• Introduction
  • What is muscular strength in sports exactly?
  • The physiological factors of muscular strength training
  • Muscular strength training utilises both slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers
  • Consistent training yields the best results
  • Benefits of muscular strength in sports
  • Here’s how you train for muscular strength
  • Final thoughts

Introduction

There’s no question about it, sports and strength go hand in hand. If you want to become a better athlete, you must make sure you are physically strong to have both better performance as well as stay healthy in modern high-intensity sports. Muscular strength is one of the two strength components that athletes require for increased performance. In fact, muscular strength is the best option for you if you are looking to becoming stronger without added muscle mass.

When talking about strength, you might only think of high-intensity activities that require lifting heavy weights or going head-to-head with your opponent. However, that’s not entirely the case. You see, muscular strength is a vital building block of endurance as well. This is due to the fact that additional strength can provide more power on each step with less effort.

This article explains the basic mechanics of muscular strength and what makes it so important for athletes and active individuals alike. You can also head straight to our muscular strength training post if you want to know how to create your own training program. There are a few free samples too to get you started.

What is muscular strength in sports exactly?

Muscular strength or better known as maximum strength, describes working out with heavy weights that are close to your maximum. And, since you are physically performing at your limit this means that you can only do a few repetitions at a time. 

The goal of maximum strength training is to give the biggest stimulus to your muscles through your neuromuscular system. Thus, muscular strength focuses more on recruiting the muscle rather than trying to make the muscle itself bigger and stronger. Because that was muscular hypertrophy, remember?

Overall, your strength is related to two things;

  1. The strength of a single muscle cell (hypertrophy)
  2. Your ability to recruit motor units (muscle and its connecting nerves) to work together and at the same time

The amount of force your muscles can produce depends on how fast the movement is, what kind of joint angles you are working with and what kind of movement you are doing. 

For example, even though your goal is to lift a heavy weight as fast as possible, it may look painfully slow to everyone else. This is due to the fact that it takes some time for your neuromuscular system (muscles and their connecting nerves) to recruit more help from other motor units (a single motor neuron and the muscle fibres innervated by it). Even though the actual movement might seem slow, maximum strength training requires as big a contraction as possible. In fact, it is a prerequisite for increasing your strength in the first place.

Working with heavy weights stimulates both slow and fast motor units. Reducing the amount of weight will lead to faster repetitions and better fast motor unit recruitment.

The physiological factors of muscular strength

When you first start training for strength, you may see very sudden improvements in how well you can perform a certain exercise. This is considered to be a result of building stronger links between the nervous system and the muscles. And, since the central nervous system is able to recruit motor units more efficiently, you’ll be able to contract muscles in the correct sequence.

This learning process leads to increased muscular activation, enhanced performance and better muscle memory in a very short period of time. Additionally, since this learning process is a result of improved neuromuscular (muscles and their connecting nerves) activity, your muscles won’t see a significant change in size or strength.

This is where muscular strength training comes into play. It aims to train your muscles to become stronger without added muscle mass. In a way, it teaches your body to fire different amounts of motor units at different times and at different frequencies. This results in effective and efficient muscle contractions that provide the ultimate athletic advantage.

Muscular strength utilizes both slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers

Since most strength training relies on heavy resistance training, it is often considered to only focus on fast-twitch muscle fibers (type IIa & type IIb/IIx) that produce a lot of force anaerobically (without oxygen) in a short amount of time but with great energy expenditure.

However, this is not entirely the case. You see, the body will fire both slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers depending on the intensity of the exercise. And, since strength training uses very heavy resistance, your body will try to utilize every available muscle fiber to produce force.

On the other hand, if you reduce the amount of weight you are working with, the speed of each repetition will increase. Thus, leading to better recruitment of fast motor units. That is why muscular strength training is often seen as a starting point towards power training and should be performed as fast as possible. After all, you are training your muscles to contract as quickly and as strong as possible.

Consistent training yields the best results

As you continue your muscular strength training you’ll begin to see some physical changes as well. While your strength levels tend to plateau after a certain period, you can still maintain progress with a well-balanced training routine. Consistent muscular strength training also increases muscle size but not nearly as much muscular hypertrophy training. In fact, after the initial strength boost you get from neuromuscular adaptations, the actual muscle size becomes a bigger factor in overall strength. Thus, if you want to improve your maximum strength, you need to focus on both muscular strength as well as muscular hypertrophy.

Another thing to keep in mind is that muscular strength tends to be very sports-specific, which means that athletes should train similar movement patterns and same muscle groups that they require in their own sport.

Muscular strength teaches your body to fire different amounts of motor units at different times and at different frequencies.

Benefits of muscular strength in sports

Muscular strength offers an impressive array of benefits to overall health. This includes better bone health, lower risk of injury and better cardiovascular fitness. It even promotes healthy body composition and mental health. As far as your athletic performance goes, increased muscular strength also offers multiple other benefits for your competitive advantage.

Muscular strength provides a great benefit in sports that require you to be as strong as possible without having a significant amount of muscle mass (hypertrophy). It is especially useful in situations that require quick accelerations, decelerations and agility. Muscular strength is also needed in sports that rely on a single powerful execution, making it a great choice for court-based sports, water sports as well as track-and-field sports.

"Muscular strength is especially useful in situations that require quick accelerations, decelerations and changes in direction."

Your speed and power are also strongly connected to how much force your muscles can ultimately produce. After all, the higher your maximum strength is, the higher your submaximal strength (below your absolute maximum) will be as well. This means that you’ll be able to perform more powerful movements with less effort and enhanced efficiency.

A common misconception is that muscular strength is only needed in high-intensity sports where athletes are performing at near maximum strength levels. However, this is not entirely the case. Muscular strength is crucial for endurance athletes that need efficiency and power on each step during longer performances. You see, stronger muscles are more energy-efficient and able to use oxygen better than weaker muscles.

Lastly, muscular strength can significantly reduce your risk of injury. This is due to the fact that stronger muscles helps you withstand the forces against them during high-intensity exercise.

Share this post

Strength training is based on five basic principles; overloading, progression, specified training, individualised training and rest

Here’s how you train for muscular strength

Strength training is based on five basic principles; overloading, progression, specified training, individualized training and rest. When balanced out correctly these form the basis for strength training and athletic development for a long and healthy career. 

Overloading the muscle describes training at a level of intensity that starts the body’s adaptation mechanism. The purpose of this mechanism is to repair the damage caused by heavy training in your muscles. And, since the human body has the tendency to overcompensate the repair process, your muscles will become stronger than before. This is called supercompensation and it is the basis for any sort of strength training. However, it is important to remember that this repair process requires time. If your recovery period is too short your performance will go back to the level it was before. 

Progression is often used as a systematic approach to constantly overload your muscles. You see, your body will adapt to working against a certain resistance. That’s why you need to keep adding weight in order to progress and have an impact on your overall performance. One thing to keep in mind is that your body needs a variety of different stimuli to keep progressing. So, change your workouts and keep the body guessing!

"Strength training is based on five basic principles; overloading, progression, specified training, individual training and rest."

Specified training means training your muscles in a way you want them to work. As an example, if you want to become stronger you need to work out in a way that will give you that result. In this case, doing more repetitions is useless if there isn’t enough weight.

Strength training also has to be individualized to serve the requirements and needs of your goals. Every athlete is different. This is why you should have a personalized training program to accommodate your specific needs and make sure you progress in a safe environment.

Rest is the final principle of strength training. It is vital to notice that after a heavy strength training routine your body is not ready to receive a similar stimulus for the next 48 hours. However, after 72 hours your strength level will continue to decrease. That is why you should perform maximum strength training once or twice a week to keep your strength levels up. On the other hand, there are plenty of individual differences in how fast an athlete can recover.

We’ve also written an in-depth post about muscular strength training filled with valuable information. If you want to know how to create your own workout program or take a look at our selection of free samples, go ahead and click the button below.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re a recreational sports enthusiast or a professional athlete, there’s no denying that muscular strength can play a big part in your overall performance. Not only does it provide a much needed boost for your performance, it also makes sure that you stay healthy all season long.

If you are serious about training your muscular strength, you must plan your workout routines accordingly. However, as strength training requires heavier resistance you also need a good strength foundation to further improve it. So, start off with lower weights and more repetitions before fully committing to pure muscular strength training.

Training isn’t the only thing you need to keep in mind if you want to become stronger, however. You must also make sure to maintain a balanced diet and remember to let your body rest to have the biggest impact on your performance. Otherwise you may end up doing more damage to your body rather than improving it.

But before you go, here’s a quick recap of muscular strength in sports:

  • Relies on the neuromuscular system to recruit as many motor units as possible
  • Makes you stronger without added muscle mass (hypertrophy)
  • Boosts testosterone
  • Reduces injury risk
  • Keeps your bones strong
  • Promotes healthy body composition
  • Helps maintain mental health
  • Anaerobic energy production without lactate
  • Often utilises traditional weightlifting methods with heavy resistance

Did you learn anything new about muscular strength in sports? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources

  • Ahtiainen, J.P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W.J. & Häkkinen, K. (2002) Acute hormonal and neuromuscu­lar re­sponses and recovery to forced vs. maximum repeti­tions multiple resistance exercises. International Journal of Sport Medicine. Volume 24, Issue (6). pp. 410-418.
  • Atha, J. (1981) Strengthening muscle. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews. American College of Sports Medicine. Volume 9, Issue (1). pp.1-74.
  • Baechle, T.E. & Earle, R.W. (2003)  Essentials of strength training and conditioning. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
  • Connolly, D.A.J., Sayers, S. & McHugh, M.P. (2003) Treatment and Prevention of delayed onset Muscle Soreness. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 17, Issue (1), pp.197-208.
  • Deschenes, M.R. & Kraemer, W.J. (2002) Performance and Physiologic Adaptations to Resistance Training. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Volume 81, Issue (11), pp. S3-S6.
  • Guyton, A. C. & Hall, J.E. (2000) Textbook of Medical Physiology. Philadelphia. W. B. Saunders Company, 1-1064.
  • Hamill, J., Knutzen, K.M. & Derrick, T.R. (2014) Biomechanical Basis of Human Movement. 4th Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Philadelphia, PA.
  • Fleck, S.J. & Kraemer W.J. (2004) Designing resistance training programs, 2nd edition. Human Kinetics Publishers, Champaign, Illinois.
  • Häkkinen, K. (1990) Voimaharjoittelun perusteet, vaikutusmekanismit, harjoitusmenetelmät ja ohjelmointi. Gummerus kirjapaino OY, Jyväskylä, pp. 5-244.
  • Häkkinen, K. (1989) Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations during strength and power training. A review. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Volume 29, Issue (1). pp. 9-26.
  • Häkkinen, K., Alen, M., Kraemer, W.J., Gorostiaga, E., Izquierdo, H., Rusko, H., Mikkola, J., Häkkinen, A., Valkeinen, H., Kaarakainen, E., Romu, S., Erola, V., Ahtiainen., J. & Paavolainen. (2003) Neuromuscular adaptations during concurrent strength and endurance training versus strength training. European Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 89, Issue (1), pp. 42-52.
  • Häkkinen, K., Myllylä, E. (1990) Acute effects of muscle fatigue and recovery on force production and relaxation in endurance, power and strength athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Volume 30, Issue (1). pp. 5-12.
  • Häkkinen, K., Pakarinen, M., Alen, M., Kauhanen, H. & Komi, P.H. (1988) Neuromuscular and hormonal adaptations in athletes to strength training in two years. Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 65, Issue (6). pp. 2406-2412.
  • Jones, T., Howatspon, G., Russell, M. & French D.N. (2013) Performance and neuromuscular adaptations following differing ratios of concurrent strength and endurance training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 27, Issue (12). pp. 3342-3351.
  • Kraemer, W.J., Ratamess, N.A. & French D.N. (2002) Resistance training for health and performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports. Volume 1, Issue (3), pp.165-171.
  • McArdle, W.D., Katch, F.I. & Katch, V.L. (1996) Exercise Physiology: Energy, nutrition and human performance. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, ML.
  • McCarthy, J.P., Myron, A., Pozniak, A. & Agre, J.C. (2002) Neuromuscular adaptations to concurrent strength and endurance training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Volume 34, No (3). pp. 511-519.
  • Miles, M. (1994). Exercise-induced muscle pain, soreness, and cramps. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. Volume 34, Issue (3). pp. 203-216.
  • Nummela, A. (1997) Energia-aineenvaihdunta. In Mero, A., Nummela, A. & Keskinen, K. (ed.) Nykyaikainen urheiluvalmennus. Mero Oy, Jyväs­kylä, pp. 119-126.
  • Ozmun, J.C., Mikesky, A.E. & Surburg, P.R. (1994) Neuromuscular adaptations following prepubescent strength training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Volume 26, Issue (4), pp. 510-514.
  • Siff, M. (2000) Biomechanical foundations of strength and power training. In
  • Zatsiorsky, V. (ed.) Biomechanics in Sport: Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention Blackwell Scientific Publications, Cambridge Uni­versity Press. pp.103-139.
  • Stone, M.H., O’Bryant, H.S., McCoy, L., Coglianese, R. Lehmkuhl, M. & Schilling, B. (2003) Power and maximum strength relationships during performance of dynamic and static weighted jumps. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 17, Issue (1). pp.140-147.
  • Stone, M.H., Sanborn, K., O’Bryant, H.,Hartman, M., Stone, M.E., Proulx, P., Ward, B. & Hruby, J. (2003) Maximum Strength-Power-Performance Relationships in Collegiate Throwers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 17, Issue (4). pp. 739-745.
  • Tesch, P.A. (1987) Acute and long-term metabolic changes consequent to heavy-resistance exercise. In Marconnet, P. & Komi, P.V. (ed.) Muscular Function in Exercise and Training. Karger, Switzerland, pp. 67-89.
  • Tesch, P.A., Colliander, E.B. & Kaiser, P. (1986) Muscle Metabolism during intense, heavy-resistance exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 55, Issue (4). pp. 362-366.
  • Viru, A. & Viru, M. (1993) The specific nature of training on muscle: a review. Sports Medicine. Volume 4, Issue (1). pp. 79- 98.

Join our growing list of subscribers!

Stay informed about the latest in sports science and physical performance. Subscribe to our mailing list for the latest updates, posts, products and much more.