Athletes Benefit from Strength and Conditioning Programs
By Andrew Arthur, PT, Director of Clinical Services and Human Performance
Strength and conditioning programs prepare athletes for the demands they place on their body. It’s important to work on flexibility, strength, speed, power and agility. At Performance Medicine, we believe it’s necessary for athletes to find a program that focuses on all of those factors.
We also believe that in order to accurately track progress, objective measurements must be taken before and after training.
Flexibility involves two aspects of movement: joint range-of-motion and excursion of muscle. Range-of-motion refers to the amount of rotation that occurs at a joint and it is most often measured in degrees. For example, the knee joint will typically start at zero degrees and bend to an average of 135 degrees. If the joint or muscle is limited by surrounding structures, flexibility will be limited.
One of the ways athletes can improve flexibility is to make sure they do exercises through the full range-of-motion. If a limitation is found, seek evaluation by a physical therapist to determine why it is limited and what type of tissue is involved. Special consideration should be given for muscles that cross more than one joint, such as the hamstring. Multi-joint muscles have a tendency to be tighter and are more difficult to take through full range-of-motion without specific exercises.
Strength is the ability to produce force; force is produced by tension in muscles that produce torque (rotation force) on the joints. Strength is actually the amount of force produced when there is no movement occurring.
Strength training is most efficient with high resistance and slow movement – for example, a leg press performed with 85-95% of the 1RM (one repetition maximum) and taking six full seconds to complete both the concentric (muscle shortening) phase and eccentric (muscle lengthening) phase. Even though most athletic movements are fast, evidence-based research supports the use of strength training to improve athletic performance and decrease injury.
Speed is defined as the rate of motion; distance covered in a certain amount of time, such as a 100-meter dash. Speed may also be used to describe other aspects of athletic movement such as an overhead hit in volleyball or the swing of a baseball bat.
Speed is an important aspect of training for just about every sport, even if the movement is something other than a sprint. Training programs should identify the movements that require speed and train them accordingly. An athlete will not become as fast as their potential could allow without speed-specific training.
Power is a combination of strength and speed; defined as work done per unit-of-time. Work is force-times-distance; the more force produced over the longest distance in the shortest amount of time will have the most power. For example, a 200-pound person may be able to squat 400 pounds over a distance of 3-feet in two seconds, but the same person can jump 3-feet in a half-a-second. The jump is going to be more powerful because it was one-third the weight but in one-fourth the amount of time. This example is one of the reasons why plyometric training is often used to train athletes. Power represents a good balance of strength and speed.
Agility is the ability to move quickly with ease. You may have heard someone describe an athlete as smooth - this is usually a reference to their ability to move easily with good coordination. Agility can be trained with exercises that make the athlete accelerate, decelerate and change direction quickly. Popular methods for training agility include ladders, cones, tires, ropes and dot mats. The goal of these training methods is quick movement and change of direction.
With all of the different training programs available to athletes, it can be difficult to determine which one will be time and money well spent. No matter what the program is, make sure it includes all of the different aspects discussed above, as well as a before-and-after training assessment to track progress.