Get stronger to increase speed and improve sports performance. Being strong and mobile are two traits that have been shown repeatedly to correlate with ability in a number of sports. Even if your sport contains a large power component, increasing your maximal strength can help you improve your short-sprint speed and jumping ability significantly.
A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research calls our attention to the best methods for improving performance and keeping athletes healthy throughout a season. The study compared two power training programs on sprint and jumping ability in professional Brazilian soccer players. Both training protocols included a 3-week strength program that was then followed by either a Velocity program that decreased training load from 60 percent to 30 percent of the 1RM over three weeks, or an Intensity program that increased training load from 30 percent to 60 percent over three weeks.
The theory was that the loading scheme that favored movement speed (Velocity Program) would lead to the greatest increase in power output. Of course, if you’re a PICP-certified trainer, you won’t be surprised to find that the hypothesis was incorrect. Results showed statistically similar gains in strength and power between the training groups as follows:
The Intensity group increased squat 1RM strength by 22.1 percent, loaded squat jump strength by 20.4 percent, maximal power in the jump squat by 31 percent, and countermovement jump by 6.9 percent.
The Velocity group increased squat 1RM strength by 19.8 percent, loaded squat jump strength by 18.5 percent, maximal power in the jump squat by 29 percent, and countermovement jump by 6.7 percent.
In terms of speed, results were greater for the 10-meter sprint in the Velocity group, with a 4.3 percent improvement in time, compared to only a 1.6 percent improvement in the Intensity group.
In the conclusion to the study, the research group realized the error in their programming, and suggested that better results might have come from a program that favored strength building to a greater degree. There’s a time and place for power training, but when resistance training time is limited due to sports practice demands, it’s critical to prepare strong, mobile athletes. Based on similar studies comparing power and strength training, we know that increasing the 1RM will usually produce the best results.
For example, rather than doing light load jump squats as used in this study, Preston Greene, Director of Strength and Conditioning for the University of Florida men’s basketball team uses slow, heavy eccentrics to increase the players’ ability to decelerate loads and change direction fast. This allows short-sprint athletes to execute the most efficient movements possible without any wasted steps.
To train power and increase vertical jumps, Greene uses Olympic lifts, such as the power snatch and pulls from the floor (clean and snatch), using 110 percent of maximal load for that lift. Contrast training in which you pair a strength move with a power move can also be used to take advantage of the muscular activation induced by the strength move.
Equally critical, achieving structural balance in the off-season and then maintaining it during the in-season should be a priority for all athletes and recreational trainees. Injury rates in court and field athletes don’t correlate with performance on speed, power, or agility tests, such as a T-test or jump squats. Rather maximal strength tests have been found to be a better measurement of injury risk, according to researchers. However, an assessment of strength between the lower body muscles within one side of the body and between the left and right sides of the body would be the best method for identifying necessary training to avoid injury.
Loturco, I., et al. Different Loading Schemes in Power Training During the Pre-Season Promote Similar Performance Improvements in Brazilian Elite Soccer Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. October 2012.
McGill, S., Andersen, J., et al. Predicting Performance and Injury Resilience from Movement Quality and Fitness Scores in a Basketball Team Over Two Years. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(7), 1731-1736.