"Just get stronger."
These words are repeated over and over by many strength and conditioning coaches, leading athletes to believe strength is the ultimate key to enhancing athletic performance. And how do we often measure that strength? With one-rep maxes.
While strength certainly plays a role in actions like sprinting and jumping, does increasing your one-rep max in lower-body exercises guarantee improvement in these areas? And are there other weight room metrics we can track that may have a stronger association with improvements in jumping and sprinting performance?
A recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology examined these questions. Here's a summary of the study and the main takeaways that matter to you.
Sixty-one elite athletes from four different sports made up the population for this study. Participants competed in track and field sprinting and jumping events, rugby, bobsledding or soccer. Fifteen of the 61 athletes were Olympians.
The athletes were tested for their one-rep max in the Half Squat and their optimum bar-power output in the Half Squat and the Jump Squat. They were also tested for their max squat jump height, max countermovement jump height and max sprinting ability.
The researchers then examined how the participants' jumping and sprinting performances compared to the measure of strength (one-repetition maximum on the Half Squat) and measures of power (power output on Half Squats and Jump Squats.)
Pearson's produce-moment correlation test was used to determine relationships.
For strength and athletic performance:
- One-rep max Half Squat was not significantly associated with jumping performance (r = 0.24-0.26).
- One-rep max Half Squat was significantly and moderately associated with 10, 20, 30, 40, and 60-meter sprint times (r = 0.35 - 0.69), but not 5-meter sprint time.
For power and athletic performance:
- Power measures (mean and peak power outputs) were significantly associated with jumping performance (r = 0.78 - 0.82).
- These same power measures were also significantly associated with all sprint times (r = 0.46 - 0.91).
The power measures taken in the Jump and Half Squat (mean propulsive power, mean power and peak power output) were more strongly associated with sprinting and jumping performance than the one-rep maximum on the Half Squat.
As strength and conditioning expert Chris Beardsley has discussed, the term "strength" can be separated into two categories: high-velocity strength and low-velocity strength.
Jumping and sprinting performances depend on high-velocity strength. This could be the reason that power output measures (which are a measure of high-velocity strength) correlate better to these athletic movements than measures of one-rep max strength (which qualify as a low-velocity measure of strength).
"(This study) suggests that monitoring strength training for athletes who jump and sprint should involve recording the capacity to produce high-velocity force. This can be done either by recording the power outputs achieved during exercises with light loads and fast speeds (such as jump squats) or by measuring the bar speeds achieved when working maximally against light loads," Beardsley writes in the August 2018 edition of The S&C Research Review.
The simplest takeaway is that athletes interested in jumping higher and running faster need to focus on how fast they can move the weight rather than solely obsessing over their one-rep max.
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