How Do We Know That Strength Training Works for Sports Performance?

From The Archives - I’m going back through the old blog and reposting some of the best articles.

Mike says he always enjoys my old man "when i was a boy" stories, so I am going to reminisce a little about the state of the art for strength training for high schoolers when I was a boy in the early 70s.

It was farm work. We didn't have a weight room. With very few exceptions, the best athletes at my small (400 students) high school were farm kids. They grew up doing chores in the morning, going to school in the day, sports practice after school and then chores when they got home. If you have never done farm work, it is hard, physical labor. These kids were strong. And they were, to paraphrase Alabama legend Bear Bryant, generally more agile, mobile and hostile than us town kids. Farm life just hardens you up.

So how does baling hay, carrying bags of feed, scooping out pig lots, wrangling cows and pigs and maintaining farm implements improve your football, basketball and track? (We didn't have HS baseball then, as Mike knows, because the equipment shed had burned down some years before and no one on the school board thought baseball was worth replacing.)

Well, I could ask the same question of weight room exercises. How in the world does squatting or cleaning or kettlebell swinging have anything to do improving sports performance? What metric can a strength coach use to determine if improvements in the weight room carryover to improvements in the sport?

Here's the thing, being generally stronger just works, whether it is attained in the weight room or on the family farm. Here's a personal example from when I was a high school kid. The last

few weeks of summer vacation before my junior year I spent in a semi trailer truck going from farm to farm helping the driver load leftover seed corn for DeKalb Hybrids. I had never been more miserable. The work was hot, heavy, sweaty, dusty, manual labor. The driver was not an obvious physical specimen, a 45 year old with a paunch, the father of a classmate. But he could huck those bags of corn all day long with seemingly no effort. I on the other hand could barely stay awake on the drive home at the of the day I was so tired.

When two a day football practices started, I hadn't really noticed much physical difference in myself. However I did notice that the kids who were knocking me around in scrimmages the two years before weren't all that enthusiastic to line up across from me anymore. Somehow, loading tons of 50lb bags of corn had improved my football performance. I overheard one of my teammate complaining to coach that I was hitting too hard. That made my season actually.

So get strong overall and let the sports practice sort it out.

"It’s not about the movements you choose to perform in the weight room. It’s about how your athletes perceive those movements when it comes time to’s not about the squat, or the clean, or the bench press—it’s about how those weight room tools will improve how your athletes move in competition, and what that increased physicality can do for their athletic career."

Any athlete can benefit from getting stronger. Strength, then, is the "raw material" for athletic success.

Randy Hauer