Strength is good. Really.
I’ve met many adolescents with dreams of collegiate and higher-level athletics who spend hours at the gym doing speed ladders, box jumps, and three different kinds of bicep curls (sometimes with their trainers), but they’re still skinny and weak.
- 16-year-old who wants to play volleyball in college. He was doing seated cable rows with 40lb when I asked him how much he squats and deadlifts. “I don’t,” he replied.
- Division-I collegiate baseball player who wants to make the starting lineup. He’s a catcher, weighs 190lb, squats about the same, and deadlifts about 250lb. Of course, that’s only what he claimed — he admited he rarely does them.
- High school varsity baseball pitcher. A 45lb goblet squat for 10 reps torches him.
Those numbers say it all.
Gaining strength is one of the quickest — if not the quickest — way to improve overall athletic performance and prevent injury. With more strength, they’d see increases in force production, power, speed, muscular endurance, strength in joints and ligaments, flexibility, work capacity, and cardiovascular health.
For young athletes, this should be their top priority. What would that college football player benefit more from: more speed ladders or a increasing a 250lb deadlift to 350lb? Which one would help him more with power and add slabs of muscle to his hamstrings, glutes, and back? Which one would help him recover after a long, punishing game? Or give him the foundation for even greater agility and strength?
That’s the takeaway message. To gain a lot of strength, less is more. Focus on a few, key lifts and drive those numbers up. (I wrote a sample program for just that.) Strength isn’t beneficial to only aspiring athletes, however — it’ll help anyone trying to lose fat, run faster, gain muscle, run longer, or rehab.
How do you know when you’re strong? When you no longer have to ask.
I’m kidding, of course. Three good benchmarks are a 1.5x bodyweight squat, 1.25x bodyweight bench, and 1.75x bodyweight deadlift.
Until then, focus on what’s important:
“Speed is limited by force, force is limited by strength, strength is a product of work, and work is limited by you”.
- Nick Winkelman