Many athletes and people training confuse strength with power. In fitness terms strength is your ability to generate a force. For example, stand against a wall and push as hard as you can. If there was a force plate measuring the amount of force being applied you could measure your strength. Force combined with velocity translates into power. If I take a bullet and try to push it into your leg it may hurt but it will most likely not penetrate your skin. If I fire the bullet out of a gun and increase the velocity dramatically it becomes deadly. Adding velocity to strength in a movement allows an athlete to perform at higher and higher levels. This combined with balance, sport specific skills all come together to make a great athlete. Of course there are other mental aspects of the game that come into play as well but one of the important ingredients is strength.
So what is the most effective way to increase strength? HEAVY LIFTS, HEAVY LIFTS, HEAVY LIFTS. It has become apparent to me that the emphasis on functional training has diminished the focus on the benefit of heavy lifts. By the way, heavy closed chain exercises are very functional and incorporate multiple muscle groups in combination. We do not typically perform open chain heavy lifts unless there is a particular requirement. (NFL combine bench press test) At Sirens & Titans, we look at the strength zone to be lifts of 8 repetitions or less. When we feel comfortable that that athlete has excellent form, we like to go to 5 repetitions or less in a heavy lift. Lifting heavy is important for almost any athlete. Especially as athletes age and also for athletes that compete in power to weight sports. It is also of great help to women, although the myth of getting big diminishes women lifting heavier.
Much of the culture of strength in the west is built on a foundation of body builders. The goal of body building is to add size. Most of the exercises for size are done at much higher repetitions in order to produce hypertrophy in the muscles.
With this in mind a typical exercise set up for strength would start with a light weight warm up of the exercise. This is typically 10-12 repetitions. This is the time to determine if all systems are good to go. Are there any funny feelings or unusual stresses as a result of the exercise? In many cases a second “warm up “set is called for and lowers the risk of injury. If everything feels good we have the athlete jump to an 8 rep set. The weight should be heavy enough that rep number 8 is difficult to complete. We then go to a 5 rep set where the weight is increased and the 5th repetition is difficult to complete. Difficult to complete means what it says. It should be very hard to complete that last repetition. When we are early in the maturity of a lifter we will usually stick with a 5 rep set and go no heavier until we feel comfortable with form and fatigue. We also go back to this 5 rep strength set when we are doing higher volume strength work. If the athlete has perfect form we will go to a 3 rep set and sometimes a 1-2 rep max lifts.
These lifts are of great importance. There is a great neuromuscular response to this type of lifting and strength gains come quickly. The other nice addition is that these lifts do not take that much time, and can be completed in a relatively short amount of time.
So if you want to get strong, lift heavy with great form. There is no substitute.
Truth in Fitness.
Jacques DeVore, CSCS
President Sirens & Titans Fitness