Strength is one of the most popular components which athletes will look to develop in a performance plan. However, the exact strength qualities they require can be unclear, and researching can lead to further confusion.
This article will aim to classify some of the main strength qualities and present examples for each. The strength quality in which an athlete seeks to develop dictates almost all training variables including frequency, reps, sets, tempo, intensity and even rest.
Maximal strength can be further divided into each type of muscular contraction.
In a concentric contraction, the muscle shortens while producing tension. For example, when performing a bicep curl the bicep muscle contracts and shortens to close the angle at the elbow joint and curl the dumbbell towards the body. Concentric strength is an important quality for power development, acceleration & jumping, among many other movements.
Typically, the average athlete will be significantly stronger eccentrically than they are concentrically – this is why many individuals can lower themselves relatively easily under control from the top position of a chin-up but may not have the concentric strength to pull themselves back up.
This strength quality is hugely important to athletes who must achieve high levels of strength while it is beneficial or required in their sport to maintain a lower bodyweight, for example boxing or gymnastics. The type of training for this quality differs to the training for maximal strength as the aim is to primarily improve muscle fibre recruitment (neural drive), rather than muscle fibre size (hypertrophy).
Unlike in the examples given above for relative strength, there are some sports where an increase in bodyweight may be an advantage rather than a disadvantage. For example, rugby, American football linemen, or some throwing athletes such as shot-putters, or hammer/discus throwers. These athletes can train using hypertrophy (increasing fibre size) methods to develop strength. Some athletes from other sports may also benefit from some degree of this training.
Speed-strength is a key quality in acceleration, sprinting, kicking, throwing and jumping and therefore is a hugely important quality in many sports. This quality can be subdivided into three other qualities: Starting strength, explosive strength and reactive strength.
Starting strength is important in sports where sudden bursts of speed or power are required. Examples include racket sports where the player must accelerate from a static low “base” position, combat sports (punching) and sprinting (block start).
This quality is especially important in sprinting, and also in high resistance sports such as shot-putting or weightlifting.
This quality is primarily trained by plyometrics and maximal sprinting and is a high priority in speed & power based sports. In sprinting, reactive strength is of particular importance at higher speeds where ground contact times must be minimised.
The athletes tolerance to fatigue in strength performances of longer duration.
Throughout a training plan, an athlete will of course work towards developing many of these strength qualities, prioritising some over others. As previously mentioned, many training variables are influenced by the type of strength quality being developed. Exercise selection, training splits and frequency, exercise components, order, reps, sets, tempo and rest are all dictated by the desired outcome. Of course many of these factors are also determined by an athletes movement capacity, training history and experience.
The following articles in this series will look at how these training variables can be manipulated to achieve a specific strength objective.