Maximal strength can be defined as muscles producing the greatest amount of force possible. A test of maximal force will occur at a slow speed. Testing a one rep max would be the best example of this, however, even up to a 3 rep max could fall under maximal strength. It is commonly known that powerlifters, bodybuilders, and football players train this way as it seems to apply most directly to the sport. When it comes to sports such as cross country, soccer, marathon running, track, etc, the common idea is that lighter weight is ideal or even that strength training is unnecessary. I like to make the case that heavy compound lifts are an important part of any sport. Even if your “sport” is being a great mom.
Lets start with why this type of training is beneficial in the obvious platforms such as football. Football players exert great deals of force for a few seconds, and then rest. When 2 players collide, the player with the highest level of maximal strength will have the advantage. If a lineman has to collide with a 300 pound opponent, then lifting heavy weights makes perfect sense.
Now lets look at some other sports and how training heavy can benefit. We will start with a distance runner. When a person runs, their foot strikes the ground, the foot creates a force on the ground, and the ground creates a reactive force back on the foot, springing the runner forward. With an increase in maximal strength, the force that can be applied will increase, and therefore the force springing the runner forward will increase. The combined effect creates an increase in stride efficiency. This means strides can be trained to be longer and quicker. Even with a .01 decrease in time per stride, that means every 100 strides is a full second spared. This adds up quickly on a long distance run. Being stronger will also make you more metabolically efficient, meaning you will waste less energy per stride. This approach can apply to soccer or midfielders that have a lot of distance to cover throughout the duration of a match.
Being stronger also has benefits to the longevity of a distance runner. Stress fractures are fairly common with runners. Heavy strength training has shown to greatly improve bone strength and density. Having an increase in muscle mass will serve as greater “shock absorption” with each stride.
No matter what your sport or reason for training, there should be a place for safe maximal training.
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