In my last entry introducing the Programming Strength series, I went over the basic (classic) strength movements - deadlift, squat, flat press, overhead press, and vertical pull - and associated goals with each lift relative to body weight. I also highlighted the importance of making these lifts the backbone of your strength program. The purpose behind this series is to establish the value of these lifts among all of the noise out there with fitness fads - strength training doesn't have to be complicated! These lifts are scientifically proven to be superior in building strength and muscle when, applied appropriately! But before we dive into the lifts and strength program parameters, I'd like to provide some insights that underscores the importance of patience in any training program. Not everyone is uniquely suited to see huge gains right out of the gate- these factors underscore the need to temper expectations and infuse patience into your strength programming. Here we go!
1) Mastery of the lifts
There is a very large skill component to mastering a lift: You have to get your muscles to work in a very powerful yet precise manner to lift heavy stuff as effectively and efficiently as possible. This comes with practice – the more specific, the better. Because of this, practice aimed at mastering the lifts you want to use to express your strength is incredibly important. Those new to lifting weights will spend a lot time here, so patience and dedication is key! Further, it is RIGHT HERE that most lifters quit- they don't reserve the patience required to properly learn and adapt to proper lifting techniques. For a new lifter, the first month at least of a program should be regarded as a "learning phase" - both for hammering home technique, and any mobility corrections or workarounds needed for optimizing each lift. Think of it as building a strong foundation on which to build, including healthy joints and connective tissue! Speaking of which:
2) Healthy joints and connective tissue
The less wear and tear you have on your body, the more you’ll be able to lift, all other things being equal. Your tendons have to be strong enough to transfer force from your muscles to the bones they’re trying to move. They have a built-in “strain gauge” called the golgi tendon organ that sends a signal to your spinal cord, back to your muscles, telling them to stop contracting as hard, in an effort to prevent a tendon rupture.
Nerves called mechanoreceptors in your ligaments function similarly. And as you damage or wear away your joint cartilage, it generally heals slowly or not at all (depending on the joint), and once you’ve worn it away, it's not coming back. Over time, this can lead to osteoarthritis. Acute injuries to these tissues generally take a long time to heal (serious ones, at least), and excessive stress to your tendons over time can lead to inflammation (tendonitis), which can progress to degeneration (tendinosis) if left unchecked.
Both of these generally require quite a bit of time to recover from. What’s more, it’s not uncommon for a soft tissue injury to turn into a long-term headache and impact your training for a long, long time after the initial injury, as collagen generally repairs itself very slowly and often incompletely.
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Central Message: no matter your age, NOW is the best time to start!
4) Muscle composition
You’re probably already familiar with fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch muscle fibers have a slow rate of shortening, but they’re also highly resistant to fatigue. They’re primarily called into play during aerobic exercise and endurance training. In contrast, fast-twitch muscle fibers can generate force 3 to 5 times faster than slow-twitch fibers, but they fatigue more rapidly. Fast-twitch muscles are the ones called into play when you need to generate large amounts of force to lift a large load such as a heavy weight.
The majority of people have roughly equal quantities of fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers, but people who excel at sports that involve strength may have a higher ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch muscle fibers. Having more fast-twitch muscle fibers is one factor that contributes to muscle strength.
Another factor that determines strength is muscle mass. People with larger muscle cross-sectional areas can generate greater amounts of force. This should come as no surprise. If you have more muscle mass, you have a larger number of muscle fibers that can produce force.
5) Other anatomical factors
If you have two people and one has long arms and the other short arms, the person with the shorter arms will be able to generate more force assuming both have equal amounts of muscle mass, bony tissue, and connective tissue. The person with shorter arms has an advantage because the weight is closer to their body. So leverage is a factor in muscle strength. Muscle strength is also partially determined by where the tendon of the muscle attaches to the bone. These are all factors that are genetically determined and ones you have little control over.
6) Muscle Strength and neural efficiency
The nervous system also plays a role in muscle strength. Your brain and nervous system have the power to activate more motor units when they need to generate larger amounts of force. Through strength training, your body learns to recruit more motor units and increase how often these units fire. This is one of the ways you gain additional strength through resistance training.
7) Muscle strength and gender
Men have greater absolute muscle strength than women. In fact, men have 50% greater muscle strength in the upper body and 30% more in the lower body relative to women. But when you take into account muscle mass, the strength differential between men and women becomes almost non-existent. When you measure bench press strength in men and women, the strength differential between the two sexes drops to only 2.5% when you divide strength by body mass. So men are stronger primarily because they have more muscle mass.
You don’t have control over all of these factors, but a regular strength training program that progressively overloads the muscles builds strength no matter where you start from. Everyone can benefit from resistance training regardless of their age and gender.
Thanks again for stopping by the blog! Stay tuned for more on PROGRAMMING STRENGTH, coming soon!
Bye for now!
Broad Scope Narrow Focus Blog
Welcome to the Broad Scope Narrow Focus Blog! I hope you find a lot of useful and applicable information as we explore the broad world of Wellness together. Check in often, as there will be new posts weekly! Enjoy