Can Strength Training Improve Speed and Agility?

kaneFSThe terms “Strength Training” or “Weight Training” or even “Weightlifting” are some of the most misused and misunderstood phrases that is commonly thrown around to describe a big, slow, bulky behemoth looking man or woman that you might see in your local grocery store on the front of a body building magazine.

(A great example of how this helps for athletes is the picture above. One of our college football athletes, Kane Elliott, shown front squatting an impressive 320 lbs for 2 reps at a body weight of 180 lbs possesses a 32.5 inch vertical jump and is by far one of our most explosive athletes in the gym.)

Unfortunately, this mindset and myth about weight training we described earlier is usually why most athletes (and parents) avoid the weight room all together. They fear that they and/or their son or daughter will turn into what they see on the front of a bodybuilding magazine – and worse, they fear that they will get slower and lose first-step quickness for their sport.

Is this true? Absolutely not. This is a myth and this myth unfortunately is passed down from generation to generation, usually by someone who has never been involved in a structured and age-appropriately programmed gym setting. The average gym setting for high school athletes involves a large group of young and inexperienced athletes, usually “supervised” by 1 coach, with a “one-size-fits-all” workout that is randomly programmed for that day. Eventually, this approach gets marginal (if any) results, without any application and conversion into a better, faster, and more powerful athlete.

Now, with all this said… Can you see why weight training in general gets a bad rap? Here’s how weight training can help YOU and/or your athlete get faster and quicker (without needing to practice form running day in and day out, or implement some fancy gadget or gizmo).

  • The ability to display and absorb force: The right type of strength training will allow an athlete to display higher amounts of force into the ground – this in turn will give the athlete the ability to eventually have a higher vertical jump and possess the ability to run faster and run longer without tiring. They will also be able to absorb force better when landing from repetitive jumps (think basketball or volleyball), and they will be able to change direction with fluidity and ease compared to an athlete who is relatively “weak” (think every team sport).
  • The ability to hold sprint form: I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen young athletes who just cannot run well, no matter how often they practice “form running” and do speed drills such as high knees, butt-kickers, etc. All of the technique and form running drills won’t do an athlete any good unless they have a sufficient level of strength in place to hold the correct positions required to sprint faster. You need a very strong back, hips (glutes), and legs to even reach your genetic potential in speed development. Notice the level of muscular development in these areas next time you watch a college football or NFL game. These guys are a fast for a reason and have large amounts of functional muscle in the right places to get the job done.
  • Prevent injuries (overuse and acute): Most injuries that are non-contact related happen one of two ways. They are built up over time from repetitive motion (overuse), or they happen suddenly without warning (acute). Overuse and acute injuries can both be prevented with a properly planned training program, focused on long-term progression. These injuries typically also come from lack of general fitness and/or fatigue, especially the acute injuries. Ever see an athlete pull a hamstring? Something like this has many variables, but I’d be willing to bet that the athlete was either out of shape, they weren’t strong enough to absorb force in the glutes during a sprint strike, or they were simply fatigued and could not hold sprint form.

As you can see, the benefits of resistance training for athletes is very evident. Every single athlete that has come in to train with us sees noticeable improvements in these areas after a few months of training, and even more noticeable gains after a year or more. We call this “adding more horsepower to the engine”. This doesn’t mean cease speed training all together, but you need to have a solid foundation of strength in place to even consider maximizing your speed and agility.

This type of training takes effort, hard work, and commitment – it’s not easy and won’t happen overnight, but I can promise you that you will see a major return on your investment of your time and effort if you keep at it.

Don’t fear getting stronger – it makes everything you do easier and will in turn help you become faster and quicker.

Get one day better,

– John Cortese

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