The way I see it, you can train your body and mind any way you want. You can elicit the response you want most out of your body depending on how you go about training for that specific adaptation. For example, if your goal is to jump a certain height, you layout what strategies you’re going to use to accomplish that task. From a more personal life approach, if you want to give up a habit that doesn’t serve you in life, you’ll have to figure out your weak points and clean them up. Accomplishing either of these tasks can be done really well, or sloppily well. That said, there’s good intelligence and bad intelligence in any approach towards training, and in between them there are all sorts of bumps and wrong turns you can make. That’s why I like to simplify my training goal by looking at exactly what kind of response I want to elicit.
Ask yourself, “what precisely do I want from my body?” Which ways do you want to get stronger? No matter how you fill the blank in, it’s going to involve a process of reorganizing your connective tissues and re-configuring the way you think about your movement. One of the biggest roadblocks for many people is actually pretty simple — they don’t yet know how to train their bodies for their specific goals. Think about it. Most strength training advice is focused on one of two goals: bigger muscles or lifting heavier things. What about the other strength adaptations??
If you’ve been working on your strength and not getting much better at the things you actually care about, there are a couple possibilities.
- First, it’s possible that strength isn’t your primary challenge. It could be that your primary limiting factor is flexibility, body control, and breathing.
- The second possibility (and if you’re still reading this there’s a good chance this applies to you) that strength is the thing you need, but your current training isn’t building the right kind of strength.
The kind of strength you need depends on two things; YOUR unique anatomy and what you want to do with your strength.
Essential Ingredients: Understand Training Plasticity
One of the things I love about our bodies is we can create our own shape. Our tissues (including our brain), muscles, and fascia are all shapable, and that’s the first step to understanding how to strengthen your entire body. Once you see and feel this, you’ll soar higher during your training.
Back to the jumping and quitting a habit example. Both require strengthening and conditioning different parts of the body. New neural pathways have to be developed. The jumper needs to train hip explosiveness, both knee flexion and extension, in addition to ankle plantarflexion as well as dorsiflexion. You’ve got speed timing to work on, arm and core connection to understand, basically- there’s a lot to understand about jumping. Opposite side of the coin, we have the person overcoming an addiction or habit and see they have similar struggles in the training realm. They have to strengthen and condition their willpower, their discipline, and determination. Parts of their brain have to be treated like a muscle. Therefor they also have to understand how to keep their goal in focus whenever their best efforts gets disturbed in the real world and life. (Example; giving up french fries, going out with friends, everyone orders fries, but you don’t, you keep on your path.)
Our two individuals have many things in common, though the one I’m most interested in is their need to self-mobilize. The very first thing often overlooked when starting a new training program is the ability to mobilize yourself, to get out of your own way, stick to the plan, and stay with your intention. To stop doing what everyone else is doing, but taking responsibility for yourself and doing exactly what is going to give you the results you’re after.
In the spirit of winter coming, it’s a great time to look at what kind of strength plan you’re on. The way I see it, we can strengthen many areas in our body and life, but I want to know which is the most self-serving for you. In which way do you want to evolve your fitness, body, and health? To help you delineate the process I have written about the three main types of strength I have seen over the course of 12 years in the fitness arena. To help you out I’ve written about these three kinds of strength training and how they differ, both in the world of performance and in relation to “life” of training.
Are you ready for this? The three kinds of mainstream strength training in the gym are endurance strength, raw strength, and explosive (power) strength. I do not want to discredit all the other forms, such as yogic strength, dance strength, breathing strength, or power lifting strength, VO2 max strength, or any others. I am simply breaking it down for people to understand in terms of application in fitness / gym settings.
Raw Strength Training
Examples of raw strength are lifting 1-5 reps of object x. Typically measured in terms of a load lifted relative to the reps you can do. Raw strength is applied across various movement modalities including, strongmen, power lifting, and several Olympic sports. Bottom line is- everyone strength trains, and if you don’t, time to give me a call and get on it. For bodyweight exercises something like strict pull-ups (even weighted) for sets of 1-5. Carrying objects of all sizes and shapes for distances. Usually focuses more on mental will and being able to develop mass of muscles, as the overall goal here is raw indisputable strength. This type of training makes you stronger, muscles bigger, and when done correctly, still as quick as ever.
WHAT KIND OF WORK IS IT: Smaller sets. 2-5 sets of 1-5 reps. From a dead stop typically, though can involve repping out movements. Strict chin ups, squats, deadlifts, strength of muscles proportionate to the athlete’s bodyweight. To quote Jim Wendell of 5/3/1 strength training, “boring but big”. The work is hard, yet effective.
WHY YOU DO IT: To get stronger. You do this to put on some weight, bulk your muscles, and to increase force output on a given object. A great way to build confidence, overcome hurdles in life, and to develop a higher proprioceptive awareness in your body.
BENEFITS: Builds insanely powerful and strong connections throughout your body and nervous system. Improved joint strength, durability, and overall strength. Your ability to do work is HIGH. Being strong either mentally or physically will make endurance and explosive / speed work easier.
GAPS: Muscles can get large enough that they inhibit other muscles. Not incorporating stamina work into it can make you slow and sluggish. Flexibility can be hindered.
WORTH DOING? YES! Over and over again. If you have to ask if you could be stronger chances are you NEED to strength train. A note for the novice athlete; this takes probably the longest to achieve compared to the next two methods. Find a solid plan, and stick to it. If you’re not seeing and feeling your strength gains contact me ASAP!
Explosive (power and speed) Strength Training
Examples include vertical jumping, top end speeds, and max loads in Olympic lifts. Throwing objects far and high also demonstrates one’s ability to dynamically explode the body with little preparation. Bodyweight movements include flips, jumps, advanced gymnastics, and other tricky movements. Wonderful at strengthening joints, ligaments, tendons, and getting athletes to fine tune core-to-extremity mechanics. Focuses on precision in timing for effectiveness in explosive action. Since power can easily be missed by most athletes, understanding breath efficiency and proper biomechanics in the body is a must to have a successful adaptation.
WHAT KIND OF WORK IS IT: Larger sets of technique work. Anywhere from 2-10 sets of 3-8 reps. It is neither done at heavy weights or light weights. Explosive work has to be done at whatever weight the movement can be done at without compromising biomechanical efficiency. It is more technique based because it involves precision of movement. Explosiveness and executing force transmission takes hundreds, thousands of reps to achieve. Typically a more dynamic and explosive movement will require segments of moves to be broken down. Includes jumping, Olympic lifting, dance and most ball sports (including hockey).
WHY YOU DO IT: To understand how to tap into true internal potential. To explode, to throw, to execute with poise. To achieve a degree of motion within a sphere of control.
BENEFITS: Gets you learning about breathing and slow versus fast twitch muscle fibers. Also allows you to feel competent in your ability to withstand pressure, absorb it into yourself, and then release it with as much force or more than it met you with.
GAPS: The learning curve is steeper. Some days require going slow, other days require more speed emphasis. Less about doing one thing a few times or lots of things lots of times. It’s about how to synch up your body with real time, relative to the explosive action you’re doing. You need to be patient with speed training.
WORTH DOING? YES! If you have been avoiding explosive work you are setting yourself up for a weak endurance and raw strength plan. Endurance athletes and strength athletes need to practice exploding. Learning how to effortlessly expand and contract into your body will only make you better.
Endurance Strength Training
Examples include triathlons, endurance racing, bodyweight movements. Training centralizes around building the red meat muscles, deeper muscles, attached closer to and directly over the joint sites. Improves circulation in the joints, helps create an efficient circulatory system that better delivers oxygen to red blood cells. Body is usually built more proportionately with an emphasis on ease of human locomotion. Gymnasts and other dynamic full body-control sports usually develop superior endurance strength and can encourage a sense of uprightedness in the body. Endurance training when done properly makes your body stronger from the inside out. For anybody trying to get more explosive or stronger, it should not be overlooked that having a capable endurance base in life will better set you up for the preceding strength cycles.
WHAT KIND OF WORK IS IT: Muscular endurance is usually medium to high rep exercises. Anywhere from 2-5 sets of 5-15 reps, depending on desired result. Running, rowing, biking, swimming are the most common long distance modalities of training, although weight lifting, and gymnastics can be done while eliciting an aerobic response.
WHY YOU DO IT: To build muscular strength and stamina. To make it so you can move for long periods of time while reserving energy and keeping circulation throughout the body a constant. You do it to work your heart, lungs, and improve your ability to do work for a long time.
BENEFITS: Healthy for the heart, lungs, and circulation of the body. One of the best ways for building the red meat muscles that attach at a deeper place than most white meat muscles. Red meat are your stabalizer muscles that require more oxygen than the white meat muscles which are required for more funtional movements. Develops a metabolic base and helps keep body fat down and lean muscle mass up. Easier to get better at and you can always fine tune your mechanics (as with any sort of exercise).
GAPS: If you only do endurance work and never pick up weights there’s a possibility you’ll get weak…real weak. Your joints won’t like it, and unless you understand how to fire your glutes, chances are they won’t voluntarily work for you at first. Endurance goes hand in hand with raw strength training. Although most people may say they contradict one another, I don’t disagree with that. But when paired and utilized correctly together, you become a more well rounded body.
WORTH DOING? YES! Figure out how to do it. How to jog, row, bike, swim, anything for a sustained pace. Breathe, maintain a good posture, get better at managing your heart rate! Understanding how to train strength for endurance using your bodyweight will make you MUCH stronger when you get to weights and eventually explosive work. DO NOT SKIP!
There IS more on strength
I am aware I left out a lot of informative components when it comes to training strength in my simple breakdown. However, if you buy the adult beverage for us I am happy to talk with you till the earth’s end on strength training and what I missed, and didn’t write and so on. I wanted to break it down into three simple categories for people. All too often we get pulled out of our plan. And it’s just like the jumper and the person with the bad habit. We have got to stick to a plan if we wish to pursue success. And too often we deviate from the training program and wonder where we are or what we’re doing with ourselves. I think if you figure out a path you want to try, get on it for a month or two, and then reevaluate where to go next.
One of the types of strength I left out is integral strength. Integral strength has more to do with checking in with where your strength levels are today. Not always necessary as a training plan, integral strength observations is something to do regularly. Try a new class, learn a new sport, meditate. Get outside of your world and into another world, see how you can handle it and how well you can hang in it. Integral strength is an individual checking-in with how your body is from a flexibility, functional, and conditioned point of view. Constantly coming back to integral strength will only push you to higher levels of performance in the other 3 domains. This is essential strength building that leaves you with an iron body and iron mind. Integral strength should not be overlooked in life. Reach out to me to learn more about integral strength training.
Wait- what’s the benefit to choosing only one program? I thought I wanted to be strong in all 3 areas.
This is true, you want to be strong, well conditioned aerobically, and explosive. However, the way you approach each ‘cycle’ of training ought to be centralized around where you are now. What I mean is, to be fast and explosive, you better be strong. Your muscle fibers have to be dense, fast acting (responding), and have appropriate length relative to the other muscles around them and the joints they’re connected to. If you train something like raw strength first, before training explosiveness, you’re setting yourself up for a healthier adaptation. Your strong muscles, robust tissues, and powerful joints will be able to withstand the fast action of exploding, as well as adapt to a quicker motion movement done at a lighter weight
Lets say you do the opposite, you focus on training explosiveness before you’re strong. Advantages are that you’re lighter, so you are going to be able to create an elastic response within your body. The neuromuscular learning edge is the same. The wall you’ll hit however, is how explosive are you in terms of force output and power transfer. You might move quick and be gummy like Gumby, but if your muscles haven’t been trained to absorb large loads of force and shock, you might actually have a higher chance of injuring during an explosive action. Typically speaking, if you have put in the strength work, your explosive payoff will be huge. Not necessarily true the other way around.
Same on the cardio end. If you skip right to strength training before having any kind of aerobic base, you’re setting yourself up for injuries. This is the one I see most often. People want to be strong, and “cardio is for the weak”. However, when speaking biomechanically and intelligently about what endurance work does for your body, it actually sets you up for a more effective strength gain process.
When you build cardiovascular strength, you’re building the relationship between diaphragms first of all. So you’re improving the efficiency that oxygen is supplied to your brain, blood, and muscles. This dynamic improves the action of breathing, or, respiration. Once respiration is achieved, your body is going to start to send oxygen to your ‘red meat’ muscles more easily. Red meat muscles are going to be the deeper muscles, the ones attached right to, in, and around your joints. A solid aerobic base can actually make the deeper parts of your joints more sturdy to withstanding rough handling (this happens with good form, bad form obviously will change this relationship). Either way, cardio strength builds the deeper muscles and harmonizes your diaphragms (that’s right, plural).
If you were to skip cardio and head right for strength training, raw strength training, you will be skipping a part of your strength journey. Endurance strength can enhance raw strength training. Can you imagine being able to have a faster recovery rate when doing sets of heavy squats or pull ups? Think of the advantages you’ll have as a strength athlete if your heart and lungs are already conditioned and strong. Endurance strength is a prerequisite in my eyes, a foundational step in your journey towards embodiment. Jumping right to strength work will build your joints, it will make you stronger, it will contribute to longevity and vitality in your life. However, I bring up the relation between cardio and strength training because it is often done in a reverse fashion. Take my advice, start with crawling, walking, running, biking, swimming, and move into strength work once your cardio is at an okay place where you don’t experience pain or discomfort when doing it.
The Final Verdict : Get stronger
Training is a lifelong process. Athlete, weekend warrior, average Joe, none of our demands differ. We all want to be healthier. The process is what distinguishes us from each other. Our anatomy is what makes us each stand out in a unique way. It is our body that needs to undergo a personalized training regimen to get the precise result we yearn for.
At the end of the day, the jumper will jump higher when they start training intelligently with a specific focus in mind. Our individual who is overcoming a bad habit will also succeed if they approach the obstacle from a place of understanding and deliberation. Both athletes in this scenario have the common need to self-mobilize. They both will get to the next level in self-performance faster when they delineate their objective and conquer their quest with a plan in hand.
Everybody has ways to get strong. As a human being in this world I believe it is part of our god-given talent to get stronger- in all areas of life. I think one of the best ways to get stronger is to find a practice at the gym. Find a focus. Look at where you are today and decide, do you need to strengthen your endurance, your raw strength, or your power output? Which have you been training consistently and could use a break? What is your end goal in the next 3-6 months? If you keep throwing spaghetti at a wall something will stick. But why take the long winded approach? Figure out what you want. And from there GO GET IT!
Again- I covered simplistic ways of how to get stronger. I am happy, to talk further on all sorts of strength adaptations, approaches, programs, etc. I hope this helped to simplify the process and get you to look at your gaps, holes, and weaknesses. Next week I am going to share with you one of my favorite solutions for strengthening your diaphragms in relation to your core, hips, and glutes. I plan on covering the importance of flexibility and DCG training in whatever workout regimen you’re on.
Meanwhile learn more about your training by asking yourself this simple question; are your glutes firing? Find out and try out these simple movements to get them going!