This may seem like a ridiculous question to ask. Most people would say unequivocally that lifting weights will make you a better athlete. But is that always the case? This post takes a look at this seemingly simple question, and the answer may surprise you.
Strength is important for an athlete, but many trainers think strength has everything to do with how much weight you can lift. Gymnasts don’t lift weights and are arguably the best athletes on the planet. Do you think they’re weak? Would lifting weights make them a better gymnast or hinder their performance?
In the past I thought lifting weights was the single most important thing an athlete could do. As I become smarter -some may argue that statement- I am shifting my way of thinking for the better. I’ve come to realize that lifting weights is just one tool in an athlete’s toolbox. Ever try to build a house with just one hammer? It’ll probably look like something I would make…and that’s not a good thing.
If you try to build an athlete with a single tool, you will fail. To build a complete athlete you’ll need as many tools as possible. This includes stability, mobility, movement and neurological efficiency, proprioception, eccentric deceleration, an adequate aerobic base, proper energy system work, adequate recovery methods, optimal body composition, and an ideal anatomical make-up to maximize sport performance just to name a few. You’ll also need to understand the biomechanical/physiological demands of their sport. For some reason, most people just don’t seem to understand this concept. Our hockey players do not train like our volleyball girls. Our lacrosse players do not train like our swimmers. That should be common sense.
With that being said, a large majority of the programs I see (this includes mine from five years ago) are eerily similar to that of a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or Olympic lifter. Those athletes each have their own toolbox that needs to be filled accordingly to become proficient within their own sport. I admire the dedication a bodybuilder has to his/her body. I am humbled by how much weight powerlifters and Olympic lifters can lift. It truly is incredible.
However, athletes should not train like them. Do you think a bodybuilder would do well in a sport like hockey where extra muscle mass is a detriment to speed and change of direction? On the flip side would a hockey player do well in a bodybuilding competition?
Why would they follow the same weight training program?
Do you think a powerlifter or Olympic lifter would perform well in a sport like football where they’re having to constantly move outside of the sagittal plane? Moving laterally and rotating is something a powerlifter never does in their weight training regimen. Who in their right mind thinks a powerlifters program will allow a running back to perform a jump cut at full speed? On the other hand would a defensive end do well against Olympic lifters? Being tall has its advantages, but Olympic lifting and being tall don’t mesh all that well. This is especially true if you have long femurs.
Your body type will dictate what type of athlete you’ll become once you reach elite levels. A full toolbox beats a hammer and screwdriver all day. It’s just the way it is.
Now in saying all of this…is there some carry over with regards to the exercises being performed?
It really depends on which athlete you’re working with. You can’t jam an athlete into a program that doesn’t work for them. Square pegs into round holes simply don’t work. Again, this is something most trainers have a hard time understanding.
You can’t fit an athlete into a training program. You need to fit and adapt your training program to that athlete. That’s important. Remember that.
Our hockey players rarely perform bilateral squats. We seldom do any Olympic lifts. Some people will disagree with this train of thought and that’s fine. We can’t agree on everything. If these naysayers can provide me with an adequate explanation as to how bilateral, sagittal plane power and strength based exercises will help an athlete that requires unilateral power in the frontal and transverse plane, I’d love to hear it. Trainers also need to consider the amount of stress you are putting on their joints, as well as the neurological demand these lifts are costing your athlete. I want all my athletes to have long and healthy careers. You can’t pound their joints into submission with unnecessary stress and expect that to not have a detrimental effect. Everyone has their breaking point.
If you don’t understand what any of that means that’s okay! You’re not meant to…that’s my job.
Here’s a picture of a dog doing jazz hands to make you feel better.
So how does this tie into whether or not lifting weights will make you a better athlete?
My point is that it’s just one part of the puzzle. In some rare cases like a gymnast, it may be best to leave it out completely. A proper training program should involve more components than simply lifting weights. Some athletes need different features emphasized depending on what sport they play and how they perform within their given sport.
If you can’t get into proper positions to accelerate from, you should probably work on your mobility.
If you constantly get pushed around, you should probably get stronger.
If you fatigue easily, you should probably attain a better aerobic base.
If you’re constantly tired, you should look at improving your recovery methods.
If you’re uncoordinated, you should probably tell your parents to chill out. You’re 13 years old and need more time to grow into your body. They won’t understand…but tell them anyways.
If you’re just not good at the sport, maybe you’re not anatomically meant to do it. Sorry.
At the end of the day you need to determine what your sport requires, where your deficiencies lie, and what your goals are. Realize that being an athlete requires so much more than lifting weights. Find someone competent that can help you attain your goals. If your workouts revolve around the weight room and you are an athlete that has to sprint, jump, or skate you may want to add a few more tools to your toolbox. Fill that sucker up. It’ll only help you in the long run.