by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS
The establishment of strength is critical to athletic performance as it is a cardinal biomotor quality. Stronger athletes are typically faster and more explosive as they are able to absorb and generate more force. They are also better equipped to repel external forces imposed upon them in sports, thus enabling them to stave off injuries. For novice and intermediate athletes and lifters, the pursuit of strength is relatively straightforward as consistency and the incorporation of a form of progressive overload will deliver strength gains. For stronger athletes and lifters, their path to improved strength isn’t as linear as their lesser seasoned counterparts.
If the realm of athletic performance were a royal court, strength would be king. However, many athletes and lifters fall short of earning the shining crown of strength because they fall victim to novelty, temptation, and insufficient recovery.
If you’re an athlete or lifter at the proverbial fork in the road to strength and want to avoid taking the route to mediocrity, then immerse yourself in the suggestions below.
- Juggling too many physiological demands
People enjoy the camaraderie that boot camps and boxes provide, but strength training is not a team sport. Don’t let your skinny fat zealot friends tell you otherwise. For athletes, it’s a means to and end and for serious lifters and strength athletes, it’s an end in itself. Regularly participating in boot camps or in circuit training may hamper one’s strength building efforts. A recently published study by Cantrell and colleagues established that strength training in conjunction with anaerobic capacity work via sprint interval training does not deliver comparable gains in strength on the squat exercise to those who only engage in strength training (1). The interference effect which occurs when strength and energy systems are concurrently trained has been well documented. Concurrent training has been shown to reduce rate of force development, reduce motor unit recruitment and synchronization, as well as reducing intramuscular glycogen stores. The decrease of intramuscular glycogen upregulates adenosine monophosphate kinase while downregulating mTOR, mammalian target of rapamycin, which governs cell growth and proliferation and protein synthesis. The chief contention with enlisting in a boot camp, circuit training class, or adding a “CrossFit like” component to one’s training, is it causing a decrease in RFD, acutely and adaptatively, potentially setting the stage for injury.
- Consuming too much alcohol
Alcohol plays some mean tricks on one’s judgment. Threes become sixes and a 2:00 a.m. Taco Bell dinner magically becomes a prudent nutritional choice. Alcohol also plays some mean tricks on your body’s metabolism and enzymatic processes. Upon consumption, alcohol breaks down into acetate, which temporarily becomes the body’s primary source of fuel. Unused carbohydrates are stored as fat which is why most heavy drinkers possess a garment protruding paunch. Alcohol also impedes motor control, affecting strength, power, and coordinative abilities. Chronic consumption of alcohol can render long term effects on biomotor qualities. Those consuming alcohol are more susceptible to exercise induced anaphylaxis and asthma, arrythythmias, and malabsorption of thiamin, B12, folic acid, and zinc.
- Not getting enough sleep
The mantra of sleeping when you’re dead is often quipped by busy people or those who underestimate the power of sleep. Ascribing to that mantra works if you’re a high powered stock broker or meth addict. I’d posit that neither of them cares about strength. Sleep is inherently critical to health and performance. As our day draws to a close, our body’s physiological systems begin to slow down. As we unwind for the night, natural drowsiness commences. It’s at this point that our brain waves become more synchronous, which permit more relaxation. During the day, brain activity is essentially all over the place due to a varying degree of cognitive, sensory, and motor activities occurring throughout waking hours.
As soon as the brain waves have become more synchronous, the skeletal muscles begin to relax. As sleep progresses, the muscles fully relax and we begin slipping into periods of deeper sleep, also known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. It’s during these deep periods of sleep that growth hormone and testosterone are secreted in bountiful amounts. Those hormones as we know, are chiefly responsible for muscle growth and tissue repair. Also produced is erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates red blood cell production, thus enhancing circulatory functioning and providing athletes with more stamina.
Experts suggest that people shoot for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night with more sleep needed for athletes and those engaging in intense physical activity on a regular basis.
Erin Moffit and Jarrod Goldiner assisted with the research for this article.
- Cantrell, G.S., Schilling, B.K., Paquette, M.R., & Murlasits, Z. (2014). Maximal strength power, and aerobic endurance adaptations to concurrent strength and spring interval training. European Journal of Applied Physiology. [Epub ahead of print].