Strength, The Cornerstone of Health

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. 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.

Structural Factors:

  • The cross-sectional area of the muscle

Functional Factors:

  • 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?

  • Instability

  • 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

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. Incorporating carry’s, anti-rotation, crawling and many more exercises that target your core and build a stronger spinal support structure.

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, 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 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.