Strength Development and Training for the Athletic Population

28 Dec Strength Development and Training for the Athletic Population

The development of strength within the entire kinetic chain is integral for the execution of biomechanically efficient movement patterns in sport. Limitations in terms of stability, strength, or endurance within the musculature of the entire kinetic chain can severely hamper the ability of an athlete to execute proficiently the movement patterns associated within their sport of competition. “Functional” strength developed from feet to fingertips within the kinetic chain is essential for the athlete as this will provide the foundation by which; movement patterns are performed efficiently, ground reaction forces generated, power development occurs, the ability to accelerate, reduce the chance of injury, and maintain high levels of performance for an entire competitive cycle.

The development of functional strength and endurance within the kinetic chain is achieved through the implementation of an integrated strength training program incorporating multi-planar, kinesthetically challenging, cross-specific, and progressive training modalities. Over time, the implementation of these types of training modalities will increase the stabilization, strength, and endurance capacities of the entire kinetic chain for the athlete.

Stability is defined as the ability of any system to remain unchanged or aligned in the presence of outside forces. Development of stability within the kinetic chain is contingent upon muscular strength. Strength is defined as the ability of muscular system to exert the required levels of force to perform the functional movement at hand. Endurance is the ability of the kinetic chain to perform a repetitive movement pattern without neuromuscular fatigue. The process by which stability, strength, and endurance are created within the kinetic chain is through a Functional Strength Training Program.

A functional strength training program consists of an integrated series of training modalities utilized to facilitate development of the required levels of stability, strength, and endurance within the musculature of the kinetic chain for optimal functioning of the athlete. Functional strength training programs for the majority of sports are multi-planar, multi-faceted, proprioceptively enriched, integrated, progressive, and cross specific in nature. It is through the implementation of this type of training program by which the athlete can improve neuromuscular control, facilitate balanced muscular functioning, increase stabilization strength, develop muscular endurance, maximize power production, create efficiency within the mobility-stability pattern of human movement, reduce the chance of injury, and ultimately improve performance.

Functional Strength Training Principles and Guidelines

The musculature system operates in multiple planes of motion with concentric, eccentric, and isometric musculature contractions to create integrated functional movement. A major component in creating efficient movement patterns in the kinetic is the development muscular strength. As stated previously, strength is the capacity of the muscular system to exert the required amount of force to complete the functional movement at hand.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine strength can be delineated into several different categories based upon contractile velocities, training adaptation, force velocity curves, and physiological variables. Strength can be delineated into the following sub-categories: Limit strength, maximal strength, endurance strength, stabilization strength, and functional strength.

Limit Strength

Limit strength is the maximum force the muscular system can produce in a single contraction. Kinetic chain dysfunctions, neural inhibition, and muscular imbalances decrease the ability to achieve limit strength in the majority of the population.

 Maximal Strength

Maximal strength is the greatest amount of force a muscle(s) can produce in a single effort notwithstanding the rate of force production. Deficiencies in either, or both, intra-muscular coordination and inter-muscular coordination are limiting factors in maximal strength outputs.

Endurance Strength

Endurance strength is the ability of the muscular system to produce force over an extended period of time. Development of the oxidative qualities of Type I muscle fibers in conjunction with increasing the force outputs of Type II muscles fibers is necessary in the development of endurance strength.

 Stabilization Strength

Stabilization strength is the ability of the muscular system to provide optimal posture control and stabilization of the articular system during functional movement patterns. Developing the stabilizers, agonists, antagonists, and neutralizers surrounding the joint structures of the articular system is a major component in the development of stabilization strength.

 Functional Strength

Functional strength is the ability of the muscular system to produce and reduce force efficiently during the execution of the integrated functional movement patterns of the kinetic chain. Functional strength requires development of the entire muscular system of the kinetic chain with multi-planar, progressively challenging, kinesthetically enriched, and cross-specific training modalities.

The development of strength and the sub-categories of strength within the kinetic chain requires adherence to specified training principles and guidelines. Knowledge of these principles will provide the athlete the ability to implement strength training strategies to advance the proficiency at which the kinetic chain has the ability to execute the requirements of their chosen sport optimally.

 Muscle Contractile Range

Integrated functional movement of the kinetic chain occurs through the process of force production, force reduction, and stabilization by the muscular system. The process by which the neuromuscular system creates forces, decreases force, and develops stabilization is through concentric, eccentric, and isometric neuromuscular contractions. A comprehensive functional strength program should consist of modalities developing the entire aforementioned contractile range of the muscular system.

Systematic Training

A comprehensive strength program should follow a systemic and structured approach to the development of strength within the musculature system. The processes by which this goal is achieved is through sequential training stages, where modalities are implemented in a progressive manner to continually challenge the physical qualities of the kinetic chain.

Sequence Continuum 

The development of stabilization, strength, and endurance within the musculature of the kinetic chain requires adherence to a system of progressively challenging the neuromuscular system with the appropriate training modality for the athlete. This systematic progression of training modalities creates maximal training response within the kinetic chain. A progressive and sequenced training continuum for most athletes typically begins with stabilization training, progresses to strength and endurance exercises, and is completed with power development.

 Integrated Movement Training

The goal of within the implementation of functional strength training modalities is to provide the kinetic chain with proprioceptively rich and challenging exercises. Training modalities and exercises for muscular development should integrate the entire muscular system utilizing exercises that are: 1) Multi-planar, 2) incorporate the entire contractile range of muscular system, 3) consist of varying muscular firing rates, and 4) include manipulation of multiple training variables (load, intensity, duration).

Loading Parameters for Strength Training

Integrated functional strength training entails the utilization of multiple modalities in the process of overloading the neuromuscular system of the kinetic chain. The utilization of multiple types of external resistance challenging both the neural and muscular system creates optimal adaptation of the within the muscular system.

Repetition Continuum

The repetition continuum indicates adaptation within the musculature system is dependent on the load and training intensity. Increased loads with lower repetition schemes constitute the development of strength, whereas lighter training loads with a higher repetition scheme creates endurance within the neuromuscular system (Thomas Baechle, Editor, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning).

Potentiation Effect

The potentiation effect is based on research indicating the combination of functional strength training in conjunction with power exercises results in the greatest recruitment of Type IIB muscles fibers. The benefit of this training mode is improved power outputs and overall increases in the rate of force development within the kinetic chain.

 Functional Strength Training Program Design Guidelines

Performance and corrective exercise for sport is predicated upon a systematic approach where the strength and conditioning coach first identifies the kinetic chain dysfunction, next creates a plan to address dysfunction/performance, and finally implements the corrective and performance training program.

The process by which stabilization, strength, endurance, and power is developed within the musculature of the kinetic chain is through an integrated series of modalities. The athlete must understand it is not one type of training or group of exercises through which the musculature of the kinetic chain is developed for sport. It is through a comprehensive series of differing types of training modalities this goal is achieved.

It is through this integrated approach to training by which the athlete can develop the required neuromuscular efficiency, stability, strength, endurance, and power requirements of the muscular system required for their sport of choice. The processes and training systems by which these fundamental capacities of strength are develop within the kinetic chain for the sport vary. The most common strength training systems for the sport are the: Circuit System, Complex System, Multi Set System, Push-Pull System, PMRS System, and Stack System.

Circuit System

A circuit training system consists of a series of specific exercises performed consecutively in order. The circuit system is a very beneficial training mode in the development of strength endurance within the kinetic chain.

 Complex System

Complex training consists of a specified number of strength based exercise sets performed immediately before a specific number of plyometric/olympic based sets for power development. For example, 3 sets of barbell front squats followed by 3 sets of box jumps. Current research indicates complex training is extremely effective in the development of power outputs from the kinetic chain.

Contrast System

A contrast system of training is similar to complex training but differs in program set up. Contrast training consists of a single strength training exercise performed immediately before an individual plyometric exercise. For example, a single set of barbell front squats followed immediately with little or no rest by a box jump. Current research supports contrast training as very effective in the development of power development within the neuromuscular system.

Multi Set System

A multi set system entails 2-5 sets of an individual exercise performed with the same load for each exercise set. The multi set system is very beneficial in hypertrophy and maximal strength based training programs.

Push-Pull System

 The push-pull system incorporates the pairing of a lower body orientated exercise followed immediately by an upper body based exercise. For example, a barbell dead lift paired with a barbell bench press. The push-pull system is a very beneficial system to utilize in the development of functional strength within the kinetic chain.

PMRS System

The PMRS (position, movement, resistance, speed) system is based on research from Performance Dr. Tom House of the University of Southern California. The system is based upon the principle of blending basic exercise progressions with advanced motor learning techniques. The benefits of the system are kinetic chain development in conjunction with athletic skill improvement.

 Stack System

The stack system incorporates multiple sets of a single exercise with an increase in load within an ascending progression. For example, a barbell squat where the load for set number 1 is 200 lbs., set number 2 increases to 215 lbs., and set number 3 the load is again increased to 225 lbs. The stack system is often utilized in conjunction with a push-pull system and is advantageous in the development of functional and maximal strength within the kinetic chain.

Program Design Guidelines

Integrated functional strength training for sport is predicated upon developing the proper levels of neuromuscular efficiency, strength, and endurance for execution of a biomechanically efficient movement patterns, power development, and injury prevention. It is not only important for the athlete to understand the differing types of strength and training systems for sport, but in addition the process by which to these training programs are designed for optimal results.

Program design for the sport  is based upon scientific research in which a systematic approach within the strength and conditioning program produces the greatest effect and benefit to the athlete. This systematic approach is based upon an integrated training model where the strength and conditioning coach manipulates acute training variables with functional training modalities and exercises in order to produce physiological adaptations within the kinetic chain.

Training Adaptation

 Training adaptations within a strength and conditioning program for the athlete are determined by the manipulation of acute training variables. Based upon modifications in the training variables of repetitions, sets, intensity, and duration the strength and conditioning coach can influence the adaptations of the kinetic chain at a cellular level. These adaptations can be in the form of increased neuromuscular power, strength, hypertrophy, and/or endurance.

Acute Training Variables

The acute training variables: Repetitions, sets, intensity, volume, and duration directly affect the outcome of a training program. The athlete will have specific training adaptations within the goals of a conditioning program requiring the modification of these training variables. During program design the strength and conditioning coach must remember that all acute training variables are interdependent. In addition, an inverse relationship exists between repetitions and intensity, where an increase in intensity requires a reduction in the number of repetitions for a given exercise.

Repetition schemes within a training program are directly related to physiological adaptations within the neuromuscular system. (Thomas Baechle, Editor, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning). Strength endurance adaptations are achieved with a repetition range of 12-25 at a 50-70% intensity of an individual’s one repetition maximum. Hypertophy requires a repetition range of 8-12 repetitions at an intensity of 70-80%. Neuromuscular strength utilizes a repetition scheme of 5 to 8 at an intensity level of 80-90%, and power is trained with a scheme of 1-3 repetitions at an intensity level of 90-100%.

As stated previously, a set is series of repetitions performed consecutively. The number of sets performed within a given exercise, exercises, or entire training session directly affects the volume and intensity of the overall conditioning program. Additionally, an inverse relationship exists between sets, repetitions, and intensity. An increase in intensity often times necessitates an increase in the number of sets at a lower repetition range. According the National Academy of Sports Medicine neuromuscular adaptations for power requires 4-8 sets of 1-5 repetitions, strength incorporates 3-4 sets with a repetition base of five to eight, and strength endurance utilizes 2-3 sets at 15-25 repetitions per set.

Intensity is the amount of work for a specific exercise, group of exercises, or an entire training program. It is an acute training variable inversely related to repetitions and typically measured as a percentage of a one repetition maximum within a specified exercise. Program or exercise intensity can be modified by load, volume, frequency, and/or duration. Intensity is best measured through sets and repetitions to be performed, and directly affects training adaptations within a conditioning program. Power development within the kinetic chain is best developed at a training intensity of 90-100% of maximum. Strength development within occurs at a training intensity of 80-90%, and strength endurance between 50-70% of maximum Thomas Baechle, Editor, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning).

Volume is defined as the total amount of work performed in a given exercise, exercises, or entire training program. This variable directly affects intensity and the overall outcome of any training program. Volume is based on individual characteristics, goals, and training experience. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine adaptations within the neuromuscular system occurs with specified training volumes measured by the number of sets and repetitions of the entire training program. Power development within the kinetic chain increases through a total volume of 12-20 (sets x repetitions). Strength increases within the kinetic chain with a total training volume of 18-24 (sets x repetitions), and strength endurance at a training volume of 36-75  (sets x repetitions).

Duration is the rest interval between each exercise within a single workout. The rest interval between sets of a given exercise or exercises will directly affect the intensity of a training program and neuromuscular adaptations within the kinetic chain. The channel by which duration affects training intensity is connected to the energy system utilized during the training session. The muscular system utilizes ATP and CP as the main energy source during exercise. The rest interval between sets will determine to what level these substrates are replenished within the muscular system. A shorter rest interval between sets will result in less substrate replenishment thus inducing increased lactic acid buildup, fatigue, and reductions in neuromuscular control, strength, endurance, and power.

Research indicates a rest interval of 30 seconds provides approximately a 50% recovery in ATP and CP substrate levels. This level of substrate replenishment coincides with a 1:2 work/rest ratio, which is ideal for hypertrophy development within the muscular system (Thomas Baechle, Editor, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning). An increase in the rest interval to 2-3 minutes equates to a work/rest ratio conducive to strength augmentation in the muscular system, and 3-4 minutes for power development.

The strength coach during program design must keep in mind duration directly affects training goals and kinetic chain adaptations. In addition individual factors with their athletic population should be factored in as it relates to this training variable. The athlete’s training experience, age, and recoverability will be pertinent factors relative the acute training variable of duration.

Outside of adherence to acute training variables, the final factor for the athlete and coach to consider during program design is exercise selection. Exercise selection is directly connected the training goals of the program, aptitude and training experience of the client, the principles of cross-specificity, progression, adaptation, individualization, the mobility/stability pattern of human movement, and the involvement of a periodization schedule. Adhering to these guidelines the athlete will have the opportunity to develop a comprehensive strength and conditioning program addressing both the physical requirements of their sport and any kinetic chain dysfunction affecting performance and leading to injury.


The modalities and exercises chosen for the development of functional strength should be done in accordance to the requirements of the sport, the assessment findings of the athlete, and in adherence to the training principles of strength development within the kinetic chain. Each individual athlete will have differing needs and requirements to be met within these goals thus requiring alterations within exercise selection. During program design keep in mind the overall goal of the training program is the development of neuromuscular control, stability, strength, endurance, and power within the muscular system specific to the requirements of the athlete’s chosen sport.

About Performance Coach Sean Cochran: Sean Cochran, one of the most recognized performance coaches in sports today. A career spanning positions with 2 major league baseball organizations, over 10 years on the PGA Tour and work with top professionals including three-time Masters, PGA, and British Open Champion Phil Mickelson, future hall of fame Trevor Hoffman, and Cy Young award winner Jake Peavy provides Sean a proven track record of success.  He has been involved in the production of numerous performance videos and authored books including; Performance Golf Fitness, Complete Conditioning for Martial Arts, and Fit to Hit. He has been a presenter of educational seminars for numerous organizations including the world renown Titleist Performance Institute.


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