Maximal Strength: How Strong is “Strong Enough” for the High School Athlete?

Before we dive into understanding how much strength is needed to be as successful as possible in the high school sports arena we must have a grasp on what strength actually is. The term strength gets tossed around quite a bit without a firm understanding of what it is and how to train it effectively. 

Strength is a nervous system based quality that expresses itself as how much force you can maximally produce. Strength can be trained through intense isometric training as well as lifting heavy or maximal weights. Strength is NOT muscular size although muscular size can positively affect strength. Hypertrophy (muscular growth) is a quality that can be trained throughout the preparation process and has its place within our programs. It is noteworthy to mention that all the qualities that we train do not exist within a vacuum. Maximal sprinting has tremendous benefit in retention of your strength quality, increases in muscular size, tendon rigidity, and other strength qualities. 

Powerlifters are concerned with moving as much weight as possible, maximal strength. Sprinters are concerned with running as fast as possible, maximal velocity. Bodybuilders are concerned with getting muscles as big as possible, or hypertrophy. These are a few examples of specialized sports with a very particular goal. Our high school athletes may be multi-sport athletes, baseball, volleyball, soccer, lacrosse, football, and nearly every sport in between. We prepare them for the demands of their position within their sport. The recipe for each athlete looks slightly different. As a football player you must have significant strength, especially the closer you are to the line of scrimmage. However, we are not attempting to get them as strong as possible. We train them to be as strong as necessary to mitigate injury risk and maximize performance for their position.

General Qualities that High School Athletes Need to Train:

  1. Maximal Strength:
    • Train the body to produce large amounts of force. 
    • This is necessary for development nearly every other quality: You cannot be fast and weak 
  1. Maximal Speed:
    • Practice and learn the technical aspect of efficient running mechanics 
    • Train at high velocities and understand how to manipulate those speeds in competition
    • Learn how to accelerate properly 
  1. Hypertrophy:
    • Build body armor( muscle) in the appropriate areas
    • Make positive changes in body composition.
    • Help to mitigate injury risk 
  1. Agility/ Change of Direction:
    • Learn how to use your strength to properly. Decelerate and re-accelerate effectively to separate from competition 
    • Requires intentional repetition 
    • Demonstration of maximal strength, power,  and reactive strength 
  1. Mobility and Injury Prevention:
    • Ensure your joints function as they should. 
    • If your joints don’t work then your movement is compromised. 
    • Compromised movement is compensation and compensation leads to injury
  1. Speed Strength, Explosive Strength, Reactive Ability:
    • These are all strength based qualities that are expressed as higher velocities than maximal strength. 
    • If your maximal strength is low then you will not be able to move lighter weights at optimal speeds. Which means the athlete will not be able to move him or herself at optimal speeds

These are some of the qualities the high school athlete must address and train to varying degrees depending upon their sport. The reality is that the vast majority of high school athletes are not strong enough to optimize their potential in high school. If playing sports beyond high school is the goal then they need to commit themselves to a year round program to best prepare themselves for the demands that will be placed upon them from a training and competition perspective.

Female Athletes: Sufficient Strength 

female high school athlete maximum strength

Strength is the foundation of the pyramid that will allow other specific performance qualities to be built upon. The height of the pyramid is only as wide as the base. Not all bases need to be created equal. For example when our female high school athletes reach 150-175% of their body weight on the bar for whatever exercise best suits their needs (typically some variation of squat or deadlift) they have sufficient strength to be as good as they need to be at their sport. We have plenty of young ladies who can lift twice their bodyweight. After they have reached the necessary strength level for their given position and sport it allows us to focus our intentions more concisely on other qualities to continue to optimize their abilities. 

This is not to suggest we don’t train multiple qualities and exclusively train strength but that certainly is not the case. 

However, the way in which we choose to stress our athletes depends upon what qualities are most advantageous for them to develop in route maximizing performance and staying as healthy as possible. Our second and third year athletes who have gained enough maximal strength get stressed differently than our new comers do. By maintaining and making smaller incremental jumps in our athletes’ progress in maximal strength it frees up more energy for them to develop more speed, mobility, and power specifically.

Male Athletes: Sufficient Strength

high school male athlete maximum strength

Each sport comes with its own demands placed upon the body. Our lacrosse athletes need to be able demonstrate more maximal strength than our baseball players do, but not quite as much as some of our football players. While there are differences in the developmental principle for every person the general quality of strength is unavoidably necessary. Since, it is a foundational quality we have set a strong base from which to build regardless of specific demands within each position and sport. 

Once our male athletes reach twice their body weight on the bar their relative strength is sufficient to be able build nearly all other qualities necessary to compete at a very high level within their sport. This level of strength provides significant decrease in injury risk as they are much more equipped to handle higher forces and stress coming into their body. 

Our training process is one of constant evaluation and feedback loops of information. We do have certain values for different qualities such as presented in regards to maximal strength for all of our athletes. This gives us the chance as coaches to be able to better understand how to pull the most out of our athletes in route to getting them where they need to go physically. 

Let’s use a baseball/ softball player for example. Baseball and softball are high velocity/power sports. Our athletes in these sports have to be able to create a lot of force but it needs to happen very abruptly. If our baseball/softball players are not strong enough then a top priority is getting stronger, because if you cannot create a lot of force period then you won’t be able to create a lot of force quickly. While training the baseball/ softball athlete we must also keep in mind that a sufficiently strong athlete in this sport who does not have function in their shoulder, elbow, or back will simply be a strong presence watching a lot of innings. The primary goal is to keep the kids on the field and give them the best chance at success once that occurs. The considerations made for our athletes are far too many to dive into within this article, but what we do know is that our athletes develop a strong stable foundation built in strength and function.

Build YOUR Strength with Ohio Athletic Performance

At Ohio Athletic Performance, we emphasize tailoring strength training to fit the specific demands of each sport. We aim for athletes to be “strong enough” rather than pushing them towards generic maximums and extremes. If sheer strength was the sole metric for sport success, then NBA and NFL teams would be filled with bodybuilders and powerlifters. While powerlifters might squat over 1,000 pounds as that’s their sport’s objective, NFL players—despite their immense size and strength—squat significantly less. Their training is meticulously designed to match the unique requirements of their game. (It’s also worth mentioning, the video of Chubb was recorded right after the season concluded. Could he have squatted 675 lb. without training throughout the season? Absolutely not. In-season training is crucial to maintain the attributes you worked so hard to develop during the off-season.)

In all of our sports performance training programs, our strategy is rooted in extensive research and an understanding of the performance needs of athletes. We don’t just offer training; we offer expertise, guidance, and a holistic program for sports performance and athletic development. Let’s get to work.

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