Getting stronger is certainly a key component to improving an athlete's ability. However, this term can become too much of an umbrella statement in the development of athletes. Sure, you can get stronger physically via weights and resistance training.
How about getting mentally stronger, are weights going to help you do that? Same for speed, getting stronger to an extent could actually slow you down.
Strength itself, is a measure of how much force one can produce without a specific time constraint. If you can recruit more muscle fibers to move an object, regardless if it takes 10s or 5 min, you are expressing your true strength capabilities.
When training for sports, it is really dependent on what qualities you want to improve upon, rather than training heavily in one area, which can become an imbalance long term.
If the primary goal is to become as strong as possible, then increasing the time under tension would be beneficial. This will allow you to maximize force production and increase how much load you can handle. This would be geared more towards a powerlifter or strongman competitor, where time is not a massive factor, just as long as you complete the task. Again, like stated before, if there is a time constraint, then focusing on maximal force production may be a detriment to overall performance.
With time constraints to produce force quickly, you may need to shift from maximal strength training to more explosive based movements that have less resistance to them. Training strength can be useful to increase the amount of force you are able to produce but you need to translate this to how quickly you can generate it, meaning you are never going to be able to max it out for explosive movements because you simply don't have the time to.
This leads an athlete to not just become stronger, but to become strong ENOUGH for their activity. If they shift too far in the strength end of the spectrum, they may slow down their capabilities that make them a great athlete. They also may not be training their strength enough if they are unable to produce enough force in a given time constraint.
To easily visualize this, we can take two extreme ends of the spectrum and explain how the variables can make an athlete worse or better.
For a strength athlete like a powerlifter who is competing to perform a deadlift, they would need as much force as possible to achieve their maximum lift. In order to do this need to push into the ground as hard as possible for an extended period of time to recruit as much muscle tension they can to move the weight off the ground. In this instance an extended period of time may be anywhere from 5-20s.
For a basketball player, they would need to produce force very quickly into the ground for takeoff to dunk the basketball. This has a very limited time of action, often less than one second to complete the task.
If we told the powerlifter to lift an 800lb deadlift in less than 1 second, they simply would not be able to do it because there isn't enough time to recruit enough muscle tension to do it, and if they trained to move fast, they would never get past a certain amount of weight due to the time constraint placed on them. On the flip side, if the basketball player was told to stay on the ground for longer than one second and muscle their way up, they simply would not jump very high as there is too much muscle tension to allow for a springy recoil. If they train too heavily on the resistance end, they will slow down their ability to reverse gears and produce force quickly because they will be trained to spend more time increasing tension over time.
In the end, it all comes down to how strong does an athlete need to be for their sport, and when is it becoming a harm vs a help.
If you are struggling to improve your performance or aren't sure what's strong enough in your program, we can certainly help.
Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for any help you may need.
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.