Strength Training for Sport Performance – Program Design Considerations


Devising a strength training program can be a daunting task. Essentially we must remember that the goal of a program is to develop strength that the athlete can use in their respective sport. To accomplish this I think of strength training as a process of moving through a spectrum of different movements and muscle actions with varied modes and loads to elicit the optimum strength training adaptation. Moving through the strength training spectrum is a means to an end, that end is a stronger more functional athlete.

Sport performance regardless of the sport is a multidimensional activity. It takes place in a dynamic environment where movement occurs in all planes of motion using multiple joint movements to produce the desired movement mechanics. The traditional approach to strength training has been heavily influenced by mental convenience. In that approach the emphasis was on movement in one plane of motion at one joint because it was easy to describe, that is the way it was in an anatomy book. We do not move in an anatomical position, it is static and fixed. We move period! Performance involves the whole body moving through all three planes of motion- sagittal, frontal & transverse- and using as many joints a possible – Toe Nails to Fingernails- to reduce and produce force.

Strength training is coordination training with appropriate resistance whose main goal is enhance linkage and connectivity to produce the required movement efficiently. Train movements not muscles. The CNS calls for patterns of movement that can be modified in countless ways to react appropriately to gravity, ground reaction forces, and momentum. Each activity is further refined and adjusted by feedback from the body’s proprioceptors. This process ensures optimal neuromuscular control and efficiency of movement. Movement is not an isolated event that occurs in one plane of motion; it involves synergists, stabilizers, neutralizers, and antagonists all working together to reproduce efficient triplanar movements. Rob Sleamaker, inventor of the Vasa Trainer sums it up quite well: “Muscles must be built in, not built on.” Building muscles in through movements goes a long way toward improving coordination. Dumbbells and kettlebells are excellent tools to train movements and enhance coordination.

A sound strength-training program must include the following movements:



Squatting & Squat derivative movements like lunge and step-up



In a good balanced program all of those movements should be incorporated into the exercises selected and applied in a seven-day microcycle. All the movements must be executed through a full spectrum that incorporates:

Multiple Planes

Multiple Joints

Full Range of Motion

High Proprioceptive Demand

These spectrum considerations dictate the selection of the exercises.

As a step toward designing the optimum program ask the following questions:

What are the strength requirements of the sport?

What muscle groups are used in the sport?

What are the movement requirements?

What is direction of the application of force?

What is the range of movement?

What are the common injuries in the sport?

Once you have answered those questions then consider the qualities of the individual athlete. Carefully consider growth and development factors. Has the athlete gone through puberty? Biological and chronological age are often quite different. Is the athlete an early or a late developer? Cognitive and emotional development should also be considered, as they are quite important in the ability to learn exercises and routines as well as accept coaching. Now you are ready to design an effective strength training program.

Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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