Strength Training: The Missing Muscle Building Key?
Editor’s Note: This article by Nick Smoot originally appeared at Machine Muscle.
Do you take more pride in being brutally strong, or having the ability to take “selfies” of your abdominal veins on a daily basis? Now I am not knocking anyone for having good aesthetics. If you are not an elite level powerlifter who uses extra fat for joint stabilization when squatting 800 pounds, there is never a need to allow yourself to get fat.
For the majority of people, they should be able to reach their goals and maintain a lean physique year round. However, I feel that people have been putting too much priority on the pursuit of “the pump” and shredded glutes recently, and this is causing them to neglect one of the most important biomotor abilities of all; strength.
Strength is the foundation upon which movement and sport specific technique is built. Strength is a shield against injuries, and a catalyst for physique development. Start moving heavy weight for low reps and you will be astounded at its carryover into nearly every goal you are trying to achieve.
Train Like a Powerlifter, Look Like a Bodybuilder?
Ok, so not everyone cares about being able to deadlift a Mercedes or benching 500 + pounds. There are a large number of individuals only interested in increasing muscle mass, looking symmetrical, and pumping their muscles full of so much blood that they can’t even masturbate properly.
With that mindset, they begin to exclude anything under eight reps, train with an unnecessarily high volume, and perform enough isolation exercises to be hosted on a local infomercial. In my opinion, this regimen is a serious mistake.
Now the principle of specificity must always be taken into account, and individuals looking to put on muscle mass should have the majority of training allocated to the hypertrophy range (8-12 reps). However, only training for hypertrophy is a quick way to hit a plateau, lose strength, and decrease the chances of ever reaching the physique you are fighting for.
Lifting moderate weight with higher reps is the best way to increase cell volume and therefore muscle size, but there must be some form of progression in order to continue making progress. What happens when you begin pressing 185 pounds for 10 reps, and three weeks later you are still pressing the same weight? You make zero progress.
There is only so far you can go adding more weight to the bar, increasing time under tension, adding in sets, lifting the same weight for more reps, etc. before inadequate strength becomes a limiting factor. Running a strength block is the most efficient way to increase strength. The newly acquired strength will allow you to lift more weight in the hypertrophy range when you return to it, and stimulate an even greater increase in muscle mass.
We also can’t forget the simple fact that gaining strength in and of itself will almost always lead to an increase in muscle mass. If you don’t believe me, look at powerlifters who go on a cut and end up revealing physiques that could easily have them placing on a bodybuilding stage. So start grinding out some weight close to your one rep max and watch your physique take off.
Carryover to Sport Technique
Despite what is depicted on that corny Planet Fitness commercial, resistance training is not just about “lifting things up and putting them down.” Every exercise performed in the gym is a skill that requires a certain amount of technical proficiency.
The squat is a perfect example.
Many people claim that their knees hurt when they squat, and therefore preach that squats are bad for everyone’s knees. These same people are the ones who begin the squat descent by breaking at the knees instead of the hips, letting their knees cave in, their knees track excessively far past their toes, their heels come off the ground, and their thoracic spine round over.
It isn’t squatting itself that is bad for their knees. Their pain is a result of their own lack of motor control and poor squatting technique (possibly combined with mobility and flexibility limitations).
Every sport, from football to gymnastics, requires technical proficiency to complete various movement patterns safely and efficiently. I believe that technique separates the average from the elite, and one of the biggest limiting factors to technical development is strength.
It has been said countless times, “repetition is the mother of skill.” If you do not have the adequate strength to get into a proper position or complete a movement pattern, you increase your potential for injury, and your inability to practice movements will impede your progress in your sport of choice.
Strength Training and Joint Health
One thing that has always impressed me about powerlifters is their joint strength. Compare the knee joint of a weekend warrior who squats 225 pounds and an elite level powerlifter who squats 750 pounds and I would venture to guess that the powerlifter’s knees are in better shape.
As you progressively increase the load on a specific joint, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments all adapt and get stronger in order to better handle the load in the future. As strength rises, so does the joint’s resistance to injury.
Now it is important to note that training with near maximal weights for long periods of time does put strain on the joint. Stress is needed in order to stimulate adaption, but too much will lead to injury. I would recommend throwing in a hypertrophy cycle from time to time.
The higher volume and decrease in intensity will increase work capacity and prepare the muscles and connective tissue to handle heavier loads in the following training block. Strategically alternating strength and hypertrophy training will allow you to keep moving forward long term, increase health of your joints if done correctly, and drastically reduce the potential to injury.
Summing it Up
Although it is important to work on all biomotor abilities, I feel that strength is the most neglected, yet most important one of them all. Saying you don’t want to be strong is like wishing for the inability to get better in sports, a subpar physique, a lack of power and speed, and $1000s in future orthopedic bills.
Don’t be that guy! Start moving some heavy weight and enjoy the ride as your physique and performance rise to the next level.