To be strong is not good enough

Good day everyone. It is been a while since I posted my last article for what I apologize. This time I am going to talk about different components of our well-being.


Having trained quite a few people over the past ten years I cannot help noticing one thing. Every single person who would like to improve their fitness wants to become stronger. This goal is absolutely excellent, yet to be just strong is not enough. No matter how much you can increase your bench press or squats it will not bring the full spectrum of health benefits. I want to introduce to you other elements of an excellent fitness.


Strength.


What is “strength” per se? The muscles have an ability to generate force by contracting. Any object on Earth has a weight. A weight of an object is a force exerted on the object by gravity.

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Strictly speaking when we say “My weight is 75 kg” it is incorrect from the physics standpoint. The correct version is “My mass is 75 kg”. As the mass of an object is the amount of matter it contains. For example, a 3kg brick will have a mass of 3kg and a weight of 29.1N (3kg* 9.8m/s2, F=m*g, measured in Newtons)

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The only way to lift it is to generate a force, by contracting the muscles, exceeding one exerted on the object by Earth gravity. For example, if we need to lift a 10-kilogram dumbbell then the muscles contractile force must be greater than 98 Newtons (10kg*9.8m/s2).


What does “being strong” mean? Depending on a social environment, it might refer to different qualities. Lifting more than an average person, ability to win a fist fight or run faster etc, all of these can be considered as “being strong”. In other words, it is subjective.

I propose these definitions:


You are strong if the muscles’ ability to generate a force allows you to perform the lifting part of your every day and other desirable activities with ease.

You are stronger if you can lift more than you could a day/week/month ago.


I would also suggest that you not compare your strength to another person’s strength. As our life experiences differ in many ways, person A might have devoted their entire life to training, whereas person B has been focusing on absolutely unrelated things. Shall person B compete with the person A it might end up being detrimental to person B’s health. Or on the contrary, person B’s strength potential might be much greater than one in person A, and taking person A as a reference point will severely limit person B’s maximum result.


Instead, I encourage a competition with yourselves and getting stronger than we were a month ago.


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How to get stronger: increase a single exercise workload by 0.5 - 1kg every training session till you hit a plateau. After, go back to the weight you started with + 10%. Repeat the cycle.

Example (bench press):

Session 1: 3*5 50kg

Session 2: 3*5 51kg

……….

Session N: 3*5 75kg (you failed to perform 3*5 with 75kg, even if it happened during the sent #3)

Session N+1: 3*5 55kg (50kg + 10%)

Session N+2: 3*5 56kg

……….

Session M: 3*5 80kg (you failed to perform 3*5 with 80kg, even if it happened during the sent #3)

Session M+1: 3*5 60.5kg (55kg+10%)

Session M+2: 3*5 61.5kg

……….

The less weight you add each session the better progression you will have. Be patient.

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The Stamina of strength.


It is an extremely important component which is often overlooked by many. Say you can do 1 pull-up. It means your muscles can generate a force exceeding one exerted on your body by gravity. Very well. The question is for how long can you stay at the highest point of a single pull-up, preferable touching the bar with the chest? From my experience, a person who can perform 5-10 pull-ups with easy, often cannot hold themselves up at the highest point for longer than 1-2 seconds.


In other words, we need the muscles to steadily generate the maximal force for a prolonged period of time. Why is it important?


Firstly, for a safety reason. When you lift something and the muscles give up before you put it down, you might get hurt. Secondly, have you decided to add more complexity to pull-ups by lifting the legs to the parallel with the floor, while holding the body up, then better stamina of your lats and biceps’ strength are an absolute must.


It is important to notice, that in many cases, It is little muscles-stabilizers, which secure a certain body’s position crucial for the successful implementation of a movement, lack stamina of strength and get fatigue prematurely. When it happens, the joints might be placed in a slightly different position while the movement is still in progress, leading to ineffective pull from the primary movers. Even despite the fact that the primary movers are not yet fatigue, the movement will not be accomplished as planned. Have you ever seen a person, performing a pull-up, crunching and twisting the torso while trying to get up instead of keeping it straight and still? That is the case.


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How to increase the strength stamina: get in the position where the muscles exert maximum pull and stay there for 2 seconds adding an extra 1-3 seconds every other training session till you hit a plateau. After, go back to the duration you started with + 1-3 seconds. Repeat the cycle.

Example (pull-up or a lat-pul in the machine, get the bar as close to the chest as possible and hold it):

Session 1: 3*3sec

Session 2: 3*4sec

……….

Session N: 3*7 (you failed, even if it was 6 seconds)

Session N+1: 3*4sec (3 sec +1)

Session N+2: 3*5 sec

……….

Session M: 3*10 (you failed, even if it was 9 seconds)

Session M+1: 3*5 (4 sec + 1)

Session M+2: 3*6

……….

The less you add each session the better progression you will have. DO NOT HOLD a weight which compresses your spine (squats, deadlifts etc)

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Power.


Very often there is a confusion between strength and power. As we already know strength is the ability of the muscles to generate a force. Whereas power is the ability of the muscles to generate a force within the shortest time possible. Power is also known as explosive strength.

For instance, if we are doing dead-lifts with 100kg then one repetition might last 2-4 seconds. If we are doing an Olympic jerk (clean and jerk) with 100 kg then we must accomplish it within a second. The first is an example of strength, the second is an example of power.


Power does not always imply lifting heavy weights. You can perform a powerful jump, kick or run simply by generating enough force to accomplish a movement as fast as possible. Any sport can take an advantage of powerful movements. In Gymnastics, power is required to get faster to some stage of a movement in order to not be exposed to gravity pull for too long or create a greater momentum.


Unfortunately, the body not always likes fast and powerful movements as they might inflict a great deal of damage to the connective or muscle tissue. When you contract a muscle suddenly with a power it pulls very hard against its tendons, which might be torn by such activity. Therefore the power training needs cautious. Do not rush the progress.


Often the following logic is used to train power: “If I can move the arm with a weight fast then without the weight I can move it even faster”. This is not always the case. Let’s say we have a boxer who wants to develop a faster and more powerful jab using a 10-pound dumbbell held in the hand. Albeit It is the least effective method of developing speed and power. There are two reasons why:


Reason 1. A jab is a combination of the triceps contraction and the biceps relaxation on the way to a target and vice versa on the way back. When the arm extends it develops momentum. Momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object (P = m*v). Consequently, the greater mass has the greater momentum. When the arm extension has been fully completed the Central Nervous System switches from the triceps contraction to the biceps contraction. When the biceps start the arm flexion it has to fight momentum, developed by the arm extension, whose vector of force still goes away from the body. Only after the residual force has been overcome the arm flexes. It takes just mere milliseconds, yet affects the speed rather significant. This latency is called electromechanical delay.


As you can see the heavier dumbbell the greater delay between the arm extension and flexion. Thereby, the Central Nervous System gets used to this gap, and after, even without the dumbbell, the brain will not relay electrical stimulation from the triceps to the biceps swiftly enough, making such approach counterproductive.


Reason 2. When the arm extends it develops kinetic energy (KE). KE is energy possessed by an object due to its motion or movement. Another definition is that it indicates an impact upon hitting anything. KE can be expressed by the equation: KE = P2/2m. If we have two objects, 1 pound and 10 pounds, moving with the same momentum, then the heavier object will have much less impact. How can two objects with different masses have the same momentum? Well, 1 pound object can be moved by the arm at a much greater speed than 10 pound one. Momentum is mass * speed. Consequently, if the momentum is the same it means that 1 pound object is moved faster than another one. The conclusion is that heavier objects do not always have a greater impact unless they have the same speed.


What is effective for power training? An elastic band. It is more effective than weights owing to the fact that the former is a dynamic workload and the latter is a static workload. The difference? A 10-pound dumbbell stays such at any point, whilst an elastic band increases workload when it is stretched, providing greater resistance when it is more effective. Not only that. Using the jab example, when it is time for the Central Nervous System to relay the electrical stimulation from the triceps to the biceps, it helps fight momentum by dragging the arm back, thereby decreasing the electromechanical delay, leading to almost an instantaneous reversal to the arm flexion. In this way, even without the band, the arm moves back with minimal pause, which is imperative in boxing. The same approach works excellently for golf, hockey, tennis, and any other “swinging, throwing, kicking” sports.


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How to increase power: first of all you can still use weights but insignificant ones, not greater than 0.5-2 kilograms. Secondly, and this is my favorite, is to use elastic bands. Just attach one to your golf club, tennis racket or hockey stick and practice the move you want to become more powerful. Or if you are a runner then put a band around the waist and ask your training partner to hold you back with it while you are trying to run as fast as possible. Or attach the band to something behind you.

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The Stamina of power.


Not only do we want to produce movements with great power, but we also want to do it for longer. For instance, during a boxing match, contenders throw powerful jabs at a great velocity with maximal muscular efforts for 12 rounds. It requires a lot of the shoulders’ stamina of power.


It is worth noticing that stamina of power is highly localized. If one can jump high repeatedly for a long time it does mean that pushups or pull-ups can be performed for an equally long period. The peak of a single muscle contraction and its duration depends on:


- the amount and firing rate of corresponding motor neurons recruited by the Central Nervous System to innervate this muscle.