Step into a big box commercial gym, and you’ll find most people there are working on aesthetics, the way they look. Those doing cardio are trying to lose weight, and those in the weight room are trying to build bigger muscles. Of course, this is an oversimplification, but for the most part, this is accurate. In a high school or collegiate weight room, the focus is more on sports performance, getting bigger and stronger. But a large part of athleticism is developing speed and agility. Being faster and quicker to change speeds and directions than your opponent is often the X-factor in winning and losing.
And ever since your grandpa was in high school, the methodology for improving agility has been the same. Good old sprints, plyometrics, and that ridiculous hop-scotch drill with tires that guaranteed at least one broken nose faceplant per practice were the only ways to get athletes quicker. Sure, there’s fancier equipment nowadays, but the principles remain the same: various sprints and plyometrics.
Weightlifting for sports performance is still relatively new. We aren’t far removed from the schools of thought that weightlifting makes you stiff, bulky, and slow. If you still are of that mindset, please quit your job.
Proper application of weightlifting:
- Improves mobility
- Can build strength while minimizing body weight gain
- Helps athletes move quicker
And depending on the goal, athletes can lift via different methods to improve different athletic attributes. To complement an athlete’s bodyweight speed and agility drills, lifting weights can also improve an athlete’s ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction.
When people think of weightlifting, they primarily think of building bigger muscles by lifting lots of reps. To build strength, they think of low reps but heavy weights. But to build power, speed, and agility, one needs to learn to be explosive and able to quickly react.
Speed is all about how much force is placed into the ground. The more force, the more speed produced. Therefore, to be faster, athletes must learn to put more force into the ground.
For a novice lifter, simply lifting weights and getting stronger will teach an athlete to produce force with greater efficiency and intensity. For beginners, any form of weightlifting will improve their strength, speed, agility, and ability to quickly change directions.
For athletes that have spent some time in the weight room and have developed an appreciable level of strength, Olympic weightlifting may be the next best step. Once a proficient level of strength is achieved, further developing strength will provide a limited amount of bang for your buck’s progress in speed and agility development. However, developing the Olympic lifts is all about the rate of force development.
The Olympic lifts can efficiently teach an athlete to be explosive while rapidly coordinating compound movements in rapidly changing speeds and directions. That’s exactly what happens on every sports field and court. A basketball player has to quickly change directions at a high rate of speed to get by a defender. A wide receiver has to stop on a dime on his route to create separation from a cornerback. A goalie has to rapidly jump to block a ball. You get the idea.
Your dad’s backyard jumping drills can help improve your ability to do this, but high levels of sport demand higher than bodyweight levels of force. Modern sports science knows that overloading a joint with weights creates extra demand on the muscles to quickly overcome a given resistance. This extra stimulus teaches the body to continually gain better explosive abilities, improving overall performance. Progressing weight lifting abilities with the Olympic lifts teach the body to do just that. This is why every high-level collegiate, professional, and Olympic team uses variations of Olympic weightlifting to improve their athletes’ performances.
You cannot be weak and quick at the same time. However, you can be strong but not necessarily quick or agile. Learning to apply strength in an explosive manner through methods like Olympic weightlifting, however, will drastically improve an athlete’s ability to accelerate, decelerate, change direction, and improve overall speed.