Strength Training For Peak Performance

When most people think of strength training they think about barbells and dumbbells. However, it is any physical activity emphasizing the application of resistance to the muscles. As a personal trainer and strength and conditioning coach I divide the program into four main areas:

1. General strength and conditioning

2. Sport-specific

3 .Reactive or speed-strength training

4. Pre-hab/rehab


Strength training involves exercises for all the major muscle groups utilizing barbells,dumbells,kettlebells,clubs,sandbags,wheelbarrows,medicine balls, cables, therabands, calisthenics, and anything else that you fancy. Just remember to equalize the repetitions between push versus pull exercises, and select appropriate plane of motion exercises. For example, chinning is a vertical plane exercise. If done for 10 reps per set, you will need to counter-balance with another vertical plane exercise, such as “dipping” from parallel bars for 10 reps per set. Note however, that these exercises don’t need to be performed on the same day, but I wouldn’t wait more than 24 hours. Why? To prevent excessive soreness, and to ensure your posture continues to improve, otherwise you will continue to promote muscle imbalances and worse posture, which will compromise your health and quality of life over time. Let me emphasize again: your weekly volume of repetitions for “pushing” exercises must equal the repetitions for “pulling” exercises, AND within the same plane of motion, for optimal strength training.


I’ll just mention a few popular sports and some important considerations. Please understand that it is equally important to stretch the opposing muscle groups. For example, the rotator cuff: stretching internals must accompany the strength training program for externals to maintain or re-establish balance between the groups, otherwise over-use syndrome may eventually occur.


Strength training involves all of the following:

The foot inverters, as it treats ankle pronation which affects up to 95% of runners.

Muscles supporting the arch of the foot, as it helps prevent plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinopathy,and assists treatment of ankle pronation.

Hamstrings, which are usually overpowered by quadriceps and weakened by pelvic tilt.

Quadriceps: Many people have weak quads, so we mustn’t neglect them.

Adductors, to balance the hip rotators, and prevent groin strain.

Rectus abdominus–pre-hab/rehab for low-back pain, and optimizing arm swing while running.

Transversus abdominus–as above, and to optimize hip mobility while running.

Tibialis group–to help prevent shin splints, which is the most common injury.

Hip abductors–although the adductors are usually weaker, the abductors mustn’t be neglected.

Serratus anterior–may also need reactivation; a crucial part of the “core”, assists the hip rotators,and powerful arm swing.

Gluteals–the most important muscles! Almost everyone needs reactivation training, strengthening,and forms part of the program to correct pelvic tilt and pre-hab / rehab low-back pain.


Because hamstring strains account for over 40% of the muscle injuries, we need to focus on strengthening them because the quads are too strong. Abductors need to be balanced with adductors, also. Although this article is concerned with strength training, I should also mention that when it comes to preventing hamstring strains, we must investigate the athletes ankle mobility, and most importantly, treat any anterior pelvic tilt.


As for sprinters, but the achilles tendon is often injured, and so ankle mobility and calf eccentric strengthening is important.


Strengthen the “core” without flexing the spine. Did you know that up to 60% of NBA players have disc disease? Rotational work with a medicine ball or cables is great, as are various forms of “planks”. Also strengthen–shoulder extensors, external shoulder rotators, scapular adductors, glutes, pectorals. Basketballers tend to be too strong in the internal shoulder rotators because of all the pressing (throwing the ball), and so we must balance the shoulder rotators: stretch internals; strengthen externals. Remember to equalize the “pushing” exercises for chest, delt’s and triceps with similar plane of motion “pulling” exercises for opposing muscles.Not necessarily on the same day, but preferably within 48 hours. The weekly volume of weight isn’t so important, but equalizing the weekly quota of repetitions is very important.


Prioritize upper back training over chest, especially in the horizontal plane. Dont overdo the latissimus dorsi training–favour the lower trapezius/rhomboid strengthening, although the rhomboids may not be weak in some cases. Also strengthen the serratus anterior, transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, and external shoulder rotators. To help prevent rotator cuff injuries we must balance the internal/external shoulder rotators, as there is a tendency for the stronger and tighter internal rotators to overpower the externals.


For example, squash, tennis, badminton, racquetball etc.

Resistance training is essential. A periodised weights program is best, with transverse plane (rotational) exercises performed with a medicine ball, dumbbell, cables or bands, depending on the exercise selected.

intensity: 85% 1rm

sets: 3

reps: 3-5

recovery: 3 minutes

Strength training for the back extensors, upper back, rotator cuff ( internals overpower externals) transversus abdominus, serratus, abdominus rectus and external obliques. Don’t neglect eccentric strength calf training, and ankle mobility work. For a right handed player a good exercise is woodchop, both high and low, starting at your right side and woodchopping to the left, then returning to start the next rep. Remember to tense your glutes before each rep. Control the motion, and your glutes continuously. Ankle area strength training is crucial to maximize your hitting power, and for avoiding injury.


1. Overspeed. For example, short distance “accelerations” while running.

2. Resisted activity, such as towing a weighted sled while running, or large sponges while swimming.

3. Upper body specialization—twirling clubs, medicine ball passes, weighted push-ups, supine bar tossing, pushing a heavy object for distance, etc.

4. Plyometrics—hopping. bounding, jumping type exercises that enable your muscles to generate more force more quickly. Plyometrics must be employed carefully as it can easily be over-done. Always select low impact, simple exercises at the beginning, and ensure that you already have some general strength conditioning. Use it sparingly to avoid over-use injuries, for example 1-2 days weekly, with 2-4 days between sessions.


When strength training, it is important to maintain balance between opposing muscle groups. So,if I say that a certain group of muscles need to be strengthened, then the opposing dominant set of muscles will need to be stretched. The stretching is equally important if we want to either prevent or fix an injury, and also to improve performance. For example, ANKLES. Most people require work on ankle mobility to ensure maintenance of electrical innervation of the gluteals, otherwise the back extensors and the hamstrings bear excessive loading. Also to prevent knee and low-back pain, and plantar fasciitis. Example exercises could be–walking on the heels, or the balls of the feet ( with knees locked ), heel-to-toe walking, or single leg knee bends on an incline block to develop eccentric calf strength. Stretching is very important: dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, inversion, eversion


The internal/external hip rotators need rebalancing. Some need strengthening, whereas others will need to be stretched. Hip rotators can be linked to knee pain and misaligned thigh bone, which can cause all sorts of problems for sports players.

GLUTEALS–Most people will need to learn how to reactivate them with special activation and strengthening exercises. High risk of back injury, hamstring, knee or quad strains, and even plantar fasciitis.


Either or both may need reactivation exercises to rekindle electrical innervation, and then strengthening. These are crucial muscles for athletes, and if they are switched off, then performance is severely compromised.


one in five runners are affected by shinsplints. It is the most common injury for endurance runners. I have special, progressively more complex exercises, which the client would master one at a time.


Hamstring strains are frequently caused by anterior pelvic tilt, which must be treated while the hammy’s are being strengthened to balance the dominant quadriceps and hip flexors, which, in turn need urgent stretching. Balance between adductors and abductors should be addressed,and also ankle mobility. So you can see that there are a lot of areas possibly playing a part to cause a hamstring tear.

Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of general strength training. For best results you should observe the following:

intensity: 85% of 1rm (rep maximum)

reps: 5

sets: 3 ( doesn’t include warm-up sets )

warm-ups: 2 sets ( 50%, and 70-75% 1RM ) after 5 minutes cardio

recovery: 3 minutes

frequency: twice weekly (“heavy”day, followed by “light”)

duration: u/60 minutes, preferably 45 minutes.

volume: low

cooldown: static stretches, especially hip flexors, external hip rotators, and quadriceps.

The above formula isn’t written in stone, for example, if you don’t feel energetic to do 3 x 5, do 2 x 5, or 3 x 3 on those “off” days. What’s important is that you try not to miss a workout, especially if you’re a beginner, because you need to develop a habit for gym training–discipline, dedication, perseverence. When it comes to setting personal bests ( PB’s )on 100% 1RM, do so only every 21-30 days. Equalize weekly repetitions “pulling” versus “pushing” exercises relevant to plane of motion if you want to keep your shoulder joints healthy, and avoid chronic back pain. Free weights are preferred over machines. Partial reps on squats and deadlifts for intermediate level lifters should be included as assistance work.

Keep the duration of the workout under 60 minutes. Do you know what your biggest enemy is? YOURSELF! You will become a gym junky as you learn to love the muscle ache, and see some results in size and strength. So beware! Strength training taxes the central nervous system and the adrenal glands, and OVERTRAINING is your biggest enemy. Remember this formula: on all your heavy days, seek to either add 2.5kg, or do an extra rep.

Always put your primary exercises at the beginning. For example, on heavy squatting day–squat first, while your energy is high. Whatever the primary objective is for the day, get it done while you are full of energy.

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Shane shiels