Strength training is essential for all athletes as it underpins all movement and nearly all fitness components. Too often strength training is badly delivered and as a result understandably suspicions about, its safety and relevance arise. The myth espoused in the 1980’s that strength training stunts a child’s growth is still often brought up and discussed, by concerned parents and fueled by coaches due to their lack of experience and knowledge.
Completing strength training with a young physically developing and growing athlete requires an evidence based, scientific approach and no little skill. This is why poor quality coaches will often use the ‘I don’t do it because it stunts growth’ argument to hide their inadequacies as fitness trainers.
The following is some of the latest thinking about strength training in growing developing athletes:
Resistance training increases Sports Performance: Strength, speed and power.
Resistance training increases Health: Bone density, flexibility, reduced blood pressure and adipose tissue.
(ACSM, 2007; NSCA, 2009)
Resistance training increases psychological wellbeing: Self esteem and confidence.
Thus we would like to confirm that high quality strength training will not ‘damage’ or impair a child or developing player’s growth and on the contrary will contribute not only to performance enhancement but also to the prevention of injury.
A strong word of caution and a reality check
Whilst strength training is a critical part of a developing athlete’s programme and current expert thinking would suggest that it poses ‘no risk’ the key component is whether it is delivered effectively and safely. Unfortunately many inexperienced Strength and conditioning coaches are too aggressive in their programming and often apply a set of exercises and training loads to the athlete they are working with without first screening them and tailoring the programme to their unique needs.
Clearly there are a range of widely used training principles and ‘exercises’ which have been proven to gain effective results. However, all athletes are unique with different abilities and weakness areas. Too often generic programmes and intensities/loads are applied and often this can result in injury. In simple terms the strength and conditioning coach needs to know what they are doing, why they are doing it and when they should be doing it whilst individualising the programme to the specific athlete they are working with. This is why finding a good experienced and safe coach with a proven track record is of critical importance.
Types of strength
Maximum strength is the greatest force the neuromuscular system can exert in a single maximum contraction. This type of strength is very specific or relevant to sports where high resistances have to be moved or controlled. This may need to be combined a very fast rate of contraction. Examples of sports where this strength component would be key to performance are track and field-field events, weightlifting or for example a front row player pushing in a rugby scrum.
Clearly all sports require different movements which require different levels of force exertion but if one looks at maximal contraction or strength as a continuum a darts throw would be at the beginning of the continuum and a maximal deadlift in a powerlifting contest the far end of the continuum.
What determines natural strength?
Maximal strength is a product of biological, neuromuscular and mechanical elements. From the biological/genetic perspective the size of a ‘muscle’ in terms of cross-sectional area the amount of contractile elements within the muscle, the fibre type and fibre composition.
Muscle fibre types:
TYPE I: Slow twitch; long lasting, low force production.
TYPE IIA: Fast twitch for prolonged, high force production.
TYPE IIB: Fast twitch short duration high force production.
TYPE 11V: Intermediate fibre- between slow and fast twitch.
All people have a genetically predetermined fibre type composition and the saying ‘you can’t put in what God left out’ holds significant weight. However, training programmes can be adjusted accordingly, fitness component areas of weakness can be targeted and as suggested above intermediate fibre types can be trained to suit more the required characteristics of the sport.
The beauty of a game like sport is it requires exceptional ability across a range of physical and specific strength components and sporting skills can be adapted to suit the physical abilities of an athlete. It is important to recognise that at the very elite level explosive strength, power and speed are pre-requisites for success and genetics do play a key part in determining this.
Elastic strength(the speed-strength continuum)
Elastic strength refers to the ability of the neuromuscular system to overcome a resistance with a very high speed of contraction. The system of elastic strength works through the co-ordination of reflexes and the contracting components of muscle tissue. Elastic strength is critical in explosive sports where jumping, throwing, sprinting, changing direction and striking are key requirements.
Elastic strength is often understood as ‘power’ (see power section) and another description associated with elastic strength is the strength speed continuum. This continuum in simplistic terms is a measure of where movements fit in terms of velocity and in relation to the resistance/load being used. For example the striking of a tennis ball with a racquet would be very much a speed strength movement. A relatively light resistance (the racquet) is used to impart force at high speed on a light ball resistance. A shot put throw in athletics would sit further along the continuum towards the strength speed extremity.
Thus elastic strength and its development is critical for many athletes as it impacts directly upon their skill delivery and movement capability in the arena of their sport.
Strength endurance refers to the ability of an athlete to maintain the delivery of strength through and as a direct resistance to fatigue, for example a press or pull-up test to failure would be a test of strength endurance.
Another element of strength endurance is when it is related to the maintenance of postural integrity and efficiency during sports performance. Clearly in many sports and in particular, dynamic sports, the maintenance of postural efficiency, stability over time is essential. Without this type of stability and endurance as a platform powerful movements and forces cannot be generated.
A clear example of this would be the maintenance of ‘core’ strength endurance during performance.
AMS Copyright 2017
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