Strength training = slow?

I’m sure you have come across this at some stage of your career, someone telling you that by lifting heavy weights for a low number of reps will make you slow. Perhaps you have this belief yourself, if that is the case and you believe this I just ask you to hear me out.

 

Having worked with performers for many years a common barrier to weight training is the belief that it will make them slow. This has probably been disproportionate in representation within female performers, and I think this mindset is something that has been learnt from teachers and producers over the course of their careers, as it has been a long standing belief reaching back decades. Some big, influential voices repeating that message through a career, I can understand why the stigma continues today. However, I can tell you that this is absolutely not the case. Strength training will not slow you down in a huge majority of cases.

 

Don’t get me wrong, if you stopped performing for 2 years and did nothing but lift maximally, in ranges that maximise hypertrophy (building muscle mass) then yes, when you return to performing you may be slower and would have developed some non-functional muscle mass, which means muscle mass that isn’t particular useful to your performance requirements. This is very rarely applicable for performers.

 

In every reasonable use-case for strength training, it will not end with that result. As a generalisation performers are usually very powerful, which results in things like a natural ability to jump high or far, and be explosive and agile. It’s an ability to turn on your maximal strength very quickly, combine that with excellent coordination of movement and you have a relative powerful athlete. If you do not have a strength training background your limiter is often your levels of actual strength itself as well power and strength are two different things, training strength as a performance trait involves heavier work but it has a profound impact on resilience, robustness and can further improved your power production. Meaning higher, further, faster.

Figure 1 A shows what happens during faster landing and jumping activities (done with speed) where the muscle fibres length doesn't change dramatically but the tendon (spring-like) lengthens and recoils a huge amount like an elastic band. Figure 1 B shows how heavier, and therefore relatively slower, training methods target muscle tissue through range. Here the muscle fibre units shorten whilst the tendons

 

Power relies on multiple factors, and one is your connective tissues (tendons, ligaments and fascia) ability to act as a spring or an elastic band and generate elastic stored energy, this is seen in figure 1, picture A. Notice how when movements occur quickly, the muscle tissue doesn't really lengthen, the lengthening takes place in the connective tissue and specifically the tendon. This is a key factor in faster type movements being less affective for increasing muscle tissue structure itself. That's where heavier slower work comes in. Heavier, slower work is depicted in figure 1, picture B, where the tendon length remains constant and the muscle fibre lengths is where the movement takes place. This is important as when the load is being moved by the actual muscle fibres (rather than the tendon), structural adaptations can occur and these are the adaptations are translate into improved tissue resilience, not only that but this adaptation has very useful transference into the faster, power producing exercises and movements as well as improving the connective tissues ability to absorb force.

Figure 2 Fascial tissue at a microscopic level, the threads you see align with the line of force you apply. This adaptation allows fascia to absorb more load in future, and helps transmit force more effectively from muscle-to-bone-to-external surface.

 

By introducing some kind of strength training to your programming, and with your naturally high levels of movement skill, coordination and technique you will be able to take advantage of your greater levels of strength and tissue resilience during rehearsals and shows. Therefore never giving your body the opportunity to “get slow” because you’re using your new attributes in an explosive environment regularly. That said any strength training added needs a bit of thought to ensure it fits with your schedule and allows adequate recovery so you can perform optimally when you need to.

 

Hopefully this has helped shed some light on just a couple of reasons why the fallacy of strength training making you slow is widely debunked in sports science and medicine today, and that it can actually help in a huge number of ways. We’ll go deeper into this subject of strength training adaptations for the performer in a future blog post to help enhance your knowledge and perhaps begin your journey into its use.

Thanks for taking the time to read

Barry

@barry.sigrist