Athletic preparation in sports: the most common mistakes in strength training

Athletic preparation is a fundamental part of the life of a sportsman. There are many schools of thought regarding the preparation of sports and various athletes, and there is not a single possible programming of the exercises, although some will be more effective than others.

This article will not, therefore, give advice on how to build an athletic preparation with strength training but will highlight some of the most common mistakes.

Strength training to the maximum?

Boy trains strength
When it comes to sport and performance, it's clear that you must follow a certain training schedule. The phases that make up the programming of the various sports are quite similar: we start from general conditioning to get to the specific sports training. This simple phrase hides different training programs depending on the sport or the role that the player plays.

Training is an art based on science, and training without evaluation is an itinerary without destination. Carmelo Bosco

Among the thousands of variations that can be in the preparations, there is a certainty: the phase of strength cannot be missed. It goes without saying that training strength has a positive influence on the performance of every sport and every role, yet there are hundreds and hundreds of cases of athletes who have increased their strength considerably but have not seen improvements in performance. What are the reasons?

Strength training for sport

Often strength training translates into increasing one's own limits in the gym. What must be considered is that in sports the goal is not often simply to move the maximum weight possible, but to apply the greatest amount of force possible in the shortest time possible. Strength is seen as the expression of metabolic training: a muscle that moves the weight.
Training with Kettlebell
Trainers sometimes forget that the muscle is driven by an impulse that started from the brain and that has activated a series of nervous systems (central and peripheral) to get to the muscle synapse and activate contraction.
If you can produce slow contractions, metabolic training will help the body to repeat that type of contraction for multiple repetitions: slow.  An example that simplifies everything can be imagined as a person pushing a wall, to which are connected sensors capable of measuring the force expressed. By training the 1-RM in the gym, the limits will increase, and the push given to the wall will be stronger.
Resistance to stroke
But what if we were also measuring the duration, from the beginning of the push, to the expression of maximal force? Imagine that the maximum force is reached after one second. Now consider which sport it would be useful to express maximal strength in, after a full second of effort? Almost none.

Power as the ability to express strength over time

In sports such as tennis, running, martial arts and team sports the required force application times are in the order of tenths of a second or less. What matters most is not the maximum strength potential an athlete has, but how long it takes to express it. Power, defined as the ability to express strength at speed, is therefore the priority.
Girl snaps on the athletic field
It is not enough to load a barbell to get the maximum force, it is necessary to choose the load that will allow the neuromuscular system to express its greatest force-generating potential in the shortest time possible. To train effectively in this way, and monitor progress in neuromuscular or velocity-based training requires specific equipment, such as an accelerometer or force plate.
To measure the force profile, re-set the accelerometer and have the client perform the exercise (squat, bench, etc.) as fast as possible. The result of the repetition will appear as a point on a graph, which will have in the abscissa the time needed to express the force, and in the ordinates the maximum peak of force (expressed in Watts).
Tire jumps
By increasing the load at each repetition, the points on the graph will form a regular bell curve. The highest point of the bell curve indicates the ideal load at which the client needs to train to increase peak power output, and then express your strength in the shortest time possible.

It may happen that the graph does not show a regular bell-shaped line but that there are one or more deflections of the curve before reaching its peak.

Force curve
In this case, it is useless to work on the peak power because the body is not able to handle the force that is generating, it is necessary to train with the loads that create the deflection of the curve, so the athlete can have more regular management of strength expressed in time.

As far as team sports are concerned, the situation is slightly different. The question is: to what extent does the improvement of strength and power contribute to the improvement of sports performance?

Corsa con sled training su Skillmill
There are no studies that match power improvements with the increase in specific sports skills, such as changes in direction, agility or response times to visual or auditory stimuli. This does not mean that power training is useless in sports such as football or volleyball, but that it is necessary to supplement this type of training with specific sports sessions that can improve skills typical of the sport practiced.

Strength training in sports

It is well known that the training of a sport must be specific, especially if the competition is close. That's why no one would ever think to train the aerobic component in the case of strength or power sports. Is this decision really correct? The fact that the muscles are composed of white and red fibers, the first to express a lot of strength, the second intended to express less strength but for a much longer period, is known to all.

Before starting an athlete's training - in particular strength training - it is necessary to do the necessary tests and evaluations because each person is on his own and each training must be built to measure.

The reality is that there is not such a clear distinction, given by the color and type of muscle fibers, to date there are 7 different types, demonstrating that each muscle is able to express itself in an optimal way both in terms of strength and endurance. By biasing any muscle, one could see that the muscle fibers are not sorted, by color or function, but are placed "in a scattered order". It is therefore obvious to find a white fiber surrounded by redder fibers and vice versa. Next, to each fiber, you will notice the capillaries, necessary for the exchange of metabolites with the myofibrils.

Training muscles and not movements

Injuries are often seen on the playing fields. It is not uncommon to see football players with injuries to their knees. Their physique is perfect, their technique is excellent and yet they still injure themselves on the pitch. Where is the mistake? When we talk about training, we think about the muscles, the kinetic chains, and the physiological reactions that the various actions put into play during the performance will have. The metabolic components are essential but not enough. Once again, the neural component must be taken into account.
Pure Line: perfect for training strength in safety
The body moves according to well-defined motor patterns: flexion of the torso, rotation, braking, etc. activate a precise sequence of neuromuscular signals that will allow the body to move in perfect harmony. When there are imbalances or muscle tensions, or some movements are constantly repeated incorrectly, tensions of various magnitudes and kinds will be produced that, if repeated over time, can produce serious damage.
Exercise of strength and skill
A player who must suddenly change direction while running at maximum speed, needs to use the muscles of the leg in a coordinated manner to be able to decellerate and give new impetus for acceleration in a new direction, in this case, the weight of the body must be positioned so as not to injure the knee that is performing the action, the quadriceps and hamstrings will have to coordinate to be able to contract powerfully and then rapidly relax and contract again, the ankle will have to follow these movements in a stable way, otherwise it will send negative feedback so the athlete will have to quickly reprogram all the movements that are being made.
It seems obvious that certain motor patterns, among the most important, are those of flexion and braking, must be sufficiently trained to learn how to manage the forces that the muscles are able to generate during a sport-specific gesture. For this type of training, specific tests and training are needed, made by experts in their field, which teach performance of the correct movements to will result in better performance.
Before starting to train an athlete, it is necessary to do the tests and evaluations because each person is unique, and each training must be built to measure.

As Carmelo Bosco said: "Training is an art based on science, and training without evaluation is an itinerary without destination".

Sources and bibliography
  • Baker D, Newton RU. Adaptations in upper-body maximal strength and power output resulting from long-term resistance training inexperienced strength-power athletes. J Strength Cond Res, 2006.
  • Tourtchenko O, Gulinelli M. Slow or fast? Strength training in middle- and long-distance races. SDS, year XXI
  • Hoff J, Gran A, Helgerud J. Maximal strength training improves aerobic endurance performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2002 Oct
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25486303

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