Blog - Strength training for athletes, part 1 - STRENGTH & Company
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29 Dec On the need for strength (training) for athletes, and reasonableness in it – part 1


“There isn’t a single worthwhile reason not to embrace strength.”

– Chip Conrad, Bodytribe Fitness

A while ago, Young Wolves made this very interesting post which really hit base with me, stating: “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. You need a freakin’ flagship.
It immediately resonated with me and got me all fired up (get it?) as I thought about it.

Why? Because there is an abbreviated version of this quote often frequented by strength coaches extraordinaire, like Pavel Tsatsouline, Dr. Fred Hatfield and Charles Poliquin – which simply states: “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”.

So first, let’s look at what Young Wolves was saying. The message is clear: preparation. Prepare and build yourself a base if you’re shooting for success (yep, mind that pun too), a platform that supports what you’re going after.
Basically, that is also what it means in the context of physical strength (training). You need a stable base to lift heavy and, in doing so, become strong(er). If you are going to pick up (e.g., deadlift), carry (e.g., squat) and/or put 225 lbs/102 kg overhead (e.g., press), you better (a) be ready for it and (b) learn to create force (through tension) properly and make sure you’re not waving around like a field of wheat under a nice summer breeze.

Where does this all lead to? It is exactly such strength training that can help an athlete build a flagship of his own which supports his or her athletic performance. As the hilarious Kevin Hart would say, let me explain.


Obviously, as a strength coach, I argue for the need for strength training (and not just for athletes but for everybody, really). However, it’s not just me who invented this on the spot. There’s a great history and many traditions in training for strength and, more importantly in this case, its role in sport performance.

To make sure we are talking the same language, here is what I mean when I say ‘strength training’: any type and form of resistance training, whether it by bodyweight movements (push ups, pull ups, sit ups, pistols,…) and/or by using external loads such as kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, bags, sleds, logs, stones, or any other object you can get your hands on. A broad and general definition, yes, but hopefully now we all get the gist of what we are talking about. The key is resistance, so as to create force.

World-class sprinter Allison Felix, multiple world champion and Olympic gold medallist, deadlifted up to 270 lbs/122 kg at a bodyweight of 123 lbs/55 kg. Sergey Litvinov, a Russian multiple world champion and Olympic medallist in the hammer throw, reportedly front squatted 405 lbs/184 kg for 8 repetitions at 193 lbs/86 kg bodyweight. This is not to say that these feats ensured them to win all the medals, but clearly, strength (training) has a role to play. It is there to help improve athletic performance.

The precise role and impact of a good strength coach and strength program, on the other hand, is not always very clear (in terms of causal effect and correlation). It should, however, not be underestimated. The purpose of strength training is not only to make you stronger, so as to perform better, it should also help you reduce the risk of injury, help you stay healthy and help you keep doing your sport over the long run – if it is done right. These as well are wonderful reasons to be smart about strength training.

It means you should really start considering your strength training, or lack thereof perhaps, seriously.

What are you doing currently that would categorize as strength training? How does that help me with my sport? What qualities does it improve? When do I do this (on a yearly/monthly/weekly basis, as well as in-season/off-season/ pre-season) and how often? How much time and energy do I spend doing those things? How does that measure up to the physical impacts I endure doing my sport?

If you come to think of the fact that running imposes an impact force of up to 3 times bodyweight every time your foot hits the ground (athletics or endurance anyone?), then how does that 50 kg leg press help you out? Or those 5 sets of 20 sit ups because you have to have ‘a strong core’, right?

It should be clear that we are looking to (strength) train optimal here. Do the stuff that matters (i.e. makes you stronger), discard all the rest. You want to find what works for you, do it and move on.

Yes, 5 sets of 20 sit ups could help you build that core, or six-pack you are looking for, but maybe 3 times 10 reps of ab wheel roll outs give you a better bang for your buck… We’ll go more in depth on this idea later on.

Each sport, discipline and position has its own specific demands, while on the other hand there are a few basic human movements that form the foundation (remember the flagship, folks) for all other sport specific moves. So, these should be developed in a way that they can help you be a better athlete – safely and soundly. It is important to own and control these basic human movement patterns, as this is what any sport really is: an expression of human movement in a specific environment (field of play) under specific conditions (rules).

In the next part I will go into the practicalities of strength training – which principles you can follow and what you could do to improve this part of your training practice. For the time being, consider the questions raised above and sit on them for a minute. Once you have done that, go check out Kevin Hart and finish the day with a good laugh.