We have written blogs about strength numerous times in the past such as manipulating the strength curve in training or managing training volume to avoid over-training and injuries. Today, we would like to go through why we are so obsessed with strength in the sporting population and some of the non-negotiables when it comes to strength training and post-injury rehabilitation.
“Strength is the maximum contractile force in one contraction against a resistance.”
There should be a strong emphasis on strength-building for both athletes and the general population because strength is the foundation upon which functions or performance-based outcomes are built and enhanced. Imagine strength as the fuel tank which allows you to have the reserve to perform many tasks such as lifting a box up from the floor or going for a run. Without strength or running on empty tanks, you don’t have the fundamentals to build up other things like balance and power.
“Strength is the foundation upon which a number of abilities/ functions or performance based outcomes are built and enhanced.”
It’s all about adaptation and specificity
You may have heard about progressive loading when it comes to building strength or muscle hypertrophy. Depending on your program whether it is linear, non-linear or in blocks, you will increase the load (or the weight) accordingly in order to gain strength. However, most of us forget about 'specificity'. In strength training, it is easy to fall into the trap of sticking to the working set’s weight (e.g. 50kg bench press) and once it gets easy, the majority of people tend to increase repetitions of the same weight (e.g. rather than going for 5 repetitions they may go for 8 to 12 repetitions). This is where strength training starts to lose momentum and its specificity.
“When self-progressing at the gym, it is easy to get carried away with just doing more repetitions with the same weight and forget about increasing load.”
We have one non-negotiable principle in strength training, which is load and intensity.
When given a home exercise program, many people progress the exercises by staying at the same weight and increasing the repetitions. This causes us to deviate from the goal, which is building strength. Referring back to the definition of strength, we need to exert the load with maximum effort to achieve physiological effect and change. The optimal repetition range for strength building is between 3-5 repetition maximum or RM. 5RM is your ability to lift a specific weight for 5 repetitions, and no more. We start to migrate into the endurance territory once we start to increase our rep range to >8-10.
“For strength gain we want the person to work really hard with maximum effort but only for a short period of time.”
Work to fatigue vs. work to failure
The term “fatigue” can mean different things to individuals. What does fatigue mean to you? In strength training, we want to avoid working to fatigue as motor units lead to impaired muscle contraction of force production, reducing the chance for adaptation of maximum strength.
On the other hand, working to failure means working within specific rep ranges e.g. 5RM where we fail to lift the 6th time. We don’t want to work up to 10RM as we risk depleting our energy reserves.
Strength gain is about specificity and progressive loading. Next time at the gym, try to go through your program carefully and have a look at the dosage for each exercise. Are you keeping up with the specificity of 3-5RM? Are you working up to a total of 25 to 45 reps weekly for that targeted muscle group? Working with injuries becomes another can of worm that requires clinical consideration when it comes to lifting with maximum effort for strength gain.
If you have any questions or would like our help in assessing your specific injury or strength goals, get in touch!