Friday, September 12, 2014

What is Strength?

Back in the day, I used to think a lot of weird stuff about strength and strength training.

I used to think bigger muscles were stronger.
I used to think strength was mostly something that happened in muscle tissue.
I used to think being better at bench pressing would make you better at - for example - punching or hitting a baseball.

In short, I thought about strength training like a body builder thinks about strength training.  At some point, it became clear that a bigger bench press didn't translate much to the athletic activities I valued.  Ten years later I found CrossFit and began to unravel why.

It turns out that the ability to generate for and the ability to generate force quickly is very complex and muscle size is a relatively small factor.  Which is why, I suppose, Louie Simmons says "Big is not strong, strong is strong."

It also turns out that while the muscle contraction has to be happen for strength to be expressed, that contraction is affected by what is happening in other parts of the body.  For example if you lie on your back and raise your legs and then turn on your core muscles, the output of those muscles will be lessened.  The first time I heard of this idea of "load sequencing" (meaning loading core muscles or for example posterior muscles first), I scoffed with the same characteristic arrogance I have always been unable to avoid.

There's also the matter of position.  If you play with yoga, they spend a lot of time focusing on postures or poses.  If you play with martial arts, the same applies - good position is very important.  Turns out that power lifters and gymnasts found the same things.  Good position is critical for high athletic output, and in particular if one wants to avoid injury.

Lastly, for athletics, stronger arm muscles are nice but they only pay off if you can apply them via powerful hip extension.  In other words, you have to know how to use your ass.  All day long I'm showing folks how to use their ass, so that they can safely generate high power - time after time.

To conclude, first you want good body position, then you want proper load sequencing, then you want  "strong muscles" and then you want bigger muscles (since the size itself can increase leverage).  But the holy grail of athleticism is force and speed together - so if you want to be an elite athlete, you have to develop, in addition to the above, the capacity to develop high force in a short amount of time.  That is to say you want a high rate of force development.  Combine them all and you get a home run hitter, a long ball golfer, a champion olympic lifter, or a world class CrossFitter.

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