Strength Training Definitions
"Have nunchucks. Will travel." - Antonio "Tony The Tiger" Vernón

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The primary reasons to lift weights are for strength, power, size, shape, fitness, and performance. Here I discuss strength. There are numerous definitions of strength in the fitness and strength training literature. This summary refers mainly to writings by Dr. Frederick Hatfield, 3 time World Powerlifting Champion, better known as Dr. Squat:

Absolute strength is single-repetition maximum capability. There are three types of absolute strength.

Limit strength is absolute strength with the aid of supplements, hypnosis, therapy, steroids, acupuncture or any other unnatural aids.

Relative strength is absolute strength, as defined above, divided by bodyweight. This is the measure used when discussing pound for pound strength. It requires the development of lean muscle mass and the elimination of fat.

There are several definitions of strength that refer to power or performance instead of strength in the traditional sense. We elaborate below. No strength definition refers to size or shape.

Specific strength is that which enhances optimal muscular performance for particular movements. Examples would be the type of strength that enables a golfer to generate the torque in his swing, that enables a pole-vaulter to perform or that enables a javelin thrower to throw. This type of strength will often incorporate complex movement combinations and a significant amount of technique.

Anaerobic strength comes in two types, defined below. These two types of strength have been renamed in the politically correct way to include the word strength. Until recently, neither of these types of endurance included the word strength.

Two more types of strength classified as types of speed strength are often defined as types of power.

With all this in mind, suppose you wanted to win the single-event "World's Strongest Man" title from the Guinness Book of World Records. What event would you practice performing? Once one understands that the title should refer to a measure that isolates absolute concentric strength, it becomes more clear. The answer is that you would have to lift as much dead weight as possible and stand upright because this uses the strongest muscle groups over which concentric strength can be tested in isolation. Thus, the premier (in the sense of first in importance) single-event tests of strength are dead weight lifts from the ground. Furthermore, dead weight lifts are the premier (in the sense of first in time) tests of strength based on a tradition that dates back centuries to times when competitors displayed superior strength by lifting the heaviest stone off the ground. Not only, do these contests predate formal weightlifting, or pumping iron as it is known, but they also predate cast iron itself. These two facts make dead weight lifts the traditional tests of strength. Although platform lifts and deadlifts have replaced the stone lifts the concept is the same.

Note: in recent years the Guinness Book of World Records has lumped the traditional strongest man in with other extreme feats of human strength such as the worlds strongest ears.

The annual televised multi-event "World's Strongest Man" competition contests several types of strength in the numerous events. However, the most important and strongest muscle groups in these competitions are those used to deadlift. Often, one round uses the deadlift hold (timed deadlift) as an event and another uses the deadlift as an event. The bench press is often not included. Furthermore, over half the events incorporated lifting hundreds of pounds of dead weight off the ground. Rarely, was the bench press motion incorporated. The events change from year to year, but the emphasis remains the same.

The bench press is only considered an important measure for sports where the motion of pushing someone away is important. In football, it is important because the bench press is a good measurement of blocking ability. It is important for several particular isolated athletic movements. In everyday life as well as most strength competitions, this movement is not considered particularly important. Think about the number of times people strain themselves lifting something off the ground. Now think about the number of times people strain themselves pushing something away. Furthermore, recall the number of times you have heard medical warnings to refrain from heavy pushing. However, note that this lift is one of the few that incorporates eccentric, static and concentric strength. Also, note that the squat incorporates both eccentric and concentric strength as well as a technically difficult transition between the two.

By the way, lifting weight overhead and catching it in balance requires more than just strength. Both of the olympic weight lifting lifts (the snatch and the clean & jerk) encompass too many other athletic skills such as balance, agility and coordination to be considered a pure test of strength. As a result, both would be considered athletic events and not tests of strength. In the televised multi-event "The World's Strongest Man" competition, the olympic clean and jerk is performed as a clean and press, which is more of a test of strength. Click here to Return to the main page.

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