Strength gains trade offs

When is strong strong enough?

How much maximum strength do we need for our chosen sport?

As strength coaches we can get carried away with getting our athletes to lift heavier and heavier weight.

We have developed this assumption that stronger is better. The stronger you are the better you will perform at your chosen sport is the assumption.

This is not always true

More strength does not translate to higher performances. Unless you are competing in power lifter or strongman style sports.

When it comes to field sports such as Gaelic games, rugby or soccer. Even the more Olympic style track and field events there comes a time of diminished returns from lifting heavier and heavier weights.

The risk to benefit from getting your athlete to lift an extra 2.5Kg is simply not worth it at a certain point.

The improvement to performance is going to be negligible while the risk of injury could be greatly exaggerated.

Monitor and assess regularly

Unless you are constantly monitoring and assessing what your athletes are doing in the weights room. Comparing results from the weight room to performance assessments in training and competition. Then we have no idea whether we are making better athletes or wasting their energy for no reason.

The only thing to be achieved from this is to massage our ego and see them lift a heavier weight. Then we can turn to the head coach and say look I am making them so much better in the weight room.

But if that improvement in the weight room isn’t transferring onto the pitch or court, what is the point?

If what we are doing in the weight room is not having a directly positive influence on the athletes performance in competition then we are wasting valuable time and energy. Time and energy that would be far better spent on developing skills and enhancing recovery.

Ego is the enemy

Yes to perform well we need to have built up a solid base of strength. Most athletes will need to get stronger but once they start to go beyond a certain point this exercise no longer helps them improve.

So at this point we would be better off to target a different aspect of performance. Strengthen other skills that need to be strengthened while maintaining previously attained improvements elsewhere.

Exercises should resemble as close as possible to the demands of the sport. Warm-ups for each session whether that be in the weights room or on the field should closely resemble the demands needed from the muscle in that event. That way our brain and muscles are already switched on to what we need to do in that session and there is no lag in time while the brain and muscles readjust.

The central nervous system is the king

There is a time and place for everything. That includes what we are doing in the weights room. Depending on the time of year and the objective of the session we need to pay close attention to the total volume and tonnage we get our athletes to lift.

It has also been found that working within the 75% – 80% of 1 rep max and performing reps between 8 – 10 has very positive effects on strength gains. It can also be far more beneficial to working in the 90%+ bracket of 1RM.

This again comes back to the risk to benefit scenario. As well as the effect it has on the central nervous system.

However that is not to say that we should never train in the 90%+ bracket, training in this bracket can be very useful and can provide great benefits but its selection needs to be carefully selected and monitored.

So unless you are carefully liaising with other coaches. Know and understand exactly what your athlete is actually doing in training and monitoring all aspects of training loads. Then you can not accurately judge performance and assess improvements.

You could be breaking your athlete down

As coaches we owe it to ourselves and to our athletes to be the best we can be.

So the day you stop learning and trying to improve yourself should be the day you die.