Getting Strong

Since we are coming into the winter months, we are adding more strength work to the mix. Almost everyone I have spoken with likes the ME and MetCon split routines we are programming here. I do still get the occassional question as to why we need to bench, squat, deadlift, etc. So allow me to explain.

First of all, strength work will not hurt you and it is not dangerous. If you are coached and spotted in your workouts, life is good and you will excel with minimal chance of injury, barring some complete act of God or massive stupid attack. Many people will tell you squats are bad for your knees, deadlifts will screw up your back and presses will trash your shoulders. My response has always been that swimming will kill you too if you don’t know how to do it. So it’s a moot point. Learn proper mechanics and movement patterns and you will be fine. If you don’t know what a squat is or where the femur is, then find a truly knowledgeable person who does and get some 1-1 coaching time in.

There are two types of strength domains – absolute strength and relative strength. Looked at in layman’s terms, they would be “max effort output” (1 RM and similar short, high power maximal efforts) and “Strength to weight output” (your ability to produce force and work capacity in realtion to your size). Both of these are dependent upon each other and more importantly, if you wish to get fitter, faster, stronger, and healthier you need to lift something heavy on a regular basis.

You can do air squats and push ups till the cows come home, and at some point, it is what it is. You are about as strong and as fast as you are going to get with bodyweight and minor external loading will allow. In other words, your relative strength is at it’s end range. So now comes the time to improve performance by adding some external loading, and working on absolute strength.

Absolute strength will increase your relative strength as your force production and power will dramatically improve in efforts where sub-maximal loads are being moved, be it bodyweight or lighter loads. Additionally, if the ME days are done in a proper manner at prescribed percentages and time domains, you will create new motor pathways and increase the motor units that cause the muscles to fire. This creates muscular efficiency, an improved proprioceptive response between brain and body, and increased athleticism and fitness. By creating more motor units and and bettter efficiency, the body now knows how to use the muscles and their “new found” abilities in a variety of situations in sport and real life, from endurance events to high intensity short or long term output requirements.  The Central Nervous System is stimulated and creates change in the body through various mechanisms of recovery and adaptation. Some movements can be very systemically taxing at heavy weights and volume, especially deadlifts, and should not be overdone or the CNS will have a rough time recovering. One heavy day of deadlifts a week is plenty, so don’t get too jiggy with it just because you think it will be better. If another workout with deadlifts comes up, put the ego on a shelf and scale back from RX’d weight to allow the body a chance to continue it’s recovery.

Of course strength work at maximal loads, (80% and up) will create some lean body mass growth, but not to the degree of being bulky or body building routines. Coupled with a good conditioning program, you will see great results in strength and power, as well as maintaining cardiovascular efficicency. Strength work has a huge neuroendocrine response in the body. The positive hormonal and chemical changes that take place in the body do some great stuff for you, long and short term.

Lastly, strength work is a great way to create a stronger body thereby avoiding injury. A solid structure, supported by healthy bone and muscle is more resistant to injury. For many people, myself included, when the back, knees, or whatever starts to hurt, a few sets with a heavy barbell makes it all better. The muscles are re-tensioned and many aches and tweaks are mitigated and shaken off. A steady diet of this helps maitnain this strong muscular support system and also builds strong bones and connective tissues within the body. This is crucial as we age and the ravages of inactivity and poor diet creep up on many folks.

All this being said, you still need to rest and recover from hard days of strength work. Ice it, stretch it, roll it, do whatever, but take care of the body and you will go a long way. The work on the front end will be a benefit on the back end. I’d rather do heavy squats now to prevent the possibility of having someone else help me off the toilet at the nursing home when I am 90 because I thought squats were bad for me. I bet you all agree!

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