Strength, Muscular Endurance, and Power in Sports

by Tudor O. Bompa, PhD

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    Almost all physical activities incorporate elements of force, quickness, duration, and range of motion. Exercises to overcome resistance are strength exercises. Speed exercises maximize quickness and high frequency. Exercises of long distance or duration, or many repetitions are endurance exercises. Maximum range of motion results in a flexibility movement. Exercises with complex movements are known as coordination exercises.
    Athletes vary in their talent to perform certain exercises. Talent is mostly genetic. Inherited strength, speed, and endurance play an important role in reaching high levels of performance and are called dominant motor or biomotor abilities. Motor refers to movement; the prefix bio- illustrates the biological importance of these abilities.

Main Theories Influencing Strength Training for Sports
    Five theories influence strength training for sports: bodybuilding, high-intensity training (HIT), Olympic weight lifting, power training throughout the year, and Periodization of Strength.


Key Words

    •    Adaptation: Persistent changes in muscle structure or function as a direct response to progressively increasing training loads.

    •    Eccentric Contraction: Muscle function that lengthens muscle fibers as it develops tension.

    •    Isokinetic Contraction: Muscle contraction that develops maximum tension while shortening at a constant speed over the full range of motion.

    •    Periodization of Strength: Strength training programs structured into phases to maximize sport-specific strength.

Gymboss Timers


    Bodybuilders are chiefly concerned with increased muscle size. They perform sets of 6 to 12 repetitions to exhaustion. With few exceptions-possibly football and some throwing events in track and field-increased muscle size is rarely beneficial to athletic performance. Since most athletic movements are explosive, the slow speed of contraction in bodybuilding has limited positive transfer to sports. Athletic skills, at 100 to 180 milliseconds, are performed quickly, but leg extensions in bodybuilding are three times slower, at 600 milliseconds (table 1.1).

High-Intensity Training (HIT)

    High -intensity training (HIT) requires high training loads through the year with all working sets performed to at least positive failure. Firm believers in HIT claim that strength can be achieved in 20 to 30 minutes and stand against high-volume strength training, so important in events of long, continuous duration (mid- and long-distance swimming, rowing, canoeing, and crosscountry skiing). HIT programs are not organized according to the competition schedule. For sports, strength is periodized according to the physiological needs of the sport in a given phase and the date for reaching peak performance.

Olympic Weight Lifting

    Olympic weight lifting was an important influence in the early days of strength training. Even now, many coaches and trainers still use traditional Olympic weight-lifting moves such as the clean and jerk and power clean despite the fact that these moves rarely work the prime movers, the muscles primarily used in specific sport skills. Carefully assessing the needs of Olympic weightlifting techniques is essential, especially for young athletes or athletes with no strength training background, as injuries have been reported in several such instances. Even highly trained athletes have reported injuries caused by exaggerated use of Olympic weight-lifting skills.

Power Training Throughout the Year

    Some coaches and trainers, especially in track and field and certain team sports, believe that power training should be performed from day one of training through the major championship. They theorize that if power is the dominant ability, it has to be trained throughout the year except during the transition phase (off-season). They use exercises such as bounding and implements such as medicine balls and the shot. Certainly, athletic fitness does improve through the year. The key element, however, is the athlete's rate of improvement throughout the year, especially from year to year, not just whether the athlete improves. Strength training has been shown to lead to far better results than power training. especially when Periodization of Strength is used. Power is a function of maximum strength. To improve power, one must improve maximum strength. Under these conditions, power improvement is faster and reaches higher levels.

Periodization of Strength

    Strength training for sports must be based on the specific physiological requirements of the sport and must result in the development of either power or muscle endurance. Furthermore, strength training must revolve around the needs of planning-periodization for that sport and employ training methods specific to a given training phase, with the goal of reaching peak performance at the time of major competitions.


Strength, Speed, and Endurance
    Strength, speed and endurance are the important abilities for successful performance. The dominant ability is the one from which the sport requires a higher contribution (for instance. endurance is the dominant ability in long-distance running). Most sports require peak performance in at least two abilities. The relationships among strength. speed. and endurance create crucial physical athletic qualities. A better understanding of these relationships will help you understand power and muscular endurance and help you plan sport -specific strength training. Combining strength and endurance creates muscular endurance, the ability to perform many repetitions against a given resistance for a prolonged period (figure 1. 1). Power, the ability to perform an explosive movement in the shortest time possible. results from the integration of maximum strength and speed. The combination of endurance and speed is called speed-endurance. Agility is the product of a complex combination of speed. coordination, flexibility. and power as demonstrated in gymnastics, wrestling, football, soccer, volleyball, baseball, boxing. diving. and figure skating. When agility and flexibility combine, the result is mobility, the ability to cover a playing area quickly with good timing and coordination.

    A relationship of high methodical importance exists among strength, speed, and endurance. A solid foundation for specialized training is built during the initial years of training. This sport-specific phase is a requirement for all national-level and elite athletes who aim for precise training effects. As a result of specific exercises, the adaptation process occurs in accordance with an athlete's specialization. For elite athletes, the relationship among strength, speed, and endurance is dependent on the sport and the athlete's needs.
Figure 1.2 illustrates three examples where strength or force (F), speed (5), or endurance (E) is dominant. In each case, when one biomotor ability dominates, the other two do not participate to a similar extent. This example, however, is pure theory, and applies to few sports. In the vast majority of sports, each ability has a given input. Figure 1.3 shows the dominant composition of strength, speed, and endurance in several sports.

    Using figure 1.3 as a model, try to define the combinations among the dominant biomotor abilities for your sport. In figure 1.4, place a circle in the location you feel is most ideal. Try to evaluate your own dominant abilities or those of your athletes and place another circle in the appropriate location inside the triangle. The second circle tells you what areas to train to match the dominant combinations of biomotor abilities for that sport.


Effect of Strength Training on Other Biomotor Abilities
    Specific development of a biomotor ability must be methodical. A developed dominant ability directly or indirectly affects the other abilities. To what extent depends strictly on the resemblance between the methods employed and the specifics of the sport. So, development of a dominant biomotor ability may have a positive or, rarely, a negative transfer. When an athlete develops strength, he may experience a positive transfer to speed and endurance. On the other hand, a strength training program designed only to develop maximum strength may negatively affect the development of aerobic endurance. Similarly, a training program aimed exclusively at developing aerobic endurance may have a negative transfer to strength and speed. Since strength is a crucial athletic ability, it always has to be trained with the other abilities.
    Misleading, unfounded theories have suggested that strength training slows down athletes and affects the development of endurance and flexibility. Recent research discredits such theories (Atha, 1984; Dudley & Fleck, 1987; Hickson et aI., 1988; MacDougall et aI., 1987; Micheli, 1988; Nelson et aI., 1990; Sale et aI., 1990). Combined strength and endurance training does not affect improvement (Le., no negative transfer) of aerobic power or muscular strength. Similarly, strength programs pose no risk to flexibility. Thus, for endurance sports such as rowing, cross-country skiing, canoeing, and swimming, concurrent work can be performed safely on strength and endurance. The same is true for sports requiring strength and flexibility.
    For speed sports, power represents a great source of speed improvement. A fast sprinter is also strong. High acceleration, fast limb movement, and high frequency are possible when strong muscles contract quickly and powerfully. In extreme situations, however, maximum loads may momentarily affect speed. Velocity will be affected if speed training is scheduled after an exhausting training session with maximum loads. Speed training should always be performed before strength training.

Sport-Specific Combinations of Strength, Speed and Endurance
    Most actions and movements are more complex than previously discussed. Thus, strength in sports should be viewed as the mechanism required to perform skills and athletic actions. The reason for developing strength is not just for the sake of being strong. The goal of strength development is to meet the specific needs of a given sport, to develop specific strength or combinations of strength to increase athletic performance to the highest possible level. Combining strength (F) and endurance (E) results in muscular endurance (M-E). Sports may require M-E of long or short duration, a distinction that must be made because of the drastic differences between them. This distinction determines the type of strength to train for each sport.
    Before discussing this topic, a brief clarification of the terms cyclic and acyclic is necessary. Cyclic movements are repeated continuously, such as running, walking, swimming, rowing, skating, cross-country skiing, cycling, and canoeing. As soon as one cycle of the motor act is learned, the others can be repeated with the same succession. Acyclic movements, on the other hand, constantly change and are dissimilar to most others, such as in throwing events, gymnastics, wrestling, fencing, and many technical elements in team sports.
    With the exception of sprinting, cyclic sports are endurance sports. Endurance is either dominant or makes an important contribution to performance. Acyclic sports are often speed-power sports. Many sports, however, are more complex and require speed, power, and endurance (for example, basketball, volleyball, soccer, ice hockey, wrestling, and boxing). Therefore, the following analysis may refer to certain skills of a given sport and not the sport as a whole.

    Figure 1.5 analyzes various combinations of strength. The elements will be discussed in a clockwise direction starting with the F-E (strength-endurance) axis. Each strength combination has an arrow pointing to a certain part of the axis between two biomotor abilities. An arrow placed closer to F indicates that strength plays a dominant role in the sport or skill. An arrow placed closer to the midpoint of the axis indicates an equal or almost equal contribution of both biomotor abilities. The farther the arrow is from F, the less importance it has, suggesting that the other ability becomes more dominant. However, strength still plays a role in that sport.
    The F-E axis refers to sports where M-E (muscular endurance) is the dominant strength combination (the inner arrow). Not all sports require equal parts strength and endurance. For example, swimming events range from 50 to 1,500 meters. The 50-meter event is speed-power dominant; M-E becomes more important as the distance increases.
    Power-endurance is on top of the F-E axis because of the importance of strength for activities such as rebounding in basketball, spiking in volleyball, jumping to catch the ball in Australian football and rugby, or jumping to head the ball in soccer. All these actions are power-dominant movements. The same is true for some skills in tennis, boxing, wrestling, and martial arts. More than power has to be trained to perform such actions successfully throughout a game or match since these actions are performed 100 to 200 or more times per game or match. Although it is important to jump high to rebound a ball, it is equally important to duplicate such a jump 200 times per game. Consequently, both power and power-endurance have to be trained.

    M-E of short duration refers to the M-E necessary for events of short duration (40 seconds to 2 minutes). In the 100-meter swimming event, the start is a power action as are the first 20 strokes. From the midpoint of the race to the end, M-E becomes at least equally important to power. In the last 30 to 40 meters, the crucial element is the ability to duplicate the force of the arms' pull so that velocity is maintained and then increased at the finish. For events such as 100 meters in swimming, 400 meters in running, 500 to 1,000 meters in speed skating, and 500 meters in canoeing, M-E strongly contributes to the final result.
    M-E of medium duration is typical of cyclic sports 2 to 5 minutes long, such as 200and 400-meter swimming, 3,000-meter speed skating, track and field mid-distance running, 1,000-meter canoeing, wrestling, martial arts, figure skating, synchronized swimming, and cycling pursuit.
    M-E of long duration (over 6 to 10 minutes) requires the ability to apply force against a standard resistance for a longer period as in rowing, crosscountry skiing, road cycling, long-distance running, swimming, speed skating, and canoeing.
    Speed-endurance (S-E) refers to the ability to maintain or repeat a high velocity action several times per game, as in football, baseball, basketball, rugby, soccer, and power skating in ice hockey. Players in these sports need to train to develop a speed-endurance capacity.
    The remaining two types of speed-endurance alter in combination and proportion of speed and endurance as distance increases. In the first case, sports require training velocity around the anaerobic threshold (4 millimoles [mmol] of lactate or a heart rate of approximately 170 beats per minute). In the second case, training velocity must be around the aerobic threshold (2 to 3 mmol of lactate or a heart rate of 125 to 140 beats per minute).
    The F-S (strength-speed) axis refers mainly to strength-speed sports where power is dominant.
    Landing and reactive power is a major component of several sports, like figure skating, gymnastics, and several team sports. Proper training can prevent injuries. Many athletes train only the takeoff part of a jump, with no concern for a controlled and balanced landing. The physical/power element plays an important role in proper landing technique, particularly for advanced athletes. Athletes must train eccentrically to be able to "stick" a landing, absorb the shock, and maintain good balance to continue the routine or perform another move immediately.
    The power required to control a landing depends on the height of the jump, the athlete's body weight, and whether the landing is performed by absorbing the shock or with the joints flexed but stiff. Testing has revealed that for a shock-absorbing landing, athletes use a resistance force three to four times their body weight. Landing performed with stiff leg joints requires a force of six to eight times body weight. An athlete weighing 60 kilograms (132 pounds) requires 180 to 240 kilograms (396 to 528 pounds) to absorb the shock of landing. The same athlete requires 360 to 480 kilograms (792 to 1,056 pounds) to land with the leg joints stiff. When an athlete lands on one leg, as in figure skating, the force at the instant of landing is three to four times body weight for a shock -absorbing landing and five to seven times for landing with stiff leg joints.
    Strength training can train landing power better, faster, and with much more consistency than specific skill training. Specific power training for landing can generate much higher tension in the muscles of the legs than performing an exercise with only body weight. Higher tension means improvements in landing power. In addition, through specific power training for landing, especially eccentric training, athletes can build a "power reserve" that is a force greater than the power required for a correct and controlled landing. The higher the power reserve, the easier it is for the athlete to control the landing, and the safer the landing.
    Reactive power is the ability to generate the force of jumping immediately following a landing (hence "reactive"). This kind of power is necessary in the martial arts, wrestling, and boxing and for quick changes in direction, as in football, soccer, basketball, lacrosse, and tennis. The force needed for a reactive jump depends on the height of the jump and the athlete's body weight and leg power. Reactive jumps require a force equal to 6 to 8 times body weight. Reactive jumps from a platform of 1 meter (3.3 feet) require a reactive force of 8 to 10 times body weight.
    Throwing power refers to force applied against an implement, such as throwing a football, pitching a baseball, or throwing the javelin. The release speed is determined by the amount of muscular force exerted at the instant of release. First, athletes have to defeat the inertia of the implement, which is proportional to its mass (important only in throwing events). Then they must continuously accelerate through the range of motion so that maximum acceleration is achieved at the instant of release. The force and acceleration of release depend directly on the force and speed of contraction applied against the implement.
    Takeoff power is crucial in events in which athletes attempt to project the body to the highest point, either to jump over a bar as in high jump or to reach the best height to catch a ball or spike it. The height of a jump depends directly on the vertical force applied against the ground to defeat the pull of gravity. In most cases, the vertical force performed at takeoff is at least twice the athlete's weight. The higher the jump, the more powerful the legs should be. Leg power is developed through periodized strength training as explained in chapters 6 and 10.
    Starting power is necessary for sports that require high speed to cover a given distance in the shortest time possible. Athletes must be able to generate maximum force at the beginning of a muscular contraction to create a high initial speed. A fast start, either from a low position as in sprinting or from a tackling position in football, depends on the reaction time and power the athlete can exert at that instant.
    Accelerating power refers to the capacity to achieve high acceleration. Sprinting speed or acceleration depends on the power and quickness of muscle contraction to drive the arms and legs to the highest stride frequency, the shortest contact phase when the leg reaches the ground, and the highest propulsion when the leg pushes against the ground for a powerful forward drive. The capacity of athletes to accelerate depends on both arm and leg force. Specific strength training for high acceleration will benefit most team sport athletes from wide receivers in football to wingers in rugby or strikers in soccer (see table 1.2).
    Decelerating power is important in sports such as soccer, basketball, football, and ice and field hockey. Athletes run fast and constantly change direction quickly. Such athletes are exploders and accelerators as well as decelerators. The dynamics of these games change abruptly: players running fast in one direction suddenly have to change direction with the least loss of speed, then accelerate quickly in another direction.
    Acceleration and deceleration both require a great deal of leg and shoulder power. The same muscles used for acceleration (quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves) are used for deceleration, except they contract eccentrically. To enhance the ability to decelerate fast and quickly move in another direction, decelerating power must be trained.

A Brief History of Periodization of Strength
    The concept of Periodization of Strength for sports has evolved from two basic needs: (1) the need to model strength training around the annual plan and its training phases, and (2) the need to increase the rate of power development from year to year. The first athletic experiment using Periodization of Strength was done with Mihaela Penes, a gold medalist in javelin throw at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The results were presented in 1965 in Bucharest and Moscow (Bompa, 1965a, 1965b). The original Periodization of Strength model has been altered to suit the needs of endurance-related sports that require muscular endurance (Bompa, 1977). Both models of Periodization of Strength are discussed in this book, including training methods. The basic Periodization of Strength model has also been presented in Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training (Bompa, 1999).
    In 1984, Stone and O'Bryant presented a theoretical model of strength training in which Periodization of Strength included four phases: Hypertrophy, Basic Strength, Strength and Power, and Peaking and Maintenance. A comprehensive book on periodization, Periodization of Strength: The New Wave in Strength Training (Bompa, 1993a), was followed by Periodization Breakthrough (Fleck & Kraemer, 1996), which again demonstrated that to achieve high athletic benefits from strength training, Periodization of Strength is the way to go! Most recently, Serious Strength Training (Bompa & Cornacchia, 1998) was published by Human Kinetics.

FROM: PERIODIZATION Training for Sports -- Programs for peak strength


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