Today, weight training is a key component in the training of most athletes – most, but not all. Many athletes are still missing out on the benefits of weight training for their sports because they or their coaches believe that workout time could be better spent on other forms of conditioning or that any additional muscle bulk will hinder performance. They are mistaken.
At the 2013 Eleiko Strength Summit, Paul Cater shared his ideas on strength training for baseball. During the presentation Cater discussed the importance of strength training during the season and showed pro baseball players doing power cleans with up to 220 pounds (100 kilos). While performing Olympic lifting movements and lifting weights in-season is the standard for athletes in many sports, doing so in baseball is considered radical.
What is keeping weightlifting from becoming universal in sports training? First, athletic success depends on many factors. Another way of saying this is that an athlete may excel in their sport despite their weight training program, not because of it. Carl Lewis was not a proponent of weight training, and he won Olympic gold medals in both the 100 meters and the long jump. In contrast, in later Olympics Donovan Bailey won gold in the 100 meters and Dwight Phillips did the same in the long jump. Guess what else these two winners have in common? Both followed weight training programs designed by Charles Poliquin.
Another issue that holds athletes back from profiting from the bite of the Iron bug is that many strength coaches play “follow the leader” by adopting the workouts of the current champions. As a result, football players often find themselves participating in off-season workouts that include Pilates, Swiss ball training, pool training and even aerobic dance! In fact, before the 100-meter final at the 2012 Olympics, Usain Bolt was barred from bringing a jump rope into the Olympic Stadium to use in his warm-up. When that confrontation made headlines, you can bet countless young sprinters rushed out to their local sporting goods store to purchase jump ropes!
Let’s take a look at sports that traditionally have been resistant to weight training, as well as specific ways pumping iron can help.
Boxing. World light-heavyweight boxing champion Michael Spinks took on a hardcore weight training program in the 1980s to add 25 pounds to his frame, and in 1985 he used that new muscle to upset world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. Boxing is a sport in which punching power is key, and the fastest and best way to improve power is with weight training.
Cycling. Research has proven that weight training can help cyclists perform better, regardless of the distance. In a study using Danish national team cyclists, half the team performed a strength training program and half the team served as a control group. The strength group went 5 percent farther in the short 5-minute time trial and 8 percent farther in the 45-minute trial.
Distance running. Most elite distance runners, especially marathon runners, could be described as muscleless wonders. Strength training will make runners faster, regardless of the distance, and will enable them to use oxygen more efficiently. If a runner can decrease the amount of oxygen needed to run at a certain speed, they will be able to sustain a fast pace for a longer time and likely be able to run faster overall.
Extreme sports. In the early days of extreme sports the battle cry was “Skateboarding is not a crime”; now, extreme sports events are respected competitions that have big-money backing. In some competitions the winners can earn over $150,000 per event. In the Olympic Games, events such as freestyle mogul skiing are becoming increasingly popular. One physical component these extreme athletes need at extreme levels is eccentric strength to control landings, whether it’s on a skateboard or on a snowboard. Weight training is the best way to develop this type of strength.
Golf. Playing golf will not do much to help strengthen the lower back muscles, and as a result golfers can develop structural balances that can cause injury. Grip strength is also important. Golfers who lack a sufficiently strong grip must put more effort into holding the golf handle tightly, which adversely affects their club action.
Swimming. At the time Mark Spitz captured seven gold medals in one Olympics, distance training was key to all swimming events. To swim even faster, it was necessary to switch the focus from muscular endurance to muscular power. At the London Olympics, PICP Coach Darin Tyson worked with swimming gold medalists Cullen Jones and Davis Tarwater, along with silver medalist Nick Thoman.
Tennis. “Core” training with specific abdominal exercises was considered the best way to develop power for tennis players. The fact is, the abdominals help generate powerful rotational force by acting as force transducers (from the powerful muscles of the lower body) and not as force producers. This is why tennis players need to get into the weightroom and work on basic exercises such as squats to increase hitting power.
In sports coaching, as the old guard gives way to younger coaches, the resistance to weight training eventually will crack. After all, all things being equal, the stronger athlete will always win!