A recent study compared athletes who participated in regular strength training versus athletes who did not - and the differences were worth noting.
In summary, consistent strength training resulted in greater muscular strength, which is associated with greater force production, an enhancement of overall sports skills such as jumping, sprinting, and agility, and an increase in sport-specific performance. Simultaneously, it was found that efficient and proper strength training can play a significant role in injury prevention.
The difficult part is figuring out the right program for each individual athlete.
We hear this term “sport-specific training” tossed around, but what does it really mean? To most, it means training the athlete for the specific sport he/she participates in. Sure, this has much value - you want to properly prepare the athlete’s body for the specific demands of his/her sport. However, there is more to it. Like anything, every program should be individualized towards the athlete before it is individualized towards the sport. For example, if the athlete lacks the strength/motor control to perform a basic squat or hip hinge movement, a trainer should begin with the basics of these movement patterns and progress accordingly before introducing more advanced exercises.
Contrary to what some may think, there is also much value in training opposing sport-specific movement. In this day and age, athletes are specializing in their sports earlier than they ever have - this means exposing themselves to the same repetitive movements over and over again at a very young age (especially in movement specific sports such as rowing and pitching in baseball). Because of this, it is not uncommon to see athletes develop overuse injuries early on. By training movements and muscle groups that are often times ignored while playing your sport, you are combating any muscular imbalances that are likely to cause injury down the line. For example, sports that involve a lot of sprinting often times yield athletes who are quad-dominant with tight/weak hamstrings; something as simple as training the hip hinge consistently can help maintain muscular homeostasis and develop hip drive simultaneously.
All in all, the goal of strength training in athletics is to put the athlete in the best position possible for peak performance. When the athlete can translate the benefits received from training to his/her sport while staying injury free, he/she will see the best results.
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS