When it comes to athletic performance, along with power and speed, strength is an absolutely essential physiological attribute. It can be what helps us break your personal best, beat your fastest time, and lift heavier. So, what is strength training exactly, and what are the key ways you can become stronger?
Strength is technically defined as the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure: and this could not be more accurate! However, like anything in life, in order to reach a specific goal or target, you must know and understand the process. In order to build strength, your training will be somewhat different from those who are training for hypertrophy (growth in size of the muscle fibers), power, or speed. Primarily, there will be less volume (sets and repetitions in total) compared to most forms of training, and there will tend to be more of an emphasis on the resistance or weight lifted each set.
How will I benefit from being stronger?
Aside from improving your physical performance, what are the other advantages of gaining strength? Reports have stated that after the age of 30, muscle mass and strength can decrease by 3-5% every year, resulting in an increased likelihood of accidents and falls as well as reduced everyday capabilities.
Making every day activities effortless
The most relevant benefit of strength training is the ability to perform everyday tasks with ease. Activities such as lifting desks, carrying shopping bags, even opening jam jars can all be facilitated with improved strength levels. Incorporating an effective ‘push, pull, and lift’ structure to your strength training plan can directly correlate with everyday activities, such as pushing your child’s pram, pulling a trailer in the field, or even lifting a printer onto the desk in the office.
Say goodbye to injury
In addition to this having a stronger base of muscular strength and functionality, strength training can also help to increase your body’s resistance to injury. Regular strength training will benefit various likely injury site points by increasing bone density and mineral content, size and strength of connective tissues, as well as reducing the risk of muscular imbalances. Whenever a muscular imbalance occurs (for example, one arm stronger than the other), there is the potential to lead to faulty joint alignment and inefficient movement. Doing uni lateral strength work can prevent this. So when training next, try incorporating some injury rehabilitation exercises and some unilateral work such as a single arm shoulder press or lunges.
Watching your weight?
Strength training, despite what many may think, is one of the greatest weight loss tools you can incorporate to your weekly routine. To create a truly efficient fat burning workout and save literally half the time, incorporate compound movements into your workouts. This is where there is movement from more than one joint site. For example with the bench press, there is a flexion and an extension movement at the elbow and shoulder joint. These exercises target more than one muscle group and are extremely efficient at speeding up your metabolism (rate at which you burn fat). Compound exercises include (variations not included): shoulder press, bench press, lat pulldown, pull ups, barbell row, squats, lunges, step ups, deadlifts, and leg press. To avoid going into a literal debate here, the numbers will speak for themselves. 4 Sets of 30 Bodyweight Squats will burn 100 calories, whereas if you did 100 sit ups in roughly five minutes, you would only burn 57 calories.
Boost your performance
Whilst the degree to which strength can benefit the sport itself depends on the activity level of the sport as a whole, strength training can prove extremely beneficial to sports specific performance. Often, movements in sport can be replicated in a weight training session. For example, a basketball player jumping to shoot can be replicated by a barbell jump squat. Or a rugby player performing a hand off can be replicated with a unilateral dumbbell bench press. Furthermore, there should be acknowledgement of the relation of a triple extension: an extremely important movement for all athletes. This is the simultaneous power generated from an extension at the hip, knee, and ankle joint and is used in almost every sport. This triple extension movement can be applied to strength training programs with lower body compound movements (exercises where there is movement from more than one joint) such as a squat, deadlift, lunge, step up, and all other variations that go with them.
How do I train for strength?
Some of the most common forms of strength training include: maximal strength training, standard strength training, hypertrophy training, and muscular endurance training. But what is the difference between them, and are any of them better than another? Each type of training has it’s merits, and should be chosen on the basis of how you enjoy exercising, the time you can commit to training, and your overall fitness goals.
Max Strength Training is a very common form of training used by professional weightlifters: those very serious about their strength. Defined as ‘The maximal amount of force produced by a muscle in one voluntary contraction’. With this method of training mainly designed for athletes such as power lifters, weight lifters, and strongmen, the rep range should be between 1 and 3 and the workload should be at 80-100% of a person’s 1 repetition maximum (1RM). Between sets, to replenish ATP stores adequately, rest should be between 1.5-5 Minutes. A supplement that has been proven extremely effective for maximal strength training, as well as all other methods of resistance training practically, is creatine monohydrate.
Whilst it was mentioned earlier, another definition for strength training can be, “a method of improving muscular strength by gradually increasing the ability to resist force through weight training”. Designed for anyone looking to generally get stronger, the reps here are anywhere between 4 and 6 whilst the working load is 70-80% 1RM. However, rest time is lowered slightly for anywhere between 1.5-3 Minutes. A supplement that can be effective to help recovery after training is L Glutamine, a nonessential amino acid naturally produced in the body that can be used to minimize muscle breakdown and optimize protein synthesis.
Hypertrophy training is yet another form of strength training, sitting in the mid range of high to low reps. The definition of hypertrophy training is a method of resistance training designed to amplify muscle growth in size. Repetitions are typically are anywhere between 8 and 12 at 60-70%1RM. If someone is looking to achieve hypertrophy and generally gain bigger muscles in size, there are various supplements that will benefit this journey. If your are in a harsh caloric deficit and not getting enough protein macronutrients, BCAA’s can benefit your protein synthesis and also prevent catabolism: breakdown of muscles in a non-anabolic state. These are typically used around the intra workout period.
Finally is endurance training— something not necessarily associated with gaining mass strength. Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle group or single muscle to work continuously for a period of time, against resistance without tiring. Repetitions are much higher sitting around the 15-20 mark and lifting around 60% or lower weight than your capacity, as there is more of a focus on muscular contraction than weight lifted. Also, training intensity is far higher and there is less rest periods, typically ranging from 0.5-1 Minute each set. Contrary to popular belief, this type of training is mostly best suited to those looking to improve aesthetic appearance such as bodybuilders, fitness models, bikini competitors etc.
To truly reap the benefits of each training modality mentioned above, you should incorporate what is formally known as periodization. This is defined as a systematic planning of physical or athletic training. The goal with periodization is to climate to your best physical performance or physique at the most important time of the year. This can be relevant to sports performance (wanting to get into the best performance possible for the cup final) or even for aesthetic appearance (wanting to look your best at the summer holiday). With this in mind, you can use a combination of these training types during the year, changing every couple of months to consistently challenge your body. Here is an example of how strength training can be achieved via endurance and muscle building techniques: all contributing to your overall strength.
June - July (Off Season): Hypertrophy
July - August (Pre Season): Maximal strength
August - September (Pre Season): General strength development
September (Season Begins) Strength conversion to power
As always with training, results only come from hard work and consistency. To improve your strength, you need to find a training regime that works for you, and constantly challenges your body’s capacity.