Strength is the maximum force that a muscle can generate and is developed in the weights room by lifting a heavy weight for a low number of repetitions. Specifically you need to lift greater than 85% of your 1 repetition maximum (1RM) for an exercise for 5 reps or less to develop your strength. The exercises that you use in your maximum strength focussed programme should be compound exercises (target multiple muscle groups) and should develop muscle groups that are used within your chosen sport. For example a 100 m sprinter would commonly perform 5 repetitions of the back squat or deadlift at 85% of 1RM to improve their lower body maximum strength.
The question arises of whether or not the development of maximum strength is worthwhile for an athlete. Suchomel et al. (2016) in a review paper titled ‘The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance’ noted that greater muscular strength is associated with enhanced power development, general sport skill performance (such as jumping and sprinting) and specific sport skill performance. These authors also indicated that strength can play a role in reducing an athlete’s injury risk. It appears that enhanced muscular strength underpins many physical and performance attributes and can influence overall sporting performance (Suchomel et al., 2016).
Traditionally strength development has been associated with explosive based sports, such as track and field sprinting. Research, however, would indicate that endurance athletes, e.g. distance runners and cyclists, can benefit from maximum strength programmes (Beattie et al., 2016 and Beattie et al., 2017). For example Beattie et al. (2016) researched the effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners and reported that a 40 week programme significantly improved maximal and reactive strength qualities, running economy and velocity at maximal oxygen uptake. There is clear evidence that maximum strength training can benefit a number of athlete population groups including endurance athletes.
Finally it is worth noting that gym based programmes do not solely focus on the development of maximum strength. For a weak athlete strength should be the initial focus once sound exercise technique has been developed. After this maximum strength should be periodised within an S&C programme which also targets explosive strength (e.g. Power Clean) and reactive strength (e.g. plyometrics).
- Beattie, K., Carson, B.P., Lyons, M., Rossiter, A., and Kenny, I.C. 2016. The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 3(1), 9-23
- Beattie, K., Carson, B.P., Lyons, M., and Kenny, I.C. 2017. The effect of maximal-and explosive-strength training on performance indicators in cycling. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12, 470-480 http://dx.doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2016-0015
- Suchomel, T.J., Nimphius, S., and Stone, M.H. 2016. The importance of muscular strength in athletic performance, Sports Medicine, 42(10) DOI 10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0
Dr Tom Comyns is a Lecturer in Human Movement Sciences and Course Director for the BSc in Sport and Exercise Sciences programme in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Tom’s research interests are in the area of Strength and Conditioning primarily. He is currently undertaking research in the area of rugby injury surveillance, monitoring of training, strength and power diagnostics. Contact Dr Comyns via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter