With very few exceptions, the expression of strength should be a key feature in any program focused on aesthetics, performance, and even rehabilitation. The most beneficial movements tend to rely on total body tension development, and requires a systemic approach to moving a weight from position A to position B.
Consider how this could be “functional” to have more strength. For instance, this study cited a direct relationship to grip strength and independent living ability in the elderly. This study showed that when posture starts to become more flexed and weaker into extension, it increased the need to be dependent on assisted living in the elderly, and this study suggested that hip strength was a better predictor of function in elderly women than just lean body mass.
Strength is apparently one of the defining characteristics of being able to stay healthy and active long into our golden years, more so than body composition, flexibility, or any other measure of fitness.
All sports that involve some level of force application over time could benefit from an increased expression of strength. From my work with distance runners and triathletes, I’ve found a direct connection to how much and how deep they can squat and their maximal speed as well as speed at anaerobic threshold. Those who can make a squat to parallel and lift a sizeable load tend to have very strong kicks, and also well braced cores who don’t wind up hinging through their spine as they run, looking like a funky chicken.
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Strength improvements can also help endurance athletes prevent and overcome common injuries through the low back, knees, hips, and even shoulders. Here’s my wife pulling 1.7 times her body weight in January.
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The ability to generate total body tension is one of the requisites to produce sprinting power and change of direction for multidirectional athletes. A stronger athlete who can control and express that strength on the field will have a distinct advantage over other athletes.
I’ve written about how stabilization training can have a dramatic impact on range of motion in the hip HERE, and the premise is true on a lot more than simply hip rotation. A squat, properly performed with a neutral spine and tension through the entire system, can have a massive impact on reducing hamstring tightness, low back pain, upper back stiffness, and even cranky shoulders. Pulling movements can have a tremendous effect on sore shoulders, and all types of loaded movement can help with conditions like osteoporosis, osteopenia, sarcopenia, and other types of degenerative conditions.
Most muscle imbalances come down not to one or more muscles being too strong, but to others not being strong enough to work with the stronger ones. Strength is corrective.
Strength doesn’t discriminate. It only asks that you move the weight. You either can or you can’t. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like or where you came from. The weight is the same regardless of who grabs it.
The premise of any aesthetic program is through the utilization of progressive overload, where you add weight to the bar and complete the same number of reps, or do more reps at the same weight. The biggest guys are typically also the strongest guys, so using more weight in a controlled manner tends to result in increased muscle hypertrophy, as well as density and “tone.” Women tend to respond to lower volume weight lifting with heavier weights better than higher volumes with lighter weights in terms of not increasing lean body mass. For all those women who don’t want to get “bulky,” less volume and heavier weights tend to do the job compared to higher reps with lighter weights.
Guys tend to be the opposite, where they respond more preferentially to gaining muscle with heavier weights and lower volumes than with lighter weights and higher volumes. To see this disparity in action, watch the Crossfit games and look at the builds on most men and women. The guys tend to be fairly lean and wiry and the women have some impressive development. This isn’t a slam at Crossfit or discussing whether one is better than the other, just an observation based on the evidence presented as to what seems to produce specific results in appearance.
Because of how much impact strength training can have on almost all facets of living, performance and aesthetic development, it should be a primary focus in many strength training programs. Hell, it’s even the first word in strength training programs. Sadly, however, many programs tend to put more focus on corrective isolationist exercises for people who don’t need correction other than the become stronger (note: if you’re injured or have a specific condition, you get a pass on this one. Otherwise, you may just need to get stronger), or performing some made-up functional movement like swinging on a cable machine like Tarzan and doing some little jump, or standing on a bosu on one foot while twirling a hula hoop on the other.
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Because strength is an integral part of any goal set, training program, or methodology relating to getting bigger, faster, healthier, or even more flexible, having a well thought out program that can effectively focus on this is incredibly important.
Bret Contreras just released his new strength building e-book 2 x 4 Strength this week, and while the programs will most likely make you able to withstand direct impact from swung 2 x 4’s, the main benefit will be a progressive strength program that focuses on getting you simply strong. Everything else is secondary, and the programs are laid out to allow for maximum strength gains with minimal CNS fatigue and performance loss through the workouts.
This is a great program for anyone looking to simply get strong, look strong, and be strong, whether in the gym or outside in the rest of the world. I started doing it this week and am excited to go through the variations, progressions and see the benefits for myself, and you should join in too.
Bret put the entire series, both the silver and the gold packages, on sale for this week only for the initial launch. You can get a massive book, video library, and a bunch of other goodies for a low low price only until this weekend only, so act now to get it for cheap and have your spring/summer training program ready to go.