Whether to win marathons or to make it to the state football championships, all athletes need some form of training. Lately, increased focus has been placed on the specific importance of weight, or strength, training for the overall conditioning of a casual or professional athlete. The terms "weight training" and "strength training" are technically different, but often the two terms are often used interchangeably. Typically, weight training implies the use of materials such as barbells, dumbbells, and specialized machines, whereas strength training also employs isometric or callisthenic exercises like push-ups and sit-ups. An athletic conditioning regime will generally incorporate aspects of both weight and strength training and therefore the terms can be easily used interchangeably. Much physiological research has focused on the efficacy of weight training on the performance and physical conditioning of athletes. Weight training programs can be tailor-made for an individual depending on his or her goals, and the sports he or she plays. Today, most coaches and athletic trainers will advise some type of strength training for their clients. Strength and weight training, when applied properly, go a long way toward improving the well-being, specific strength, endurance, power, and performance of any athlete and therefore should be an integral part of most comprehensive athletic training programs, with few exceptions.
The types of weight or strength training used will vary depending on the goals of the individual. A center guard for a football team will want a much more rigorous regime, with a goal of more muscle bulk, than a marathon runner will. Marathon runners should be more concerned with endurance than strength to begin with, but improving muscular strength in the legs and thighs can immensely improve performance. Therefore, even when muscle bulk is not desirable, strength training can be an integral part of any training program.
The degree to which football coaches and trainers employ personalized strength and weight training regimens varies depending on the background and preferences of the trainer and that of his or her clients. Now more than ever, strength training is commonplace and widespread, used for individuals who are interested in improving their health, their physique and form, and their athletic power. Thus, the format of a weight training program will vary greatly. A sixty-five-year-old woman who wants to prevent osteoporosis will undergo different training than a twenty-year-old male basketball player. Regardless of how prevalent strength or weight training programs are in the athletic training industry, and regardless of who seeks out the regimes, weight training will inevitably assist athletes in gaining strength, endurance, and overall improvements in conditioning, which will lead to enhanced performance.
Muscle strength, which is the overall goal of any strength training regime, refers to the ability of the muscle to lift a given weight over a given distance without regard to the time the movement takes. Overall strength is a reflection of muscle strength and can refer to specific muscle groups. In other words, the more weight you can lift when performing a bench press, the stronger you are. On the other hand, bench presses have no bearing on quadriceps strength.
Ironically, a muscle can actually lose power if weight training emphasizes strength over endurance. As a rule, when lifting really heavy weights to increase strength in a specific muscle group, the speed of contraction will be very slow due to the heaviness of the weight. The speed of contraction will of course, lessen over time as a positive result of the training. Training with lighter weights will increase strength and muscle development to a lesser degree than training with heavy weights. Weight training using light weights will not result in huge gains in strength or in visible bulk. On the other hand, lighter weight training increases athletic power and endurance, vital components of most sports and of overall health. For persons interested in recreational fitness, and for elite athletes too, trading off some strength and bulk in exchange for power amounts to smart strategy.
Athletic coaches are always searching for an edge that will put their teams in an advantageous competitive position; many coaches whose area of expertise is football regard strength training and weight lifting as excellent sources of development for honing the skills and abilities of their athletic teams (Bauer, 1996). Though strength training is only one of several ways to increase an athlete's proficiency, speed, endurance, and ability to execute plays against an opponent, it has become in recent years a major source of sports team development. In some cases, strength training is the most important source of sports team and individual performance development because of the widespread application of strength training exercises.
The Core of Strength Training
Mike Barwis, Director of Strength and Conditioning at West Virginia University. stated in an interview that strengthening the core region of the body has the most significant impact on athletic development and performance. The core (abdominals and low back) is the link between the upper and lower extremities of the body. All actions in athletics require a power transfer and effective stabilization from the core to create movement. They not only allow the transfer of power between the upper and lower body, but also control the body's balance, stability, and center of gravity. In turn, it has a significant impact on speed, explosion, strength, power, agility, balance, and injury prevention.
Furthermore, Barwis reported that the body is forced to adapt to regularly changing stimuli and environments in multiple planes and at varying intensities during athletics. The ever-changing pressures of the environment force the core to adapt and overcome stressors at a high rate of speed. In order to simulate this environment we must train the core muscles by utilizing instable apparati in multiple planes. The instability of the apparatus promotes sporadic irregular firing of the core in a stabilizing action. These activations occur while stimulating a specified contraction to accomplish a given movement. A core-focused strength training program directly correlates to actions that take place in the core region during actual athletic performance.
The abdominals are postural muscles that require high repetitions and frequent training in order to develop effectively. According to Barwis and many other fitness experts, exercises for this region should be conducted on instable apparatus and approximately 3-4 times per week. Although the abdominals can sustain greater repetitions and frequency of training, they must also have adequate recovery. Twenty-four hours of recovery between training periods is ample time for full restoration of abdominal function. Six to eight sets of approximately 25-50 repetitions of varying exercises is sufficient for core development.
Barwis emphasized that we must always remember that training the abdominals without placing an equal emphasis on the back muscle groups will promote muscular imbalance. At WVU, core training is conducted on all lifting days, typically between three to four days per week. The core strength training program varies depending upon the lifting cycle it is coordinated with and the specific theme of training at the time. Approximately three hundred different core balance and functional movements are part of the trainer's repertoire, included in the regimes of casual as well as elite athletes. For the elite athlete or the weekend warrior the core region has the greatest impact on athletic performance. One of the reasons why the practice of pilates has become so popular recently is become of that program's emphasis on core muscle group strength training. Pilates is a prime example of how strength training can be used for a multitude of different goals and situations. From an individual only interested in reducing flab to the professional athlete, core strength training may be the most significant element in any conditioning regimen.
The Ideal Relationship Between Strength, Endurance and Speed
A key component to success in many sports is the ability to repeatedly attain maximum speed and sustain it for an optimal length of time. This is especially vital in sports that have a large playing surface such as football or soccer. Picture the ball carrier in a football game slowing down within ten or fifteen yards of scoring a touchdown, after a magnificent 70 or 80-yard break-away run. After dodging his way and sprinting through the entire team, the ball carrier begins to fatigue allowing a better-conditioned defending player to catch up to the ball carrier and make the tackle to save the touchdown. Such heart-breaking performances can be prevented through optimal strength training, which can be tailored to increase endurance and speed on the field as well as sheer muscular strength under gym conditions.
To achieve maximum speed and endurance, training is essential. Just as a trumpet player will never be able to pull of a Miles Davis riff without practice, so too can even the most genetically-gifted athlete be able to perform his or her best on the field. The key to speed and endurance, as with anything else, is repetition, repetition, repetition. Enduring repeated bouts of speed endurance training like a running regime is a simple yet effective path toward improved performance. Combining speed and endurance…