Friday, February 22, 2013

What is it? - By Dave Durell

Originally posted on on August 24, 1999
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Many qualities, both physical and mental, go into the making of a successful athlete. Two of the most important physical qualities are strength and skill. Since all sports require physical movement, and skeletal muscles produce movement, it follows logically that increasing muscular strength will allow the athlete to more easily perform the movements required in his or her sport. Of course, the strongest athlete is not always the best athlete; a high degree of sport-specific skill is also required. It is generally accepted that resistance training will increase muscular strength. But what about skill? Will weight room activities specifically enhance certain sports skills? How can strength and skill be trained most efficiently? Can they be combined or must they be trained for separately?

What is the most effective way to maximally enhance both? What constitutes proper strength training-and how, if at all, does that differ from proper skill training? This article will address, and attempt to provide some answers to, these questions.


Strength is defined as "the ability of the musculoskeletal system to produce force"(1). In order to improve that ability most productively, training must involve uniform, efficient muscular loading. Uniform - Resistance should be applied as equally as possible throughout a full range of motion. A controlled speed of movement should be utilized; the weight should be moved by muscular force alone, eliminating as much momentum as possible. Exercises which apply heavy resistance at one point and little or no resistance at another point in the range of motion are inferior in this regard. This can occur if strict form is forsaken or if an explosive style of lifting is employed. Efficient - The training program should be designed to achieve the highest degree of stimulation in the shortest possible time. High Intensity Training, where each set is carried to a point of extreme muscular fatigue, satisfies this criteria. Training in this fashion will necessarily limit the duration of the workout, thus maximizing efficiency. In addition, it is important to maintain proper form to efficiently overload the target musculature. Muscular Loading - This is the essence of strength training. A load of sufficient magnitude to stimulate a strength increase must be applied. The trainee should strive to work to the limit of his or her existing capacity on each set and regularly attempt the momentarily impossible. If you are capable of performing 10 reps with a certain weight in a certain exercise, but you always stop at 9 reps, and you never attempt an 11th rep, why would you ever get stronger? To review, proper strength training means loading the target musculature uniformly throughout the range of motion while maintaining strict form with a high level of intensity.


An athletic skill is a movement or series of movements which produces a specific athletic outcome. The key word in the previous sentence is "specific". For any sports skill performed, a unique neuromuscular pathway is created which is specific for that skill alone. In order to most effectively reinforce that pattern, the skill must be practiced as it will ultimately be executed in game situations. Thus, the practice of sports skills should be performed using the same equipment, on the same playing surface, in the same situation as they will occur in the game, while still maintaining practicality and safety. Activities which merely resemble the specific sports skill require unique neuromuscular pathways of their own; therefore, the performance of such activities is not an efficient means of reinforcing the specific neuromuscular pattern required for the sports skill in question.

To review, proper skill training means practicing a movement, or series of movements, which produces a specific athletic outcome as it will be executed in game situations.


In light of the information presented above, it is apparent that certain weightroom activities currently in vogue do not fit within the parameters of either proper strength training or proper skill training. Such activities most commonly include movements which are performed in an explosive fashion using additional resistance; including, but not limited to, power cleans, olympic lifts and various plyometric drills using medicine balls. These types of activities typically utilize the forces of acceleration and momentum to propel the resistance, negating the opportunity for uniform, efficient muscular loading. This fact disqualifies these activities as proper strength training. With regard to proper skill training, remember that the specific skill must be practiced exactly as it will be used in competition. Thus, the only athletes for whom these types of activities can be considered proper skill training are competitive weightlifters or competitive medicine ball throwers.

This brings us to the key questions to consider:

1) If it's not proper strength training, and it's not proper skill training - WHAT IS IT?
2) More importantly - WHY DO IT?

The answers to these questions will determine which activities should, or should not, be included in the training program.

Time is a limited resource; as such, it must be invested wisely. Don't waste yours by engaging in unproductive training methods. Use proper strength training to increase the ability to produce muscular force. Use proper skill training to perfect the movements used in competition. Avoid activities which don't fit within the parameters of either category. Doing so will help the athlete most efficiently scale the heights and reach the peak of his or her athletic potential.


1. Asanovich, Mark: "What is Strength?" Athletic conditioning Quarterly 1992; 1 (1): 4-5.

2. Brzycki, Matt: A Practical Approach to Strength Training. Masters Press; Indianapolis, IN, 1995.

3. Schmidt, R. A.: Motor Learning and Performance: From Principles to Practice. Human Kinetic Books; Champaign, IL, 1991.

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