Why Strength Training Is The Foundation For ALL Training
If there’s one type of training program that’s closest to a one-size-fits-all program, that would be strength training. It’s because optimal physical performance is truly all about strength. The world’s top athletes all do strength training exercises because if they’re not physically strong, they won’t be able to excel in their fields.
But more than just optimizing physical performance, whether it’s in sports or daily activities, strength training has benefits that can make life so much better. It can help improve mobility, speed, power, muscle mass, and shred some body fat levels. How? Let’s dig in deeper, shall we?
Strength is an essential component of all human performance, and its formal development can no longer be neglected in the preparation of an athlete. Successful strength conditioning depends on a thorough understanding of all processes underlying the production of strength by the body.
Strength is the product of muscular action initiated and orchestrated by electrical processes in the nervous system of the body. Classically, strength is defined as the ability of a given muscle or group of muscles to generate muscular force under specific conditions. Thus, maximal strength is the ability of a particular group of muscles to produce a maximal voluntary contraction in response to optimal motivation against an external load.
The Fundamental Principle of Strength Training
The fundamental principle of strength training is that all strength increase is initiated by neuromuscular stimulation. Although hypertrophy is the long-term result of a particular regime of neuromuscular stimulation, it is not the inevitable consequence of all types of work against resistance. (1) Two basic types of resistance training may be recognized, namely:
- Functional Resistance Training
- Structural Resistance Training
Structural resistance training is aimed primarily at producing muscle hypertrophy, (increase in lean body mass and decrease in body fat percentage). Functional strength is associated with many different performance goals, including improvement in static strength, speed-strength, muscle endurance, mobility and reactive abilities to produce power.
What Determines One’s Strength?
As stated above some of these factors are either structural or functional.
- The cross-sectional area of the muscle
- The number of muscle fibres contracting simultaneously
- The rate of contraction of muscle fibers
- The efficiency of synchronization of firing of the muscle fibers
- The conduction velocity in the nerve fibers
- The proportion of large diameter muscle fibers active
- The ability of cooperation between different types of muscle fibers
- The efficiency of the various stretch reflexes in controlling muscle tension
- The excitation threshold of the nerve fibers supplying the muscles
- The initial length of the muscles before contraction
As you can see above aside from the structural factor which is basically the bigger the muscle, the stronger you become, strength training is closely related to your central nervous system. Which means that our brain activates most of our strength and we all have heard of superhuman like stories such as a mum lifting a car off her baby right?
Strength and The Central Nervous System
The central nervous system can create high-powered, and yet skillful movements in athletes, but it will only do so as long as it considers the movement safe. When the brain senses damage or injury may occur to the body, it will down-regulate power to the muscle. What things will shut down the rapid wiring of power to muscles? (2)
- Lack of high-intensity contractions in training
- Weak mentality to training and adaptation
The way you can counter these factors and create an optimal environment for the CNS is by:
- Training specific overload in your movement needs
- Increase volume of high-velocity training
- Increase specific core training, which will allow the CNS to wire more power to muscles
- Train your subconscious mind
For the sake of the article let’s talk about the training aspect and not the intrinsic motivation factor.
Training Specific Overload
The brain will generally wire movements towards efficiency rather than proficiency if allowed to do so.
What this means is that if the brain has to pick between power or endurance, it’ll pick endurance. By failing to perform enough high-velocity movement, athletes will never break the plateau that is holding them back.
How do we break through the plateau? Simple, we need to train specifically more often and then overload that specificity. Some examples are:
- Sprinting: Overload with over speed
- Vertical Jump: Overload with depth jumps
- Barbell Squat: Overload with supramaximal loading
Other training methods you may be more familiar with is the maximal effort method and the reverse band method implemented by Dr. Rusin in the Functional Power Training system.
Strength Training and Increasing High-Velocity Movement
The movements that create the highest recruitment of muscle motor units are those of a high-velocity nature. In other words the faster the lift, the more muscle you recruit. In order to hit bigger lifts, and get more athletic in the process, high-velocity training is an essential part of one’s training.
Lifting heavy all the time will only get you to a certain point before you start to plateau or/and most importantly overtrain yourself. For that reason, speed training or high-velocity training is implemented by many coaches and professional athletes to increase power and increase overall strength.
One way to achieve such training is called the Dynamic Effort Method. The objective of dynamic effort training is moving a specific load as fast as possible. Again, you should be familiar with this method as Dr. John Rusin uses it in the FPT system.
Strength Training and Core Development
You might have heard this quote by the late Charles Poliquin “You can’t fire a cannon out of a canoe.” Well, this is especially true when referencing to strength training. If your core is weak, you won’t have an optimal transfer of force between the lower and upper body which in turn won’t allow your nervous system to transfer maximal power.
Smart and effective core training is much more than crunches and can also be found in the Functional Power Training system. Dr. John Rusin has been perfecting the skill for years now with carry’s, anti-rotation, crawling and many more exercises that will target your core and build a stronger spinal support structure.
Strength Training and Increasing Power
To better appreciate the connection between strength and increased power, we’ll need to get a bit geeky and see the technical definition of power, which is:
The ability to generate force as quickly as possible.
A geekier way to define this is through the mathematical formula:
Power = Force X Velocity (speed)
Based on the formula above, it’s clear that there are two factors that determine power: force and speed. Given the same speed, more force means more power. And given the same force, faster velocity or speed means more power.
Strength training is the best way to build, well, strength! The stronger a person is, the greater the force he or she can exert. The more force exerted, the greater the power!
Strength Training and Increased Speed
Usain Bolt couldn’t have broken and set sprinting records if his legs weren’t powerful and strong! To propel one’s self forward requires power against gravity. Strength training makes a person stronger. Being stronger enables a person to lift or push something (such as his or her own body) faster.
I am going to have to go into a little bit of science with the following for you to grasp the concept of how strength relates to power, speed, and agility.
Sir Isaac Newton, a British scientist, came up with the three laws of motion,
- Law 1 – The Law of Inertia
- Law 2 – The law of Acceleration
- Law 3 – The law of Action and Reaction
Law 1 states that any time motion needs to be started or changed, a force must be applied. In terms of running speed, this force is directly related to muscular action, and so every time an athlete wants to start moving or change a motion, the athlete needs to apply force.
Which brings us to the 2nd Law, where the rate of acceleration is proportional to the amount of force applied. In simplest terms, it means, acceleration depends solely on the amount of force applied.
The equation looks like this:
Force = Mass X Acceleration
Mass describes how much an athlete weight which means that to increase acceleration (speed) one should increase its mass (lean body mass) and force producing capacity (power)
Speed is directly related to power, and we already know that power depends on strength; therefore, if speed training is one’s goal, coaches and athletes should consider incorporating strength training in their program. (3)
Strength Training and Increased Agility and Quickness
Now that you know how strength, power, and speed are related, here is where it all comes together. Agility can be described as a rapid whole-body change of direction or speed in response to a stimulus.
Physical and cognitive components make up for agility but for the sake of this article let’s stay with the physical aspect of agility.
To create a rapid change of direction or speed, one should not only increase acceleration as we talked about above but also deceleration!
An athlete with high eccentric strength can quickly and effectively decelerate his body while maintaining dynamic balance in preparation for a change in direction.
Inadequate eccentric strength can slow deceleration and reduce the ability to change direction quickly. (4)
Moreover, guess what happens the most in the eccentric phase of a movement? Injury! That’s right injury most often occur in the eccentric phase or lengthening of the muscle.
Strength Training and Building Muscle
There’s no other way around it, but one’s strength is directly proportional to one’s muscle mass. This is because muscles are responsible for a person’s physical movements. And the amount of muscle mass one has determined how much force or tension a person can generate, which is what strength is about.
There are three important components to building muscle mass: training, nutrition, and rest. The most important may be training. Not that nutrition and rest aren’t important, however, nobody can build muscles without proper stimulus which implies adequate training, even if he or she eats enough protein, takes steroids, and sleeps 8 hours per night.
How does strength training increase muscles? Strength training exercises result in muscle fiber tears in the muscles that are being worked out. And in the same way, create micro-fractured bones heal to be stronger than before, muscle fibers heal and, in the process, either grow (Hypertrophy) or multiply (Hyperplasia).
Strength Training and Fat Loss
Most people think that the best way to lose body fat is via cardio exercises. For them, strength training is the least effective way to lose weight. Are they right?
Before that, let me say that when it comes to fat loss or weight loss, the most important component is diet. By diet, I mean a sound nutrition program for losing weight, i.e., eating the right kinds of foods at the right time. You can lose weight just by dieting alone, but of course, you’ll need to incorporate regular exercise to maximize fat loss and increase lean body mass.
That being said, strength training is superior to cardiovascular training when it comes to long-term fat loss. Why? Let’s take a look at the ways each exercise helps in losing weight.
The most popular cardiovascular exercise that people do for weight loss is running or jogging. Based on the 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: A Second Update of Codes and MET Values that was published on the website PubMed.gov, a person who weighs around 160 pounds can burn about 250 calories jogging for 30 minutes at a moderate pace and up to 365 calories if running at an average pace of 6 miles per hour. The same person may lose only up to 220 calories with a strength training session of the same duration.
When it comes to number of calories burned per workout session, it appears that cardio training wins. But hold your horses before judging against strength training. Strength training can help burn more calories over a longer duration compared to cardio exercise by raising resting metabolic rate in two ways.
Resting Metabolic Rate: Metabolic rate during a rested state. This is considered as one’s normal metabolism.
First, strength training helps increase muscle mass while cardiovascular exercises don’t. Because muscles are the body’s most metabolically active cells, they burn the most calories. Therefore, more muscles mean higher resting metabolism, and more calories/body fat burned even while at rest.
The second-way strength training exercise helps improve metabolism is by keeping the resting metabolic rate elevated for a much longer time compared to cardio exercises. This ability to keep post-exercise resting metabolic rate elevated is often referred to as the after-burn effect or EPOC.
Three studies (5) that compared caloric burning rates of strength training (e.g., resistance training) and cardio training showed that strength training workout sessions burn more calories for several hours afterward compared to cardiovascular exercise sessions.
One particular study entitled Effect Of An Acute Period Of Resistance Exercise On Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption: Implications For Body Mass Management published by Schuenke on the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that strength training exercises can keep resting or basal metabolic rate elevated for up to 38 hours post workout while no such effects were seen after cardio workout sessions. This means a person can burn more calories – and body fat – throughout the day with strength training workouts compared to cardio training workouts alone.
In short, strength training workouts can give you more fat-burning bang for your time bucks!
Strength Training and Increasing Mobility
One of the oldest myths in many health and fitness circles is that when it comes to improving flexibility and mobility, stretching is superior to strength or resistance training. But University of North Dakota’s James R. Whitehead, Ed.D begs to disagree. According to him, the results of their study (6) suggests that strength training exercises that involve full-range motions may even be better than static stretching exercises.
Because of the lack of meaningful studies that directly compared strength training and static stretching exercises in terms of improving range of motion for muscles, they conducted their own research. It involved 25 college-aged volunteers. They were assigned to perform either strength training or stretching exercises that focused on muscles and joints in the hamstring, hips, shoulders, and knees for 5 weeks. The study also assigned 12 other students to engage in exercises other than stretching and strength training just for comparison purposes.
At the end of five weeks, the study’s results showed:
- Strength training was just as effective as static stretching when it came to hamstring flexibility improvements;
- Resistance or strength training was superior to both static stretching and doing nothing when it came to increasing hip flexibility;
- When it came to improving shoulder extension flexibility, no significant differences were noted between strength training and static stretching exercises; and
- Resistance training was better than doing nothing when it came to improving strength in the knees, which is a crucial aspect of good mobility.
Through strength training, full ranges of motion of different body parts can be improved over time. As a result, strength through further range of motion improved true mobility.
Without STRENGTH, No Training Is Complete
When it comes to getting leaner, stronger, increase power and speed, and even improving mobility, strength training is the foundation of all training.
With that said, Dr. John Rusin came up with a pain-free performance approach called Functional Power Training, which involves individualization of movement pattern variations that allow maximal trainability while minimizing unwanted joint stress in the process.
If you plan on training for a lifetime and building longevity into your physical practices, forget about blindly training specific exercises and instead, train custom fit movement pattern variations. There are six foundational movement patterns that are as close to mandatory movements as it gets:
The foundational movement patterns are the backbone of the Functional Power Training program. From maximal and dynamic effort work to pattern-driven accessory lifts, FPT will challenge your patterns with different variations of big staple lifts, unlike any program you’ve ever trained to build resilient power, strength, and longevity.
About The Author
Kevin Masson MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, USAW
is a strength conditioning coach, exercise physiologist, and functional training specialist in Florida. His primary focus is working with athletes and general populations to increase athletic performance but also enhancing biomechanics. Kevin’s passion is focused on enhancing overall quality of life and pain-free performance for his clients.
- Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009). Supertraining. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky.
- Smith, J. (2019). Nervous System Training 101: The Creation of Superhuman Strength and Athleticism. Retrieved from https://blog.trainheroic.com/nervous-system-training-101-the-creation-of-superhuman-strength-and-athleticism/
- Jeffreys, I. Developing speed.
- Dawes, J., & Roozen, M. (2012). Developing agility and quickness. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Cardio vs Weight Lifting: Which Is Better for Weight Loss?. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cardio-vs-weights-for-weight-loss
- Whitehead, J., Morton, S., Brinkert, R., & Caine, D. (2010). Full Range Resistance Training Versus Static Stretching: Effects on Flexibility and Strength.Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, 42, 290. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000384405.44732.50
- John Rusin’s FPT Program – Dr. John Rusin – Exercise Science & Injury Prevention. (2019). Retrieved from https://drjohnrusin.com/product/fpt/