What is strength?
First thing that comes to my mind is how heavy you can lift?
Being strong looks a little different for each person. One person might feel strong to finally get that push up, the other might be chasing a pull up goal, and another person might feel strong when they finally can get out of the chair without assistance.
Everyone has a different meaning of what strength is based on their perspective.
So, what is the actual meaning of strength?
Strength can be defined as the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance by muscular effort.
External resistance is anything pushing on the body, and your body must be able to push back to move. As mentioned earlier, some people must overcome gravity itself to move from a chair.
Everyone will perceive external stress/resistance differently based on their current lifestyle.
The goal is to make external resistance such as your own body weight and gravity feel easy to push back on, especially as we age.
To do this we must use other forms of resistance to stress the body, so that the body can adapt and get stronger. Using your bodyweight and weights can achieve this goal.
Yes, I said that resistance training, and all forms of exercise, is stress on the body. Stress is not a bad thing, counter to what you see from the media. Stress becomes a negative when the body cannot recover from the stress.
The body requires stress for it to adapt/change. When your strength training, the muscles, tendons, bone, heart, is all being stressed. When given the proper nutrients, time to rest and recover, it adapts from that stress. This adaptation allows the body to handle that stress again with less perception of stress.
WHY IS STRENGTH TRAINING IMPORTANT?
Strength training is more than just how you look. So many benefits from strength training, so here is a very short list of some of them:
- Bone health
- Hormonal health
- Increases Insulin Sensitivity
- Increases Balance and Stability
- Reduce risk of all-cause mortality
- Improves Mental Health
- Reduces risk of metabolic diseases
- Move better
- Maintain muscle and strength with age
- Increases Performance
Like I said, short list. Go look for your self on the benefits with some detail. With this blog, I will highlight one of the benefits many people don’t know about That is the functionality of how you move when you age.
It is common to hear older adults talk about how weak they feel, and less mobile they are, and they automatically blame their age.
The problem with that argument is that age is not the issue, it’s their lifestyle. Movement is a use it or lose it skill. If you never train your body to move through a full range of motion, or practice movements like squatting with load, your body will adapt to the lack of stress.
As I mentioned earlier, the body requires stress to adapt. If the body does not receive this stress of movement, it will adapt by telling the body to lose strength, muscle, bone density, mobility.
To keep the body adapting to keep its strength, muscle, mobility, you must keep practicing it. Do not become the normal older adult complaining about how hard it is to move their bodies.
TYPES OF STRENGTH
Now you know the importance of strength training, let’s talk about the different types of strength.
Strength can be broken into 4 categories; each one requires a different amount of stress to elicit a response.
- Muscular Strength – ability to generate maximum external force (also known as absolute strength)
- Explosive Strength – ability to exert maximal forces in minimal time (lot of force very quickly)
- Strength Endurance – ability to produce force repeatedly without fatigue
- Relative Strength – strength to body weight ratio, ability to produce maximal force relative to your bodyweight.
Depending on the individual, the type of strength you need will be different. If you are an athlete, your sport will determine the type of strength you need to focus on.
For everyone else who is not an athlete, you will want to practice each strength type evenly for longevity purposes.
If you look at the graph above, you can see that there is a relationship between force and velocity.
When velocity decreases, external resistance (load) increases. Maximal force will mean small velocity, and max velocity will have the load close to zero.
Max power is when 1/3 max velocity and ½ max force is applied together.
The reason I am going over all this is to help you visualize the different types of strength. Explosive strength will be in the middle of this curve, working on power.
Absolute strength will be on top but will sacrifice speed. Relative strength will be your absolute strength/ by your bodyweight.
I hope this helps you get an idea on why its important to train more than one type of strength.
STRENGTH TRAINING METHODS Pt 1
Alright, now that I have identified the types of strength you can achieve, lets discuss some methods and the how aspect it.
Your muscles exert forces on the bone that it is attached to, and the muscle has three different actions in how it produces these forces:
- Shortens (concentric actions)
- Lengthens (eccentric actions)
- No movement (isometric action)
Each of these actions can be made a priority during your lifting and can be used to change the intensity of the exercise. For example, you are much stronger with eccentric actions compared to the concentric and isometric actions. The downside, it increases delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
You can make any exercise harder by increasing the eccentric action and the isometric actions of a exercise. Let’s use the dumbbell bench press, you can do a normal lift of 1 second down and 1 second up.
To make it harder without increasing the weight, you slow down the time to lower the weight to 5 seconds. Immediately, the exercise is harder. Do the same with isometrics, go down and up as normal, but pause at the bottom of the press for 5 seconds.
Many ways you can play with time under tension with the different actions of the muscle.
STRENGTH TRAINING METHODS Pt 2
Part 2 of strength methods will focus on the effort you put in with the work. With strength training there are a few options to choose from when it comes to effort and what you want out of your training.
- Maximal Effort – Maximum Load
- Repeated Effort Method – nonmaximal load to maximal failure
- Submaximal Effort – nonmaximal load not to failure (2-3 reps shy from failure)
- Dynamic Effort – nonmaximal load with higher attainable speed
The maximum effort is used to bring the greatest strength increments from training, helps increase your muscular (absolute) strength. This method also improves your neuromuscular coordination due to the high amount of work from the nervous system. Think of it like this, your ability to improve a movement pattern, like a squat will be easier compared to no load at all.
I recommend you use this method intermittently due to the strain it causes on the body. The high amount of focus that is required for this method can lead you to get burnt out. This high level of motivation when overused can lead to emotional stress and increases your risk of injury.
Recommended reps are 3-6 reps per set. I like to stay in a 4–6-week phase of this type of strength training, and cycle it back in after 2+ months.
The repeated method is split into two, with one of them being submaximal repeated method. This method has the greater influence on muscle hypertrophy with less risk of injury in comparison to the max effort method.
So, you can incorporate this method year-round and depending how you program it, mix it with your max effort training.
Last method is the dynamic effort. This method is all about increasing speed and explosivity, explosive strength.
Improving your rate of force development is a top priority for most athletes. What that means is, improving how fast an individual and produce force. This should also be important for everyone else as well. The better and faster you can produce force, the better your strength gains can be.
Also, when you age power is the first to decline. This can be mitigated by incorporating some dynamic effort into your training.
If you are always training for maximal strength, not only are you increasing your risk of injury, but you are also moving slow.
Go back to the graph above, the force-velocity curve graph. At maximal strength/force, the velocity is small. If you are always training with this method, you’re training your body to be very strong, but slow.
Recommended reps are 1-3 reps/set with low weight, about 40-60% of 1RM. The intent is to move the weight quick and explosively, with good form.
STRENGTH TRAINING FOR LIFE
So, I hope by explaining each part, you can see why it is important to train each type of strength with the different methods that I provided.
There is much more to than what this blog went over, but I feel this is a good start to understanding the why and how of strength training.
I hope this helps you have an understanding on what strength is as well. It is a lot more than how you look and how heavy you can lift. Its about staying functional with life, being prepared to move and be confident in your body to do things in the moment and as you age.
If you made it this far in the blog, thank you, and if you have any questions feel free to email me at email@example.com. I am happy to help.