THEORETICAL BASIS FOR DOING STRENGTH WORK TO IMPROVE SPEED

Stegeman, J. (translated by J. S. Skinner). (1981) Exercise physiology. Chicago, IL: Year Book Medical Publishers.

Stegeman (1981, p. 277) proposed that speed can be improved by strength training and by improving coordination with practice. This is the transfer of training effects hypothesis, that is, as capacities are altered they can be reeducated into movements in a sport which will result in performance improvements. For speed training the argument is as follows. The greater the load on an individual muscle, the slower will be the contractile velocity of that muscle. Consequently, the absolute contractile velocity depends upon the reserve strength, that is, the difference between maximal force and the actual force applied. For the same externally delivered force, reserve force is of primary importance for the velocity of contraction. This combines two principles of muscular contraction, the faster a muscle contracts the less the force that can be applied, and peak power is attained when a muscle contracts in the vicinity of 40 percent of maximum force. Continuing with this logic, if absolute strength is increased, then the 40 percent of maximum force also increases, resulting in an increase in power. Similarly, if strength is increased then speed will be increased at any given velocity of contraction because of the improved percentage of the new strength levels that have been attained. The final conclusion of this argument is that an increase in strength makes an absolute load "lighter" in relative terms to absolute strength. Thus, since the load is lighter, speed of movement will be faster.

The above argument hinges on two basic assumptions. The first is that the improvements in strength that are gained are specific enough to be used exactly in the real sporting action. The second is that strength changes will be incorporated into the neuromuscular pattern of the action. The scientific support for these two assumptions is not strong. However, to conclude this argument a brief description of the status of these assumptions will be presented. First, a major portion of strength gains is of a neuromuscular reorganization (skill) form and neuromuscular patterns do not generalize to other activities. Added to this is the finding that simple activity performance improvements (such as those gained doing specific resistance exercises) do not transfer any benefits to more complex activities in seriously training athletes. The second argument is that once a skill pattern, and its associated feeling of "comfort" from the athlete's viewpoint, is established, athletes resist changing the pattern and feeling. Thus, if new strength capacities are developed while an athlete is training, and those capacities can be strongly justified as needing to be incorporated into the athlete's technique, the athlete will have to be prepared to suffer through the negative feelings and performance reductions associated with such changes. During a competitive season that alteration is hardly possible and usually resisted by athletes.

A compromise for this dilemma and controversy in the literature has been expressed. All strength changes that "are supposed to influence" strength, power, and speed should be attained prior to the development of the movement patterns associated with that capacity in a sport. By doing that, the relearning of technique features that occurs in the specific-preparatory training phase will incorporate the higher levels of strength which should result in greater strength, power, and speed of movement in the sport. It should be realized that if strength training is performed at the wrong time in the annual training program it will not benefit performance.

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