muscular hypertrophy and not to improve performance.

This article will cover the importance of building maximum strength and then using this strength to develop power and speed, which are essential components across all sports.


The Strength-Speed Continuum

The strength-speed continuum is closely related to the force-velocity curve. This consists of four aspects; absolute strength, strength-speed and speed-strength (power), and absolute speed. 












Figure 1. The force/velocity curve relationship.


This figure shows that where an individual can produce a high force, they can only produce very little velocity. This is the maximum strength section of the curve. The strength-speed and speed-strength sections of the curve represent power, as power is a combination of force and velocity (Power = Force x Velocity). Finally, the speed aspect of the curve solely focuses on velocity with little consideration of force.


All aspects of this continuum are interrelated with increases in strength resulting in improvements in power and speed. Firstly, strength must be developed through resistance training with high loads and low repetitions. Following, strength development (preferably where you can back squat 2x your body weight for elite sport), power should be developed through reducing the load slightly and increasing the velocity of movement. This could include using exercises such as squat jumps and Olympic lifts (snatch and clean). Finally, if necessary, for your sport, speed should be developed through utilising high velocity training such as free sprint training and uphill sprints.


Importance of Strength

Muscular strength is defined as being the maximal amount of force a muscle can exert against a resistance. Muscular strength is a fundamental component that is essential across a variety of sports, improving; jump height, sprint speed, and the ability to kick and throw. Numerous research studies have indicated that strength correlates highly with jump height and sprint speed (Vecchio, Daewoud and Green., 2018; Grgic et al., 2017).

When aiming to develop maximum strength, the optimal sets, reps and load should be as follows; 2-6 sets with ≤ 6 repetitions, each set at an intensity ≥ 85% 1RM. The optimal rest period between sets to maximise strength development is between 2-5 minutes to ensure complete recovery. Individuals that are resistance trained for > one year (well trained) should perform this squat protocol 3-4 times per week to optimise strength development. Whereas, less trained individuals (resistance trained < two months) should use this squat protocol 1-2 times a week.


Training for Power Development

Strength and speed are both essential for producing and developing power as power = force x velocity (strength x speed). Power is the most predictive physical capacity of elite athletes competing in anaerobic field and court sports, therefore maximising power output is essential for optimising performance.

So how do we develop power? After developing sufficient strength we must start to increase the velocity of movement in our exercises whilst still lifting a heavy load. A great way to do this is training using loaded squat jumps as this movement has many similarities to sport specific movements (sprinting, jumping and change of direction). Olympic lifts (snatch/ clean) are also a great exercise that can be used to develop power. The triple extension aspect of these exercises transfers into many sporting movements. However, the technique required to perform these exercises is somewhat difficult and requires a certain amount of coaching and practice. 








Converting Power to Speed

When training for speed development, the force aspect of power is reduced, and significantly more focus is placed on velocity. Speed is defined as the time taken to cover a given distance, with stride frequency and stride length being the determinants of running speed. The typical distance covered during a single sprint in team sports is < 30m, indicating the acceleration phase is extremely important for sport performance. Acceleration (0-10 m) requires a high force to be applied into the ground at a fast rate (rate of force development), therefore strength is extremely important when aiming to improve an individuals acceleration. Free sprint training and uphill sprinting are the best methods of improving sprint speed with a focus on driving the knee through with a piston like action of the feet. Full recovery should be provided between sprints when training to make sure the individual is putting in maximum effort, without fatigue having a negative impact. 









A key component of sprint performance is ground contact time. A reduced ground contact time will result in faster sprint speed due to spending less time in contact with the ground. One way to reduce ground contact time is to train using depth jumps. This is where you drop off a box (usually 15 - 30 cm) and jump up as high and as fast as you can when your feet touch the ground. This exercise utilises the stretch shortening cycle which is an essential component of many sporting movements. 4 sets of 6 repetitions with full recovery between reps should be used when training using depth jumps.









Summary

To optimise performance in sport, increases in maximum strength are required before power is developed as power requires force (strength). Following strength development, power should be trained using higher velocity exercises. This will enhance sprint, jump and kicking performance across a variety of sports. If required for performance this increased strength and power should be used to develop speed through velocity based exercises. If you want to improve your performance in sport make sure to work along the strength-speed continuum.

References