Weight Training Programs for Sports

How to Improve Your Sport With Weight Training

The deadlift.
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Do you play football, basketball, golf, swimming, baseball, cricket, or track and field? Whichever sport you participate in, if it requires strength and/or explosive power, chances are you can benefit from weight training. Even endurance athletes for whom strength and power is not a primary attribute can benefit from strong abdominal and lower back muscles.

This article describes the basic principles of weight training for sports while using common sports and activities to demonstrate those principles.

Four main training target outcomes are recognized for weight and resistance training:

  • Muscular strength (getting stronger)
  • Muscular hypertrophy (getting bigger muscles)
  • Muscular power (getting faster and more explosive while stronger)
  • Local muscular endurance (lasting longer while getting stronger)

Specificity Rules in Training

Specificity is a general principle in sports training. It means that if you can train in a way that imitates your activity when competing in the sport, then you should spend most of your time training in that way. Runners run, swimmers swim, javelin throwers throw, team sports practice moves.

Even so, aspects of fitness cannot always be gained from event-specific training patterns. Physical conditioning usually requires activities that supplement specific training. Aerobic and strength training are examples of this. Even swimmers run and lift weights to improve their aerobic and strength and power.

Determine the Primary Performance Muscle Groups

Let's say your sport is football — American, Rugby, or Soccer — they all have one thing in common: running, sprinting, twisting, sidestepping, turning and setting for a tackle. It is essential that the chains of muscles used in these activities, which are called the "anterior and posterior chain," are developed for strength, stability, and power. I'm talking about the lower back, gluteals (butt), the hip flexors, the hamstrings, quadriceps, muscles of the back, and front of the thighs, as well as the abdominals. This is the powerhouse upon which most of your running-based athletic movement and performance will depend.

Sure, if you're a linebacker or rugby forward you need strong shoulders and neck muscles as well, but every person playing running team sports needs that strong mid-section chain of muscles which are their 'go-to' muscles in the first instance. Those that participate in basketball, hockey, baseball, skiing and more can also benefit from stability and strength in these muscles.

The best exercises for developing these muscles are the core lifts, the squat and deadlift, and variations and extensions. An all-round program may also help, but these big two lifts will work wonders for the leg, hip, butt, back, and abdominal strength.

In addition, a swimming program, for example, may need to focus additional attention on the shoulders, arms and back muscles.

Consider Requirements for Strength, Bulk, and Power

Your sport may be essentially a strength and power sport such as sprinting or shot put, or the requirements may be more a mix of strength and endurance, which is the case with many running team sports. Either way, developing basic strength, with or without muscle hypertrophy, is a fundamental goal of general preparation training. Strength programs generally consist of heavy loads and a small number of repetitions.

Some sports demand bulk (muscle hypertrophy) and strength — the big men in football (NFL, rugby) for example — and others need to ensure they blend adequate strength with mobility, speed, and even endurance — a midfielder in football (soccer) would be an example.

For developing power, the speed of the training lift or exercise is important. Power, for example, is an important consideration for tackling football players, yet also for the batter's swing in baseball or the batsman's stroke in cricket or a golfer's swing. Tiger Woods has demonstrated what a good weight training program can do for power improvement in a sport that requires ball hitting.

Consider Requirements for Injury Prevention

Injury prevention is an aspect of weight training often ignored. While not contributing to primary increases in performance for sports, injury prevention can certainly assist sports performance by ensuring an athlete is fit at crucial times in the event calendar.

Strengthening highly susceptible muscle groups such as the lower back and hamstrings, the shoulder rotator cuff complex and the quadriceps muscles that control knee joint function could provide performance benefits in the absence of primary strength, power or endurance gains. Keep this in mind when weight training for a sport for which you may not initially consider weights to be an advantage. Endurance running, cycling, or swimming might be examples.


In summary, weight training programs should be prepared specifically for individuals taking into consideration the sport, the role — in team sports for example — or the specific event within a sporting discipline such as track and field or swimming or gymnastics. The above information should provide a good start.

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.