Strength training: Do you need it?

There is currently debate surrounding the importance of strength training in athlete development programs. It is surprising to see how many people are happy to give a yes/no answer to such a broad and complex topic. Strength is extremely contextual with different sports and even different positions requiring varying levels of strength. The athletic benefits produced through strength training will depend on the sport and the individual in question. So rather than jumping into the yes or no discussion, I would rather focus on teaching people how to make their own decision, or who to seek out for the right information.

Before deciding whether you should include strength training in your own program, the first thing you should do is perform a needs analysis. A needs analysis includes determining the requirements of the sport and determining the athlete’s current ability.

Determining the requirements of your sport:

If you are serious about your sport you should first fully understand what it is that makes a great competitor. It is most likely going to be a combination of physical and mental characteristics that originate from genetics yet are crafted through training and experience. Characteristics may include skills, running ability, jump height, decision making etc. Determining these characteristics provides the direction in which your training must follow.

Determining the requirements of the sport ensures that training remains efficient. Too often you see athletes wasting their time training in a way which has absolutely minimal relevance to their physical needs or the requirements of their sport. You can also waste time training to develop characteristics that are already elite. People love to do what they’re good at and there does become a point where focusing on your strengths may be wasting your time.In short, find your weaknesses and work on them.

Determining your athletic ability:

Determining your athletic ability is multidimensional as athletic performance is often contextual. An athlete who is lightning fast on the training track may not display the same level of speed when confronted with an in-game situation. Information must be collected from both in-game performance and athletic testing to determine where training should focus. It is important to recognise that it will not always be physical capabilities that limits your ability to perform on the big stage. Figuring out where your limitations exist will not only show you where you need work, it will also lead you to the appropriate coaching staff.

Seeking help:

Performing a needs analysis is not an easy task in itself and you will probably need the assistance of a strength and conditioning coach who is familiar with your sport. Many sports have similar athletic profiles, though there are always going to be areas that require personal experience, so try and find someone who has been involved in your sport or is coaching similar athletes.

Constructing a plan:

Once the needs analysis has been conducted, an appropriate training program can be constructed. Constructing a training program requires a sound knowledge of training and the ability to weigh up the costs and benefits of each training modality. Most athletes do not have the time to research and create an appropriate training plan themselves. Therefore it is important that you have access to the appropriate coaches to guide you in the right direction.

It is still your role as an athlete to understand the training. Ask questions, lots of questions! Find out why you’re training in a particular way, make sure that your coach has thought the training through and is moving you towards your goals.

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