Friday, August 20, 2010

Strength - a rant

Strength. What is it? It's one of the ten DynaMax physical skills and attributes. The others are: cardio-respiratory endurance, speed, power, flexibility, coordination, agility, balance, accuracy, and stamina. Strength refers to the ability of the body to perform a task. The "scoring" of strength is captured in pounds (#) or kilograms (kg). There is no TIME or DISTANCE component here. Simply put: in a strength contest, the athlete who can lift the most weight wins!

In the functional fitness community, strength is measured through different movements. Some of those are:
  • Deadlift
  • Back Squat
  • Front Squat
  • OverHead Squat
  • Standing Overhead Press
  • Bench Press
  • Push Press
  • Weighted Pullup
  • Turkish GetUp
  • Thruster
  • Clean / Power Clean
  • Snatch / Power Snatch
Notice a trend among these above listed movements. Each of them can be safely executed for maximal loads. My challenge to you is this: Do YOU practice movements at maximal loads? or merely for high numbers of repetitions?

What strength training IS NOT: Strength training is not any sort of weighted resistance training. Just because you are using barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, sandbags, or dumbbells (BB, KB, MB, SB, DB) doesn't necessarily mean you are "strength training." The load being used, as well the number of repetitions, might actually be stamina or cardio-respiratory endurance training!! Beginners might experience SOME increases in strength, but any increases will be marginal and severely limited.

Easy test to see if you are doing strength training: Can you lift the load/weight for that particular movement more than five times in a single set? The further (higher) the number of reps is from ONE, the greater the chance you are NOT causing your body to become stronger. Once an athlete gets past FIVE reps, other aspects of physical fitness are being groomed. NOT strength. I'm not saying that more than five repetitions is bad. I'm saying that the strength component is longer being stressed.

Strength training is NOT body building either. While muscles do get bigger (a nice by-product), it is not the goal. The goal is to add weight to the maximal and near-maximal lifts.

What strength training IS: Strength training uses heavy loads, low repetition numbers, and plenty of recovery time between sets. Some of the notations during strength-building formats might look like:
  • 5x5
  • 5x3
  • 7x1.
What this means is, in the case of 5x3, the athlete does five sets of three repetitions for a movement. Let's say the movement for the day is BACK SQUAT. Now since the athlete in this case study is a squared-away journal-writer, he has maintained a diary of his workouts. He flips back in his journal (or logs onto an online record-keeper like to check what his previous loads were for "5x3 back squats." He might see that the last time he did 5x3 back squats, he succeeded with 245x3, 255x3, 275x3, 285x3, and got only 295x2 in the last set. For his current workout, the athlete might warmup, then begin his sets with 275x3 (midway in his last performance), gradually increasing load each set. This athlete is optimistic enough to not only strive for 295x3, but even 305x3 or higher!!

The recovery or rest that this athlete takes between sets is considerable. Probably longer than one minute, or two, or three. This is hard for some new CrossFitters to they are sometimes misled into believing CF is all about insanely intense MetCon workouts. The recovery periods of strength training allows the body to work in a certain short-duration metabolic pathway, consistent with lifting maximal or near-maximal loads.

How personal records (PRs) are kept and recorded for strength training: I document my PRs in my journal. The data I keep is the loads for sets of five, three, and one rep(s). They are abbreviated as 5RM, 3RM, and 1RM, for Repetition Maximum. It's natural that an athlete's 1RM is higher than the 3RM, which is higher than the 5RM. I find it important to keep track of this data. Many of my current workouts (through CF Phoenix) ask that the athlete use certain percentages of a near-maximal load. For example, a workout might ask one to use "85% 1RM" for a certain number of reps. With accurately recorded data, that load will be easy to calculate.

I am in the midst of adding a special form to my journal. I am documenting each of the above listed movements in rows, and 1/3/5 RM in columns on a table format. The boxes on the table will be large enough for me to list the load, and the date of the PR. As an example, yesterday's workout produced a PR for 3RM power clean @ 255#. I would scribe in the box at the intersection of the "Power Clean" row and "3RM" column, and log the "255 (08-19-10)" under the "245 (06-17-10)" which was my previous PR from two months ago. This new table format will allow me to better locate my 1/3/5 RMs before strength workouts. It will be much more efficient than flipping through my steno pad for historical performances (Hit me up if you'd like to use my form. I'm making it on Microsoft Word).

When an athlete does specific strength-building workouts, his or her ability to perform work increases. It's a missing piece in many endurance athletes' programs, and sometimes dreaded day for lanky and lean MetCon junkies. Please don't confuse resistance training or weight lifting with Strength training. Increase the weight. Decrease the repetition numbers. Find some 1/3/5 RM data to populate your journal. Then keep hitting new personal records as you get stronger!

Next foreseeable rant: Raw Strength versus Relative Strength. Does your body size and body weight factor into this equation?

No comments: