Jan 29, 2015
Big Questions, Short Answer

By Vern Gambetta

How big of a performance factor is strength, and how do you develop the type of strength that yields optimal performance in a particular sport? I have been struggling with this issue for 42 years of coaching, and before that, 10 more years as an athlete. At various times I have over-emphasized it, and at other times I shortchanged it. So what’s the answer?

Generally when we think of strength, we think of measurable strength as expressed in a one rep maximum in a weightroom setting. The one thing I know I have learned over the years is that is not the answer. It is not the answer in the throws, American football, or rugby, and definitely not the answer in tennis, swimming, baseball, or similar sports.

The goal needs to be strength you can use and apply in the competition arena. Tough to measure, but easier to see if you have trained eye–this is where you need to be a coach. The trained eye is acquired through practice, observation, and experience. Look at the time invested in the strength training area–is the return commensurate with the time and effort?

I recently saw a situation where a national record-holding long jumper was made to take eight months to learn the double knee bend technique in the power clean! In my world, after eight minutes I would have moved on and found another exercise that would yield better return and that the athlete could master (Hint: How about trying a dumbbell jump shrug? Not complicated, but possibly the return would be commensurate with the time invested.).

We need to redefine strength training. I have adapted Frans Bosch’s definition of strength training as coordination training with appropriate resistance to handle bodyweight, resist gravity, optimize ground reaction forces, and overcome external resistance. It is a fairly simple definition with complex applications. If you parse out all the parts of the definition, it will fit every sport and every individual. In addition, we need to expand our vista in regard to mode of strength training, get out from under a bar, and expand the possibilities of developing strength using a variety of appropriate modes.

So what is the answer? It is very individual and sport-specific. I do know from analyzing trends over my 42-year career, and from what I’ve seen in all my travels, less is more!

Vern Gambetta, MA, is President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Fla. The former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, he has also worked extensively with basketball, soccer, and track and field athletes. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning. Vern also maintains his own blog.

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