Before we talk about strength and its importance, we should probably define it for you at its fundamental level. Strength is defined as the ability to produce an external FORCE (Stone, 2007). There are three types of strength:
- Isometric: force (strength) without movement (trying to push a wall)
- Concentric: force (strength) with movement (picking up a box from the floor)
- Eccentric: force (strength) that controls or decelerates movement (lowering a box to the floor)
Strength is the underlying factor in technique, efficiency and power of movement. Strength is the most important training factor.
Strength is also a coordination of the neuromuscular system (Cormie, 2011). This is why some people seem “naturally strong”.
Therefore You Can Improve Your Strength In Two Main Ways:
Improving Strength by Training Muscular Elements:
- Fibre Type: Type II fibres have greater relationship to force generating capacity.
*Specific training can help change more type IIa into IIb(x) fibres that are better suited to strength
- Size of Muscle Fibres: Bigger muscles can produce more force. If you can produce more force, you can learn to tolerate more force.
- Angle of Muscle Fibre: Some muscles don’t line up at an angle of advantage therefore large forces can’t be produced. This can also be the reason for a sports injury.
Improving Strength By Training The Nervous System:
- Motor Unit Recruitment: The more motor units you recruit, the more force you can produce. But wait! What’s a motor unit? Simply put, it’s made up of muscle fibres and the particular nerve that makes them go.
- Rate Coding: How fast do your motor units produce contractions? This is usually done from smallest to largest, because it’s less tiring that way.
- Synchronisation: The timing of contractions relative to need. This is a skill, therefore can be improved.
- Stretch shortening cycle: The use of ground reaction forces to produce higher forces than you are capable of.
- Inhibition-a reduction in the above elements. This is common in the presence of pain/injury: if your brain senses a risk by the continued use of a muscle or group of muscles, it will try to stop you & protect you from injury or further injury.
So Do You Need More Strength?
That depends on your current quality of life and your future activity, work or sport goals. Individualisation is the key to making sure your quality of life is high and your chance of injury or illness is low. You should always start with the fundamental questions related to your quality of life:
Is your heart strong enough for your activities?
Are your breathing muscles strong enough for your activities?
Then you can ask yourself:
Are Your Leg, arm, Back or Stomach Muscles strong Enough For Your Activities?
What Happens If My Answer Was “No” To One Of These Questions?
One of these below will often happen:
- You will avoid activities (reducing your quality of life)
- Your will have reduced performance with the activity/sport
- You will likely get hurt or injured (if you perform that activity)
If your body cannot tolerate the forces that act on it during everyday life, sport or work then they will likely breakdown.
I See I Need More Strength Then. What Should I Do?
- You need to find someone who will take the time to listen to your needs and perform a thorough physical assessment.
You also need someone who understands the specific demands of your activities, work or sport.
You also need someone who understands your injury history and can build a program to strengthen your weaknesses AND condition you to your activity.
This is where a Physiotherapist with a proper understanding of strength & conditioning principles can be extremely valuable.
A Physiotherapist could then provide you with a program as simple as a program at home 1-2 days a week with a few bands or weights or a program as detailed as a full commercial gym 6 days a week.
2. Do I Need To Push Myself Close To My Max Limit/Weight All The Time?
- No. The greatest gains in strength are seen when training at 75-85% of 1RM or approx. 4-6 reps (Peterson, 2005). But to make gains, you need to vary the combinations you use for this because of all the factors listed above.
3. Do I Need To Train To Failure With Each Exercise?
No. Fatigue reduces the ability to execute the neural factors listed above. Therefore, not training to failure produces superior gains in strength (Peterson, 2005).
You should aim for your last repetition (technique wise) to look the same as your first repetition
Have at least 1-2 reps “left in the tank” (but if your doing 10 repetitions per set you should not be able to 20 reps easily etc)
Hopefully that gives you a better understanding of strength. If you are looking to improve your quality of life or perform better with your sport then feel free to book in with our team to make sure you have the best chance of achieving these goals by getting a thorough assessment and an individualised program.