What the Heck Does it Mean to Train Strength?

I remember when I first started training. I was ignorant to what training really meant, so for me it was really just a bunch of random workouts strung together. There was no rhyme or reason I was just doing what I thought might get results. It was like trying to play dodgeball with a blindfold on. Unless you're Peter LaFleur. 

It's important to remember this quote, "Strength is your glass". In other words, the stronger you become the more capability you will have to do different activities. It's not a miracle pill, but it provides a foundation, a container if you will that will continue to grow and allow the opportunity to "fit" more items in it. Just like a bigger glass holds more water... I realize now, just how obvious that statement was...

However, it's easy to get confused with strength. I'll admit, it's easy to forget just how involved the nervous system gets when it comes to strength. Often times we treat strength training like we do with endurance training and as a result get hurt, whether immediately or in the future.

When training true strength recovery needs to be at a premium. 

First let's look at true strength. It's not just about the muscles getting bigger, but it's also the body working as one unit, as one fine motor unit. Yes, I repeated myself, because it's that important to remember.

When someone moves a heavy weight, every muscle in their body is involved. Case and point, this monster deadlift.

It is not just his legs moving the bar, but his hands that have to hold the bar, even his tongue pressing into the roof of his mouth is helping his diaphragm stabilize his spine so it doesn't snap like a piece of raw spaghetti. 

To build this kind of strength, yes endurance plays a role. Remember last week when I said it's not black and white. However, recovery plays an even bigger role. 

Strength can't be trained for reps on end, nor should there be barely any rest between sets. Strength needs to be low reps, middle to high sets, and long rest. 

Lower reps and high sets because we do want some decent volume, however we want the body to be fresh for every rep. Hence the rest.

So my general recommendations for strength training are as follows; (key word general, remember it's not black and white, but following these recommendations are very helpful)

  1. 3 to 8 sets for an exercise
  2. 1 to 5 reps for an exercise
  3. 2 to 5 minutes rest between exercises

This is just for one session. There is a lot more that be said about the interplay of frequency and the central nervous system, and so many other things, but let's not go crazy.

Bottom line; follow these guidelines and don't make strength training so confusing. These recommendations will go along in building strength. And as strength grows, so will the glass get larger.

- Dave

A quick aside: an easy way to chart strength gains is to look at three different things; the speed in which you move, the weight on the bar, or the total volume (SETSxREPSxWEIGHT). If at least one of these traits improves while the rest stay the same than you are getting stronger