Strength Training and Sports
Most people who play recreationally overlook strength training. A common reason, although false, is that those who play derive all the health benefits that strength training may give, then why do strength training.
Recreational athletes must strength train for the same reasons the pros do. Strength is a general quality, if you are stronger you will be better at almost every other activity that you may chose to partake. Better is defined as more explosive, more endurance, more resilient, less risk of injury, better body composition etc. These qualities are appreciated in an athlete regardless of the sport that they play. The way we cultivate these qualities is the domain of general strength training.
The differences in strength training arise from difference in muscle usage, movement patterns, position of player (midfielder, wing, forward, goalkeeper), risk of injury to specific joints and muscles etc. Training a person by keeping these attributes in mind is a subject for sports specific training.
Before we see how to do general strengthening we must briefly review the benefits of strength training for an athlete.
Increased muscle mass and bone density - One of the most obvious benefits of strength training is increased muscle mass. Increased muscle mass is beneficial in a lot of ways - as the muscle grows bigger, its ability to generate force and consequently power also increases, increased muscle mass improves body composition which has both performance and aesthetic benefits. Finally improved muscle mass improves the utilization of nutrients in the body.
Stronger denser bones are more resilient and are able to withstand demands placed on them by forcefully contracting muscles.
General Strength Method
General strengthening for running involves strengthening the hips, core, and legs. Utilizing heavy loaded movements such as squats, deadlift, farmer's carry, and planks. General strengthening allows one to generate more power from the hips, legs, and more stability from the core.
Running requires one to generate forces up to 8x the body's weight. The forces are generated by the muscles in the hips and legs while the core provides stability which is required so that the hips can function properly. All of the force generated is returned to the body upon impact therefore there is also a need to safely absorb and dissipate that that force in the bigger muscles of hips, failing which runners may suffer from shin pain, foot pain etc.
Squats and deadlifts are the choice of movements for making general strength gains in the legs and hips, as these fundamental movements are easy to learn. Once learnt properly these can be loaded with high loads thus quickly increasing the strength. Also, squatting and deadlifting heavy loads require one to have a strong core, making the core very strong.
Farmer's carry as a choice of core exercise might seem a little weird to some people, but if you notice the movement during farmer's carry it resembles closely to how we run. Therefore carrying heavy loads for distance requires one to rely on not just the flashy six pack muscles but also the TVA (Transverse abdominis), Obliques, QL (Quadratus Lumborum), and the many paraspinal muscles. All of these muscles are effectively targeted during the farmer's carry.
As farmer's carry requires one to stabilize the body along with the extra weight as the person shifts weight from one leg to another, it places huge stability demands on the core. QL is a muscle often neglected in most training programs is recruited to stabilize the weight bearing hip along with the gluteus medius. Of course, you can target various muscles individually as we are going to see in the sports specific training.
Bent Over Rows and chinups help build strength in the entire back. Big latissimus dorsi are a key factor in active hip stabilisation. Therefore, the importance of having strong lats can hardly be overstated. In addition to that, the bent over position requires and teaches the erector spinae to work effectively with the hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals to function as a unit to stabilize the trunk, a necessity while running.
To target the upper back musculature a little bit more, so that your shoulders are not slouching while running, you can add a couple of sets of pullups. This will help keep your COM from falling in front of you thus reducing the stress on the lower back and so it will also improve your running efficiency.
No matter what sport do you play, this blueprint can be implemented as a foundation for strength training. From here you can add exercises that trains the movement patterns of your sports more effectively. In future articles I'm going to write about strength training for cricket, soccer, tennis, and golf.