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Strength Training Keys to Optimum Performance

May 20, 2013 | John Grace

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There are many ways to approach strength training, so many that it can become a guessing game. You may find yourself wondering:

  • What exercises should I be doing?
  • How many repetitions per set?
  • What percentage should I be training at?

I hope to answer your questions, but first let’s take a quick look at the implications of a proper strength training program for an athlete's body.

The main goal of strength training is to challenge your central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is your body's wiring scheme. It has the ability to turn muscle fibers on and off to complete a task. It’s responsible for fine and precise as well as large and powerful movements. (Learn how to build a foundation of strength.)

The CNS has an incredible ability to adapt. You can teach it to recruit more muscle fibers faster. To do this, you must perform exercises that are designed to stress your CNS.

Note: the following set and rep ranges are meant for athletes with weight lifting experience and who are above the age of 16.

Olympic Lifts

Olympic lifts (mainly the Power Clean) are great, because by moving heavy weight quickly, you build power output. (Learn how to perform the Power Clean.) They simulate sports movements like running, jumping and cutting, because the hips, knees and ankles all extend to produce power.

If you are unfamiliar with Olympic lifts or you lack the necessary equipment, there are alternatives. Kettlebell Swings and Med Ball Throws can simulate the movements. Just make sure to fully extend your hips, knee and ankles. Try the two following exercises.

Recommended Volume: 5x1-3 (focus on max power)

Sprints

Box Jumps and Depth Drops can play a role in your training, but you're most likely forgetting one of the easiest plyometric exercises to perform—sprinting. Yes, sprinting is a plyometric movement. It places incredibly demands on the CNS, and it will help you build acceleration and top-end speed.

It’s argued that you rarely achieve top speed on the field, but max-speed sprinting improves running economy—defined as the steady-state VO2 for a given running velocity.[1] This means that it helps decrease the amount of oxygen your body needs at a given pace. (Read Why VO2 Max is Important for Athletes.)

Recommended Volume: Sprint at max speed for no more than 300 meters per day.

Squats

Squats are one of the best exercises to increase lower-body power, especially in the glutes and quads. There are several variations to choose from, including the Back Squat, Front Squat, Overhead Squat and Split-Squat.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not unsafe to Squat below parallel. In fact, the benefits outweigh the negatives. Here are 5 Reasons Athletes Should Squat Deep.

Recommended Volume: 4-7x2-6 (strength development)

Upper-Body Lifts

Lumping upper-body strength all together may seem odd, but there's a reason for it. Upper-body training is important to build a proper symmetrical balance between your top and bottom half. However, you shouldn’t spend an inordinate amount of time working your upper body. Your lower body is the engine. Stick to one or two upper-body push moves (e.g., Bench Press and Shoulder Press) and a couple of pull moves (e.g., Pull-Ups and Inverted Rows) during each workout.

Focus on compound movements that work multiple muscle groups. You are not maximizing your time—or performance—if you make isolation exercises like Bicep Curls a regular part of your training.

Recommended Volume: 4-6x4-7

Reference

[1] Morgan DW, Martin PE, Krahenbuhl GS. "Factors affecting running economy." Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). 7.5 (1989): 310-330. Print

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