Professional baseball player, Zach Dezenzo, performing a barbell pin squat at Ohio Athletic Performance. He is in the descending phase of the squat, with his thighs parallel to the ground, indicating good depth. He is wearing a blue top, blue shorts, grey leggings, and red and black sneakers. The barbell, branded with 'ROGUE' on the plates, is positioned on his upper back. The sports performance facility is well-equipped with various weightlifting gear, including more barbell plates and resistance bands in the background.

From the Gym to the Game: Improving Speed & Power Through Maximal Strength Training

In the realm of athletics, where speed, quickness, and power reign supreme, understanding the role of strength training, particularly with heavy or maximal weights, is crucial. This exploration delves into the core reasons why lifting heavy is essential for athletes aspiring to enhance their speed and power. By examining the relationship between strength training and the central nervous system (CNS), and applying these principles to a sport-specific context like baseball, we gain insights into how and why maximal strength development is a key component of athletic performance.  All this leaves you to ask, when training for speed do I need to lift heavy? Yes, my friend.

The Role of CNS in Athletic Performance: Understanding the Connection Between Strength and Speed

WHY should you lift heavy or maximal weights if you are training to be faster? The obvious qualities you witness on the field, court, or diamond are speed, quickness, and power. These qualities are a byproduct of the CNS, central nervous system, brain, and spinal cord. Speed and power are expressions of how quickly and to what magnitude you can develop force relative to your bodyweight. (There are numerous other variables such as movement mechanics, connective tissue health, joint integrity, etc.) The question remains, so why should you lift heavy weights? Training your body to develop and overcome large amounts of resistance prepares and develops your CNS to be extremely strong. You will never meet a fast person who is weak. You absolutely must be able to develop high amounts of force and very quickly in order to be able to express the quality of speed.

Practical Application in Sports: Case Study in Baseball

Let’s look at a sport such as baseball which is a skill based sport where maximal velocity, speed, and power are the qualities directly displayed. If you have a desire to be able to hit for power, stay healthy, take extra bases, and be a threat on the base paths then you must get stronger. There absolutely is a point of being strong enough to play any sport or position. If and when that point is achieved then you should start allotting energy to the development of other qualities to assist in higher levels of performance.

We chose to use a pin squat to parallel in this example for a few reasons: 

  • Primary objective: drive the nervous system for maximal strength (0.5 m/s or slower)
  • Separate the triphasic muscle action: Eccentric – isometric – concentric (There will be moments in sport where you are in a static position and you must develop large amounts of force as fast as possible.)
  • Ensure particular depth in the squatting pattern as these ranges are directly used for this athlete in his sport.
  • Allows for more concise teaching of the movement and also allows the athlete to understand what position the body is in through different phases of the squat. (Pausing on the pin decompresses the spine as well as affords the athlete the chance to feel weight distribution through the entire foot.)

Balancing Strength and Athletic Performance for Optimal Results

Lifting heavy weights is not just about building muscle mass; it’s about conditioning the CNS to handle and exert large forces rapidly, a fundamental requirement for speed and power in sports. The use of exercises such as the pin squat to parallel illustrates how strength training can be tailored to the specific demands of an athlete’s sport which EXACTLY what we deliver in our OAP Academy. Achieving a balance between strength and other athletic qualities is essential, and once an athlete reaches an optimal level of strength, the focus can shift to refining other aspects of performance. This holistic approach to training ensures that athletes can maximize their potential on the field, court, or diamond, translating strength gains into practical, sport-specific power and speed. If that sounds like what you need, get in touch.

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Our passionate and relentless commitment to athletes’ success has led to the creation of Ohio Athletic Performance, where athletes know failure isn’t an option, not because they will never lose or have challenges, but because they know we won’t let them truly fail. Our one simple goal remains the same: develop athletes who win not only on game day, but on every day of their life.

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