- Travis Mitchell
Does lifting weights actually improve speed or athleticism?
If you pay attention to what our athletes do in the Factory, you already know our bias towards strength training. Shockingly however, we do NOT believe that lifting weights inherently increases speed or athleticism. On the contrary we do believe that having relative strength & powerful legs can increase speed and explosive power. We do believe in increasing muscle mass for some sports/positions that require abosolute strength. We do believe that increases in motor unit availability and increasing active range of motion can have a positive correlation with sport specific skill.
Absolute vs. Relative Strength
Absolute strength is the maximum amount of force exerted by an athlete, regardless of muscle or body size. Relative strength is the amount of force exerted relative to body weight. In sports that require speed and athleticism relative strength is most desired. For example its not uncommon for 190lb NFL Wide Receivers and Running Backs be able to squat or deadlift 2-3x their bodyweight. Whereas NFL Lineman in excess of 300lbs are not putting out those numbers in the gym but their absolute strength is still off the charts. This, among other factors explains why WRs and RBs run 4.4 40 yard dashes and lineman do not. There’s a well documented study by NFL trainer and now director of sports performance at Nike, Ryan Flaherty, that proves this theory true by analyzing mass specific force rates using the trap bar deadlift. Check out Ryan Flaherty article here.
Unfortunately, most of us are not born with the relative strength of an NFL wideout. The challenge in the weight room then becomes how do you build freakish strength without significant increases in body mass? This is why “lifting weights” is not always the answer. In the Factory, we use a number of techniques including isometric and concentric only lifts that require muscle activation and strength but do not break down muscle fiber which ultimately leads to increases muscle mass. Likewise, we routinely contrast these activation exercises with sport specific movements which will in theory translate to improved inter and intra muscle cooridination and increase athleticism.
Absolute Strength and Law of Diminishing Returns
Some sports like baseball and softball, absolute strength can increase throwing velocity and exit velocity. Watching our baseball and softball players develop over time there’s no question that increasing absolute strength and adding muscle mass in the right areas can directly impact these two metrics. On the other hand, in economics, the law of diminishing marginal utility states that after a certain point the marginal utility of a good or service declines as supply increases. Likewise, as our ball players get closer to their genetic potential there comes a point where adding another plate to the bar or adding a few pounds of bodyweight no longer has the same impact as it once did. At this point our focus shifts to sport specific strength applications explained above, explosiveness and speed, injury prevention, and maintaining extremely high levels of relative strength. That said, in our experience it takes years to reach the point of diminishing returns. Of the hundreds of athletes we’ve had in The Factory, just have a few of them have made us question whether or not more strength is necessary.
The take away message is this- weight lifting does not make an athlete better, being relatively strong and powerful is what makes an athlete better. This is the difference between working out and training. Training has a specific goal in mind. This is why on any given day in The Factory there’s a lot more than what meets the untrained eye.