Track and Field Strength
Strength is one of the three major athletic performance abilities along with speed and endurance. Strength is defined as the ability to produce force.
Programs to develop strength for track and field athletes are designed to improve competition performance by developing the physical qualities needed in athletics, improving event related abilities and enhancing the distinct needs of each individual, including preventative exercises to minimize the risk of injuries. The key to a quality program is converting the gains in strength to the specific demands of an individual’s sport.
The benefits of more strength goes beyond just getting stronger, the movements improve intermuscular coordination, intramuscular coordination, kinesthetic awareness, body stabilization, balance and flexibility. Improving muscular strength allow athletes to withstand the demands of training and can hold the positions required during sporting movements better than less strong athletes.
Strength training is in part about strength, but it is also about event preparation. All track and field athletes can benefit from strength training because program design is based on the demands of the sport and individual needs.
Training programs need to develop muscles and the opposing muscle for body balance to help prevent injuries and gain strength. Sport specific training is critical as well with younger athletes to develop the particular needs of the sport. Younger athletes blend balanced body exercises and sport specific movements. As the athlete progresses in performance and age, more sport specific exercises are incorporated into the training regimen.
Strength Training Design
To increase strength, the athlete must have challenging loads during an exercise. The load is based on amount of resistance represented in a percentage determined by testing such as a single or multiple repetition performance effort.
The stress placed on the body during training is called the load or stimulus. To improve strength in specific exercises, the system must be overloaded, this is done by an increase in intensity and/or an increase in volume during training.
Transfer of Training
All exercises that are selected in a strength training program need to have a positive impact on performance. Choosing the proper training modalities that transfer to the sports movement are more likely improve performance and should be the focus of the program.
Training that translates to better performance is more important than getting stronger or lifting more weight. Training movements to improve athletic performance require intermuscular coordination between muscle groups and body parts that will transfer to the sport.
Training isolated muscles contribute little to nothing to success in athletics. In fact, some exercises that isolate muscles can interfere with the coordination of muscle groups resulting in a negative transfer of training. Training isolated muscles or smaller groups of muscles should only be used for injury prevention and management.
The goal of any program is to use exercises with positive transfer of training effects. Exercises that relate to athletic qualities needed for an event will have the highest transfer rate. Best exercises are determined by scientific research, experience and good record keeping by the athlete and coach.
Specificity and Overload
Frans Bosch in his book Strength Training and Coordination: An Integrative Approach (2014) states specific training and overload in the same movement is extremely difficult, the central/peripheral model states exercises that are very specific to the sporting movement (central) are difficult to overload. Exercises with less specificity to the sporting movement (peripheral) are easier to overload. Specificity in strength training links movement patterns in a specific event to movement patterns in strength exercises. Overload is needed in exercises with less specificity to improve muscular strength and other athletic performance abilities required to increase sports performance. Bosch concludes significant overload in specific event movements for track and field is challenging but not impossible
Power development training and maximal training provide the overload needed in the larger muscles groups to develop strength, therefore it is an important part of the program despite the lack specificity in certain movements.
Adaptation and New Movements
Adding variations to common strength training exercises will provide an opportunity for the athlete to learn a new movement and adapt to a new training stimulus.
Train with Purpose
Every movement and training exercise should have a purpose that will lead to a positive change in athletic performance. Not every movement needs to sport specific, but every movement should helpful to the athlete. Activities not related to improving sports performance objectives can interfere with the training system and have a negative influence on the overall program.