Importance of Strength in Athleticism

By: Jason Vogel, CPT

In order to accelerate faster and jump higher, you have to overcome your bodyweight. Think about elite shot putters and how strong they must be to throw a 16lb ball. Most shot putters in the Olympics are capable of benching 450lbs or more. Your body weighs more than 16lbs, so it should make sense that improving your overall strength is necessary to improving your ability to propel your bodyweight around with ease.

Ignoring the role in strength in athleticism and just focusing on plyometric exercises and speed training drills will leave athletes incapable of making any significant gains in speed. Faster athletes have the strongest legs and by increasing leg strength, displays of speed and power increase. Muscular strength helps with horsepower, but horsepower on the field is all about explosive strength, also known as strength expressed quickly. When training for sport, it’s important to always make sure your power (term used for strength expressed quickly) is improving along with strength.

Having a strong upper body will never make up for not knowing how to use your body with proper positioning, timing and awareness, but if you have both, you are giving yourself an advantage. You need upper body strength for 3 reasons: to ward off opponents, and to allow for maximal leg strength and power to be obtained. Upper body strength is important for speed because acceleration (going from a standstill to as fast as possible over 5-30 yards) begins with powerful arm action.

The torque of the hip on one side of the body must be countered by the torque of the shoulder girdle on the other side. The lats, attach across to the opposite glute muscle, so when your left glute creates power to drive your left foot into the ground you can increase this power by having a strong arm swing on the right side. This is created by the lats. In addition knee drive is important and this action is aided by a powerful up swing of the opposite arm. This upswing is created by strong shoulder and chest muscles.

HERE ARE 3 SIMPLE EXERCISES YOU CAN DO ANYWHERE THAT WILL BUILD STRENGTH AND MUSCLE THAT WILL HELP YOU OVER THE COURSE OF THE GAME:

3 exercises 1-3 sets of 5-10 reps each leg are good ranges. If you can get 10 reps, add in a progression.

Single leg box squats or pistols

Great for the quadriceps and glutes and will make your first step more powerful and provide the leg strength to stop on a dime and change direction. Make sure to keep your heel flat and chest up. You can make it harder by doing more reps, using lower boxes or not using a box making it a pistol squat where you drop your butt to your heel or add weight in the hands or a weighted vest.

Shrimp Squat

Great for the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings and really helps your acceleration speed. In addition it’s a great indicator if you have tight hips and limited ankle range of motion.. As this movement gets better, not only will you move better, but you will have less chance of injury. Stand on a box and bring one leg behind you and keep knee bent. Tighten core and slowly lower so your knee doesn’t slam to ground.

Step-Up Jumps

Another great single leg exercise, this time a little higher on the velocity side of things to develop that explosive power. If you were holding heavy dumbbells or a barbell on your back it would be more about strength development (force). Jump as high as you can and come down smoothly on the top leg before repeating. The higher the bench the more you train the muscles in the upper thigh, versus a shorter bench that trains muscles around the knee joint.

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