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Four Measures of Strength

by Steven Morgan CSCS, USAW-1, TSAC-F, MCPT

Proper SAQ (Strength Agility Quickness) needs analysis involves three types of evaluation: the athlete‘s functional strength, including functional strength (Functional Basic and Reactive Strength Deficit) in their movement technique, and the specific metabolic demands of the competition. Below, I elaborate on all four measures of strength.

Functional Strength

Functional strength is a four-pronged approach for evaluating an athlete’s functional strength qualities: basic strength, reactive resources, strength deficit, and speed strength. The first two methods are appropriate for novice or intermediate athletes, whereas the latter two should be used with discretion when progressing to more advanced levels. Testing pre- and post is “VERY” important to calculate improvements and changes that need to be made.

Basic Strength- It is commonly proposed that athletes should be able to squat one and a half to two times their body weight before undertaking “shock” or weighted jump types of plyometric training such as depth jumping. Because this criterion would eliminate most of the athletes I work with, I created other movements that can be measured. These movements comprise the basic plyometric system I have used for over thirty years. Furthermore, the ability to single-leg squat one’s body weight and lunge forward, laterally, or backward with sound technique is also a helpful prerequisite and more applicable to an introductory level. Such movements are also valuable in identifying and correcting bilateral strength imbalances.

Reactive Resources- Periodic measurement of reactive strength resources can help determine an athlete’s training status. This involves comparing squat jump performance with drop jumps from heights of 12,18,24,30 and 36 inches, depending on the qualification level of the athlete. A novice athlete’s best drop jump performance may be 20-to-25 percent below their squat jump, indicating ample reactive resources. This can be interpreted as a functional deficit in short-response stretch shortening abilities, with the subsequent need to emphasize reactive movements (such as drop jumps, vertical jumps, or countermovement jumps) in training. In contrast, an elite athlete’s drop jump result may be 20 to 25 percent greater than their squat jump, indicating small reactive resources. In this case, basic strength should be emphasized through hypertrophic or neural adaptations to create new reactive resources.

Strength Deficit- The eccentric-concentric strength deficit can be used to determine an advanced athlete’s training status. This indicates the difference between absolute involuntary (eccentric) strength and maximum voluntary (concentric) strength and reflects the ability to use one’s strength potential in a given motor task. Specifically, a large deficit (e.g., up to 45 percent) indicates that explosive methods should be emphasized, followed by maximal heavy efforts.

Without force-plate equipment (expensive, specialized equipment that measures the force exerted by a muscle), maximal eccentric strength measurement can be problematic because muscles can sustain up to 30 to 40 percent greater loads while lengthening compared to shortening. As a practical solution, eccentric strength can be approximated by the maximum load that can be lowered under control for three to five seconds, depending on the movement. Once again, it is preferable to evaluate each leg separately.

Some other ways and devices can measure various aspects of muscular strength. I discussed these four because they are relevant to all land-based sports. That means if you can improve in one of the four areas discussed, the overall improvement in sports performance is exceptionally high. Systematically, it allows a coach or trainer to focus on one specific area and communicate that importance to the athlete in a language all can understand.

Train Hard and Smart!

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