Strength is defined as the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert maximum force and is an essential quality that most recreational sports people need to develop.
Combined with a well rounded conditioning programmer, strength training can have a huge impact on playing performance including increasing speed, reducing the likelihood and severity of injures and making players more resistant to fatigue. In this article, we’ll explore just how to set about gaining some strength for your sport
Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that training for strength is very different from the bodybuilding type training that many people engage it.
Bodybuilding workouts utilize relatively light loads, short rests, and multiple exercises per muscle group and are all about creating bigger muscles (correctly termed hypertrophy) whereas strength training focuses almost exclusively on increasing performance.
Bodybuilders, while often very big, are generally not as strong as smaller athletes who focus on strength training. Strength training will cause some hypertrophy but it is a by-product of training as opposed to the aim.
The hypertrophy caused by strength training can best be thought of as “functional” or, in other words, not only will the muscles look bigger, they will also be much better suited to the demands of your chosen sport. The muscle developed by strength training will be useful rather than “all show and no go” which is more likely to be the case with bodybuilding training.
To develop strength, exercises must be selected that allow a significant amount of weight to be lifted. Exercises such as squats, dead lifts and bench press are the cornerstone on which to build an effective strength training programmer.
These compound or multi-joint exercises provide plenty of “bang for your buck” and will allow you to get the most from your training time. Isolation exercises such as dumbbell flies and triceps extensions are not ideally suited to the development of strength as they don’t permit large loads to be used safely.
Don’t worry if you have no idea about how to go about designing an effective training programmer as later in this article we’ll provide you with a basic strength training workout to get you started.
The chart below shows the difference between hypertrophy, general strength and maximal strength training.
|Hypertrophy||Strength general||Strength – maximal|
|% of 1 rep max||67-84||85-92||93-100|
|Rest||30-90 seconds||3-5 minutes||3-5 minutes|
As you can see, heavy weights, relatively low reps and longer rests are the parameters for strength training – it’s all about quality as opposed to quantity and each work set should be performed with near a high degree of focus and intensity.
Maximal strength training is suitable for those who already have a history of working out with heavy weights and want to specialize it strength sports such as weight lifting, power lifting or highland games whereas general strength training is more suited to field sports such as rugby, Gaelic football and sports where strength is just one element of the physical characteristics needed for success.
Because of the near maximal effort required during strength training, it’s important to warm up thoroughly prior to exercising. Once a general warm up of light cardio and dynamic stretching has been completed, it’s time to do a more specific warm up for the exercises to be done on that particular training day.
The best way to get ready for a strength training workout is to perform a couple of light to moderate sets of each exercise before piling on the weight. This gives you the opportunity to practice the exercises in question and also assess your strength on that particular day.
Only after you have completed 2-3 “warm up sets” should you start working with weights closer to your 1 repetition maximum (1RM). This practice will reduce the likelihood of suffering injury and also make the work sets more effective as your muscles are more likely to be working optimally after a few specific warm up sets.
Once you are fully warmed up and ready for your working sets, you may want to consider using a pyramid approach and increasing the weight slightly set by set – this practice reinforces your warm up and allows you to ease into your workout.
1st Set – 5 reps at 65kg
2nd Set – 4 reps at 70kg
3rd Set – 4 reps at 75kg
4th Set – 3 reps at 77.5kg
5th Set – 3 reps at 80kg
To keep improving your strength, it’s vital that you keep striving to lift progressively heavier weights. If you lift the same weights week after week, month after month, your strength levels are very likely to remain the same. Regular increases in the weight lifted or the number of repetitions performed will ensure you keep making progress with your strength training.