Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission), 14034-16

Prepared by: Jan Legg, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Australian Institute of Sport
Evaluated by: Ross Smith, Manager Strength and Conditioning Operations, Australian Institute of Sport
Last Updated: January 2017


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Strength is expressed through sport in all the fundamental movements that athletes exhibit such as jumping, running, kicking and throwing. In general terms strength is the application of force and can be divided into a number of different categories for athletic development. Before commencing strength work it is recommended that athletes complete an athlete assessment to determine their physical capacities and movement skills that will help to guide their strength programs.

Muscle function is essential to human movement as it contributes to locomotion, limb movement, posture and joint stability. The main purpose of strength training is to enhance the muscles ability to contract forcefully. With increased contraction force athletes can run faster, improve agility as well as throw harder and jump higher. Strength and conditioning coaches work with athletes to improve movement efficiency whereby the force generated to produce a movement is equal to the amount required to move in the most economical manner. Strength training also assists in injury prevention by providing greater support around joints through increased muscle mass as well as increasing bone density, strengthening of the muscles, tendons and joint ligaments.   

Control and Stability


The athlete's ability to stabilise muscles and joints during movement as well as limit unwanted movement is referred to as control and stability. Commonly these exercises will aim to increase proprioception (understanding the positioning of parts of the body and the effort employed in movement), the ability to maintain body position and reactive stability of the athlete. Exercises progressions usually allow development from static (non-moving) to dynamic (moving) as well as single joint to multiple joint movements with athletes required to master each exercise before progressing to the next level. An example of this would be a basketball player graduating from a single leg balance, to a single leg hop and finally the ability t take bumps whilst in the air and still land competently.

A large component of control and stability work may be completed during the warm up and over time more complex exercises will be integrated into the athlete's strength program such as Over Head Squats and single leg or single arm (unilateral) movements such as lunges. 

14023-63Muscle Hypertrophy

Hypertrophy training is designed to increase the cross sectional area of the muscle. This increase in muscle size is obtained through the use of resistance ,workloads and time under tension. Training to increase muscle size leads to generalised increases in strength but is more commonly used in sports to provide athletes with additional protection against unwanted movements via increased stability around joint. For increased muscle hypertrophy the following rep ranges can be applied across a week's training [1, 2];

  • Heavy reps 3-6 sets of 6-10reps, typically using barbell exercises
  • Moderate reps 2-4 sets of 10-20 reps, typically using dumbbells (DB) or bodyweight (BW) exercises
  • Very High reps of 1-2 sets of 20-50 reps, typically using machines, cables or bands

  For example if you were training to increase the upper body size and strength of an athlete training could be structured like this;

  • Monday - Bench Press (or equivalent) 3 x 6
  • Wednesday - DB Incline Press 4 x 15
  • Friday – Pushups 1 x 40

It is believed that this leads to he greatest gains in muscle size and strength [3]. Various methods can be used by coaches to complete these sets and ensure an appropriate training stimulus is obtained. An example of this is to use sub maximal lifting for early sets and then complete reps to failure on the final set. Alternatively load progression can be based on the total number of reps completed per exercise and per workout, for example the athlete can increase the weight lifted when they can exceed a set number o reps at a prescribed load. 

14021-14Maximal Strength


Maximal strength refers to the ability to overcome or resist high levels of force. This capacity is influenced by the cross-sectional area of muscle fibers recruited to generate force and the intensity of the motor unit recruitment. Most strength coaches use some form of conjugate training to enhance maximum strength gains with advanced lifters. Conjugate training utilises consistently high intensity lifting with the primary exercise being manipulated every 1-3 weeks with the following capacities trained weekly;

  • Max effort  > 5 sets x 1-5 reps @ 80-100% effort ~ work up in weight to max effort set of either 5, 3 or 1 reps 
  • Dynamic effort  8-10 sets x 2-3 reps @ 45-60%1RM + 10-15% band/chain resistance, 1-1.5 min. rest 
  • Repeated effort 3-5 sets x 6-25+ reps @ 45-65%1RM, 1-1.5 min. rest consisting of “heavy reps” = 6-10 and “high reps” = 12-25+ 

Motor Unit Involvement Graph

Explosive Power and Velocity

Power refers to velocity (m/sec) x distance or force/time. The amount of force and how quickly it can be produced (velocity and rate of force development) are integral to many sporting actions such as tackling in rugby or completing turns in swimming. As power is a function of force and velocity a change in either of these capacities will affect the amount of power an athlete can produce. Consequently there are numerous methods that can be used to develop and improve muscle power production, some of which are outlined below;

Contrast training:

This method uses a contrast of heavy weights followed by alternating sets of lighter exercises to stimulate increased power output and speed [4]. For example a heavy squat followed by a set of box jumps. This method utilises what is referred to as post activation potentiation whereby the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction. Muscle fibre recruitment is increased via the use of a heavy resistance exercise, therefore increasing the total contractile properties of the muscle to then be available for use in the lighter exercise. It is important however that maximal strength loads are not used as the velocity of the initial lift will dampen the power producing signals to the muscles. Ballistic or maximal power loads are preferred as they will increase the neural innervations wile maintaining the contractile velocity stimulus desired for the unloaded movement.

Multiple Sets of Low Reps:

It has been demonstrated that power output drops significantly following 5-6 reps [5]. A method that advanced athletes use to minimise power depletion is to complete 5-10 sets of 1-5 reps. This method can result in less technically poor lifts being completed through fatigued states.

Accommodative Resistance:

Aims to change the profile of an isotonic movement by decreasing the amount of deceleration within a movement [6]. When un-racking a squat with additional band resistance the body's response if to attune the neuromuscular system to that resistance then following the amortisation phase (the time between the concentric and eccentric phases of movement ie: when the bar touches the chest in bench press) where there is minimal band resistance the body is "deceived" and produces a higher power output as a result in an attempt to overcome the initial load. This allows for faster movement speeds from the bottom of the bench press and acceleration can last longer as the athlete raises to full extension. This technique can be applied to almost all core lifts.

14021-03Strength and Power Endurance

  This refers to the athlete's capacity to sustain force and power levels through prolonged exercise. This type of training can be used to elicit both heart rate responses and metabolic effects. Two of the commonly used methods are strongman and circuit training. Strongman training is typically variations on traditional circuit training but with the use of abnormal lifts that require whole body effort [7,8]. Both types of training can be beneficial in developing training resilience (both physical and mental). Negative aspects of this type of training including the inability to accurately quantify the total load which makes it difficult to ensure a sufficient overload.

General and specific overload through manipulation of sets, reps and rest periods must be considered. These variables may vary significantly however depending on the athletes and training phase. Some athletes might find 6-8 reps extremely taxing where others will need 8-20 reps to gain a desired training effect. 

Further resources and reading 


  1. Schoenfeld, B., The use of specialized training techniques to maximize muscle hypertrophy. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 2011. 33(4): p. 60-65.
  2. Holm, L., et al., Changes in muscle size and MHC composition in response to resistance exercise with heavy and light loading intensity. Journal of applied physiology, 2008. 105(5): p. 1454-1461.
  3. Myslinski, T., The Development of the Russian Conjugate Sequence System. Unpublished Masters Thesis. EliteFTS. com, 2003.
  4. Duthie, G.M., W.B. Young, and D.A. Aitken, The acute effects of heavy loads on jump squat performance: An evaluation of the complex and contrast methods of power development. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2002. 16(4): p. 530-538.
  5. Baker, D.G. and R.U. Newton, Change in power output across a high-repetition set of bench throws and jump squats in highly trained athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2007. 21(4): p. 1007-1011.
  6. Wallace, B.J., J.B. Winchester, and M.R. MCGUIGAN, Effects of elastic bands on force and power characteristics during the back squat exercise. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2006. 20(2): p. 268-272.
  7. Berning, J.M., et al., Metabolic demands of" junkyard" training: pushing and pulling a motor vehicle. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2007. 21(3): p. 853-856.
  8. Keogh, J.W., et al., A kinematic analysis of a strongman-type event: The heavy sprint-style sled pull. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 2010. 24(11): p. 3088-3097.


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