Sport Strength Training and Conditioning

Sport strength training is used by most athletes to improve performance.  While some debate the best ways to train, most agree that the nature of any athlete's program depends upon many factors, including the demands of the sports, the period in the annual program, and the athlete's individual status.

Although the term implies that the goal is simply to develop strength, a well-designed program also improves power, agility, balance and fitness components. The term resistance training is now commonly used so that the implied benefits are not limited to just strength gains.

The goals of resistance programs are many.  In addition to performance enhancement, goals also include pre-habilitation (preventing injuries), rehabilitation, and maintenance.

Benefits of Sport Strength Training

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) (2012), health benefits include:

  • reduced body fat
  • hypertrophy (increases in muscle size)
  • lower resting heart rate
  • bone mineral density
  • lower risk of diseases and injuries

Performance benefits include:

  • muscular power
  • balance and coordination
  • speed
  • vertical jump ability
  • throwing velocity
  • kicking performance
  • batting and swinging velocity
  • running economy
  • cycling power and performance

Competitive Forms of Resistance Training

What is the difference between sport strength training vs bodybuilding? A key difference lies in the goals of each, and therefore, the program design.  

Bodybuilders train for hypertrophy and definition because they are judged on muscular physique as compared to athletic performance. Their regimens usually include multiple exercises per muscle group.

Olympic weightlifting is a performance sport where success is based on how much weight the athlete can lift in two lifts: the snatch and clean and jerk.

These lifts are the most complex and technically demanding exercises in existence.  Due to their high power output, variations of these lifts are often used in sport strength training to improve explosiveness.

Powerlifting is a competitive lifting sport where the athlete is judged on a combination of maximal lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. These lifts are included as part of the core exercises of other sport programs to build strength.

Both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting have benefits for athletes in other sports. While McBride et al. showed that Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters of similar size have similar squat performances, Olympic weightlifters produced more force, velocity, and greater heights during vertical jump and squat jump tests.  Bodybuilders often score well on strength-endurance activities. Depending upon an athlete's goals, the regimens of these competitive lifters can be adapted for other athletes.

Strength and Conditioning Professionals

Strength and conditioning professionals play a key role in athletics.  Their responsibility is to design, implement, and supervise sports training programs. If you are considering a profession career in strength and conditioning, becoming appropriately educated and able to apply scientific principles are essential.

Education and proficiency are gained through

  • academic preparation,
  • personal experience, and
  • professional practice.  

The ACSM recommends that the professional hold at least a bachelor's degree in an exercise science field, such as exercise physiology, physical education, kinesiology, or athletic training. Graduate training is a plus because it provides the opportunity for more in-depth study of a specific area of interest.

A professional should have extensive personal experience in a variety of sports and types of training modalities so that they can "practice what they preach". He or she gains knowledge through professional practice in the field by interacting with athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators.

Professional memberships and certifications are essential for keeping up with current knowledge and trends in the field.  While licensure is not required, certifications show a level of proficiency and make the strength and conditioning professional more marketable.

The National Strength and Conditioning Association offers the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification, which is considered the "gold standard" of certifications.  The ACSM has several specialty certifications and USA Weightlifting offers a Sports Performance certification.

Pages under this topic:

Cardio vs Strength Training Does cardio kill strength gains?

CSCS Interactive Practice Tests An e-book to prepare for the CSCS exam.

High School Strength Coach Challenges, Solutions, and Benefits

Slow Lifting for Strength Dispelling the myth.

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