• Introduction
  • What is strength in sports exactly?
  • Strength can be divided into muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy
  • Why are some athletes built stronger than others?
  • Strength can be trained very effectively regardless of your background
  • Benefits of strength in sports
  • Final thoughts
  • Sources

Introduction

So you want to be stronger? You know, going out to the field knowing that everyone else is intimidated simply due to your presence and physical prowess. You know you are physically on a whole other level and winning is just a matter of time for you. Seems like a pretty good goal, right?

If this is your goal, you’ve come to the right place. Sure, the competition is fierce at the very top and the differences in technique, skill and fitness components between athletes become smaller and smaller. But, there is still a way to stand out in the top 1% of athletes. And that’s where proper strength training comes in! 

This is also the reason why we’ve created this article. We want you to have all of the necessary information to know what makes a stronger athlete. If you want, you can also skip ahead and go straight to our strength training post. We’ve even created a few sample training routines for you to try out.

What is strength in sports exactly?

Strength in sports can be described as the ability to produce as much force as possible in a single movement. So, where power would describe how fast you can produce a submaximal (below your maximum) muscle contraction, strength focuses on the maximum amount of force you can ultimately produce. 

While strength and power are often confused with each other, they still have their own unique properties and should be trained differently. One thing to keep in mind is that it takes a relatively long time (0,5s-2,5s) for your muscles to reach their maximum strength output. Because of this, you may never even reach it in a competitive scenario. But that doesn’t mean that you should neglect it in your training.

As strength training increases your maximum strength, it will naturally make your submaximal (below your maximum) strength levels better as well. Thus, your performance under your maximum effort will become easier and more effective which can easily lead to better athletic results. After all, most sports rely on these short bursts of submaximal muscle contractions anyway.

”If you are able to utilize strength in your performance better than everyone else, you are already at an advantage when it comes to athletic ability.”

Strength (along with endurance and sports-related skill) also forms a foundation on which you can build your specialized sports-specific skills and athletic components. The stronger and more powerful you are, the more likely you are to come out on top against your competition. Thus, if you are able to utilize strength in your performance better than everyone else, you are already at an advantage when it comes to athletic ability.

Having a good level of strength is a vital factor in further skill development as well as injury prevention.

Strength can be divided into muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy

Strength in sports can be divided into two different categories; muscular strength, often referred to as maximum strength, and muscular hypertrophy. While they are slightly different, both of them play a vital role in strength development. They also form the basic components of fitness together with flexibility, endurance and body composition. 

Muscular strength describes your neuromuscular system’s (muscle and its connecting nerves) ability to recruit muscles and muscle groups to produce the highest contraction possible. It is often trained with low repetitions and very heavy resistance. 

Muscular hypertrophy means the strength and size of the muscle tissue itself. Thus, training for muscle hypertrophy aims to increase the amount of contractable muscle mass which creates a stronger contraction. 

If you want to look at the whole “muscular strength vs. muscular hypertrophy” debate, just look at the differences between bodybuilders and Olympic weightlifters. While they are mechanically different and rely on different motor skills, they still have some similarities in performance – both of them rely heavily on strength. However, bodybuilders focus on building muscle mass whereas weightlifters are looking to increase the amount of weight they can ultimately lift. The reason for that is this:

Muscular strength - recruiting muscles through the nervous system to produce force

Muscular hypertrophy - muscle size and it’s strength properties

While muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy can be seen as two separate components of overall strength, it is important to remember that they still support each other rather than fight against each other. In fact, oftentimes it’s a good idea to train both of them side-by-side. Eventually, you can also focus on either one depending on whether you want to increase muscle mass or stay both slim and strong.

Here’s a little comparison chart between muscular strength and muscular hypertrophy.

Muscular Strength


Relies on muscle recruitmentAnaerobic energy productionIncreases strength without adding muscle massRequires a good strength foundation to train furtherImproves rather quickly

Muscular Hypertrophy


Relies on contractable muscle massAnaerobic energy productionIncreases strength and muscle massRequires a good strength foundation to train furtherImproves rather slowly

If you want to know more about muscular strength or muscular hypertrophy and what they can do for your performance, we’ve made more in-depth articles about them. Just click either of the buttons below to know more. If you want to skip the theory pages altogether, you can go straight to our strength training page.

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Why are some athletes built stronger than others?

Your training background is one of the biggest factors in strength development. Not only does it increases the actual strength levels of your muscles, but it also improves your coordination and body mechanics, leading to better performance. Of course, there are a few genetic factors that have an effect on your strength levels as well. These include neuromuscular efficiency and excitability, muscle size and composition as well as anatomy.

Neuromuscular efficiency refers to the nervous system’s ability to recruit the right muscles at the right time to produce movement. The better your neuromuscular efficiency is, the more accurate and powerful each movement will be.

Muscle size (hypertrophy) describes the size of the muscle itself. The bigger the muscle, the bigger the contraction. Muscle composition, on the other hand, describes the amount of slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers in the body. Slow-twitch muscle fibers have slower force production but great energy efficiency whereas fast-twitch muscle fibers offer more power at the expense of endurance capabilities.

Anatomy refers to the physical structure of the human body. In a strength context, the longer the limbs are, the bigger the contraction needs to be to produce movement. Thus, some body types can excel in strength-related activities while others may be better in endurance activities.

Strength can be trained very effectively regardless of your background

Genetics is not going to determine whether you can increase your strength through hard work. It is entirely possible to become a stronger athlete if you train hard and do it the right way. This means performing exercises with more weight than endurance or power training. In fact, strength training requires working close to the maximum effort your muscles can produce.

For maximum strength training, you also don’t need to perform as many repetitions because your goal is to recruit as many motor units (muscles and their connecting nerves) as possible. This enhanced neuromuscular connection helps you create a stronger muscle contraction with less effort. So, more weight and fewer repetitions to keep things both challenging and safe.

An enhanced neuromuscular connection is also the reason why beginners can see great results in the first few weeks of strength training. This is not because your muscles grow stronger or bigger in size – it’s all about how well you can recruit the muscles needed for a specific movement. Of course, as your training continues you’ll see results in muscle mass which also translates to better strength and performance.

”You may never even reach maximum muscle contraction in a competitive context.”

You can also focus on muscular hypertrophy training, which utilizes slightly smaller weights than maximum strength training with a few more repetitions. This sort of training aims to overload the muscles and cause micro-tears inside the muscle tissue itself. As your body repairs the damages inside the muscles, they become bigger in size. This, on the other hand, creates a stronger contraction leading to better strength output.

As you can see, their biggest difference is the amount of weight used and the number of repetitions in each set. In order to get the most benefit of strength training, you have to think about what muscle groups are used the most in your own sport. Once you’ve figured this out you can adjust your training routine to support your own goals.

One of the most important aspects in strength training is to build a foundation for sports-specific training - especially power training.

Benefits of strength in sports

We’ve probably all heard of the benefits of strength for our overall health; it maintains muscle mass and bone health, promotes healthy body composition, improves your cardiovascular fitness and helps prevent injuries in many ways. It even has a positive effect on your mental health. While these are all great effects, we are not here for that. We’re here to know what it can do to your athletic performance.

Strength training can be especially beneficial in sports that rely on agility, acceleration, speed and ones that require the most powerful execution of a single movement. As we said earlier, the stronger your maximum is, the stronger your submaximal muscle work will be. In practice, this means that you’ll be able to produce a higher amount of force with less effort, making you both more powerful and more efficient. 

This is also the reason why strength training should be introduced into the training routines of nearly all court-based sports, water sports and track sports. You can even increase your muscle mass (hypertrophy) to better suit the position you play. For example, sometimes being bigger and more muscular can help you overpower your opponent. 

”Your ability to incorporate strength training into your own training can make or break your development as an athlete.”

However, strength training is important for endurance athletes as well. Since stronger muscles will also be able to provide a submaximal contraction with less work, your muscles will be under less strain on each step even during longer exercises. Thus, you’ll also use less energy as your distance gets greater. Efficient muscles are also able to use the oxygen in your blood better than weaker muscles. This means that exercise is less straining for your heart and lungs in the long run.

Lastly, strong muscles, ligaments and joints are able to endure more physical stress during exercise. This can significantly decrease your risk of injury and keep you healthy all season long.

Sure, strength training has a lot of benefits for nearly every athlete out there. But the way that you are able to incorporate it into your own training can make or break your development as an athlete. So, make sure that you plan your workouts to get the full benefits of strength training and stay free of injuries.

Here’s a quick recap of the benefits of strength in sports;

Enhances neuromuscular connection for both fast and slow muscle cells

Boosts growth hormones in your body (testosterone)

Enhances efficiency of a single movement

Increases muscle mass (hypertrophy)

Improves anaerobic energy production

Promotes healthy body composition

Reduces ground reaction forces

Reduces injury risk

Final thoughts

Whether you are a professional athlete or strive to be one, strength is one of the main components you need to take care of if you want to improve your performance. In fact, since strength helps create a foundation for physical activities, it may even be the most important component if you’re looking to improve your other athletic qualities.

Not only does strength have its place in sports and exercise, but it can also keep you free of injuries. Additionally, training for muscular hypertrophy can be used to significantly alter your physique which can also change your body composition in the process. You may even enjoy the muscle definition that you get through a proper training routine. This also reflects your mental wellbeing!

To have any sort of meaningful effect on your performance, you must remember the ”holy trinity” of training – nutrition, exercise and rest. So, if you want to continue developing as an athlete these factors need to be in balance. Get out there, have fun, practice and most importantly, listen to your body.

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

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