It’s Not Just About Strength


The same holds true for developing explosiveness and speed. These skills are developed by becoming stronger, practicing proper skills and techniques, understanding and studying one’s sport, having acute auditory and visual skills, being perceptive, and of course, let’s not forget genetics. I remember watching the great Dick Butkus when I was young (yes, I know I’m dating myself here) when he played for the Chicago Bears. You could see him watch as plays evolved and then react with such tenacity and speed. Was it because he was doing power cleans or lifting fast? No, the man knew his sport and his competition and put himself in the right place at the right time. He was strong, determined, understood how to read plays, and was an animal on the field. That’s what made him great, and this was all without the benefit of strength training because at that time he didn’t believe in it.


Have you ever experienced or witnessed an individual avoid a car accident merely because they see the accident unfolding as it is about to occur, and while observing their surroundings, they react instantly? Is it because they work out on a balance board or maxed out on their squats? Nah, I doubt it. They used their auditory and visual skills, maybe even some experience and knowledge of how to handle a situation as this. So, my confusion lies with the idea of transfer - transfer of performing one movement or skill to another. If a power clean is identical to performing movements on the football field then I should be able to eat soup with a fork because it’s the same movement as if I were to use a spoon.


If you believe that one needs to stand on an unstable surface to become stable, then that leads me to reason that you wouldn’t mind a house built on sand. Why put someone on an unsecured surface to develop stability? Why have someone risk falling, twisting a knee or ankle, or worse, so they can develop balance? And when was the last time you saw anyone play a sport on an unstable surface? Lift fast to be fast? I disagree. Using momentum and gravity to move the weight is not going to force your muscles to do all the work. Think about this, does it make sense to unload the muscle to develop strength and speed? If you give it a moment’s thought you’d realize that the muscles need to do the work to become stronger and just throwing a weight around doesn’t mean you are becoming stronger or becoming faster – it just means you are throwing a weight around. Consider developing strength more than displaying strength.


Sport-Specific Training - Conclusions


If you are working with young athletes, set them up for success by including the following in their program:


Implement a safe, efficient, and effective full-body strength program two to three times per week. Have them work on all the major muscle groups and include exercises specific to strengthening the hands, calves, and in particular, the neck. Use a high level of effort with controlled movement. Include 7-10 exercises per workout and have them move quickly between exercises.


Additional conditioning work is optional when the athlete is strength training intensely a couple times per week and practicing his or her sport. Conditioning, if needed and included, should be broken out in a structured manner. Over conditioning an athlete can lead to injuries and burnout very easily.


Practice, practice, practice, but make sure the athlete is practicing properly. You can practice all day long that 2+2=5, but you’d be wrong every single time. Make sure what your athletes are practicing is correct.


Have them become a student of the sport. Make sure they watch other athletes on all levels so they can learn more about the game and particular situations, so they can further their understanding of the sport.


Have your athletes work on their auditory and visual skills as well. Being able to watch plays unfold and communicate will improve their skill set and effectiveness tremendously.