One of the biggest challenges athletes and coaches face is determining exactly how much strength is essential and appropriate for their sport. Is it important for a 6’8″ basketball player to squat 400 pounds? Is it necessary for an NFL linebacker to max bench 500 pounds? Should a golfer be able to do Pull-Ups? In each case, the answer is multifaceted. You may be able to say yes in a general sense, but strength for sports depends on the needs of the individual athlete and his or her sport.
How do we define strength for sports?
This is key to answering the question of how much strength is enough. You can have maximal strength, absolute strength and strength endurance. On top of this, you can perform bilateral (double limb) and unilateral (single limb) exercises. Which is more important?
The answer depends on your strength needs and how your strength will be applied in competition. If you’re a linebacker who is capable of bench pressing 400 pounds, will raising your bench to 450 or 500 impact your performance enough to justify the time and effort needed to reach those levels?
If you’re too slow or you hold too much body fat yet you have sufficient strength, adding more pure strength might not be the impetus you need to improve your sports performance.
Let’s look at the strength needs of various sports:
The pie charts show how essential athletic attributes translate to a variety of sports. Notice the percentages of strength needed for each type of sport. Golfers aren’t considered as athletic as basketball players, but their need for power training has the highest specificity of all sports. Perfectly striking a ball and hitting it 300 yards takes lots of reserve power and strength.
In addition, golfers’ energy system needs are vital and specific. Walking the full course taxes the aerobic energy system. And having enough energy in reserve to execute a powerful swing 50 or 70 or 80 times requires strength endurance.
Train to improve athleticism
If you are an undersized lacrosse player looking to improve, adding size is important, but not at the expense of speed and agility. Similarly, if your strength is low compared to your body weight, it’s important to get stronger, but neglecting other qualities like mobility, stability and speed can hurt you in the long run.
Added strength should lead to improvements in other areas, but it often takes time. It’s better to focus on strength training while you’re still developing other areas. You can train for both power and speed, or add some volume to your accessory exercises while working on your strength.
The takeaway here: Building strength in isolation can leave you with deficiencies on the field. Strength train often—build enough to improve your athleticism—but realize that more strength is not always the correct path to better performance.