Strength. How do you define strength, especially when you’re an athlete? Do you envision someone hoisting a barbell loaded with a heavyweight, or an internationally-acclaimed weight-lifter heaving 350 pounds explosively? Can strength be categorized in such bland, stark categories, or it is more complex and nuanced that it appears to be? Let’s try and understand what strength often means in this context.
In terms of defining strength for athletes, we need to keep Newton’s second law of motion in mind. Strength, in a rudimentary way, is about the application of force. An athlete/trainee applies some sort of force to either hit the ground while donning active wear (running), a ball (football, squash, cricket, etc) or some kind of sports equipment or on their own body (boxing, swimming, etc).
If one were to think in terms of mass and magnitude, then the mass in this instance would be in the form of a ball, equipment, body weight, or weights on a barbell. As sportspersons do not have unlimited time to apply force, acceleration plays a seminal role here. The faster the acceleration, the greater the speed, the lesser the time. These factors, when amalgamated under unique circumstances, comprise of an athlete’s strength.
Why Physiology & Motor Control Matter
Now that we understand what strength is, the next important question is - where does it come from? There’s a myth that greater strength originates from bigger muscles. This is simply untrue, as the act of generating force in one’s body is the combination of muscle structure and neuromuscular control. While muscle strength is paramount, it is also important to have a certain kind of mental drive and determination to accomplish a certain physical feat. Also, strength differs as per slight changes in the Newtonic equation, as demonstrated as follows:
This can be understood as a basic muscular capability, wherein a forceful contraction is produced. It also heavily involves coordination between various muscle groups across several joints. So, what exactly is max strength? It is the amount of force that an athlete can generate, regardless of time constraints. If one were to understand this via an analogy- imagine a huge, industrial dump truck: it doesn’t move as fast as a normal truck but is able to move huge loads easily with the help of its horsepower.
Good sportsmanship hinges upon the ability to develop high levels of eccentric force with the help of actions such as landing smoothly after a jump, changing direction swiftly, winding up to throw a ball high up in the air, and a swinging a bat towards a certain trajectory. All of these actions are fundamentally eccentric in nature. In terms of analogy, eccentric strength is much like great brakes in a high-speed car.
Reactive strength is a combination of eccentric action and high rate of force development. Think in terms of rapid footwork, which is ideal if you’re wearing Azani shoes or a quick step to change directions during a game of tennis, or the quick jump of a player for a rebound. To understand this better, think of a motocross bike that is fast, unpredictable, nimble, and springy in nature.
Why Athletes Should Develop Strength That's Functional
Athletes and gym-goers, depending on their sports, and personal interests, develop their own kind of strength that helps provide zeal, enthusiasm, and resilience for staying fit and relentless improvement. A healthy mix-match of the above mentioned types of strength is a good strategy for belting out performances that are stellar and unparalleled!
Also, remember: apart from how many weights you can lift, strength also comes from within. Keep the determination alive!