Strength is to the human performance field, what ticket sales are to the entertainment industry. Muscular Strength is a variable that most physical therapists, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, and human performance trainers all measure and account for with their athletes. Now before I go any further, let me be perfectly clear that Muscular Strength is an important element when it comes to human performance. However, Muscular Strength needs to be trained and accounted for along with all of the other attributes that make up what truly is human performance. Attributes such as power, speed, endurance, and movement pattern proficiency all need to be accounted for to make a well rounded athlete.
Anecdotally speaking, I’ve trained a lot of very strong individuals of all ages, genders, body types, and sports. About two or three years ago I started to realize a common theme that challenged me and made me question and consider the possibility that being strong isn’t always enough? Believe it or not a majority of the strongest individuals I’ve worked with that have put up impressive numbers in the weight room, couldn’t transfer that strength dynamically over to their real life or athletic world. This got me to sit down and really reflect on how I was training people, and training myself as well. I started reading and rereading books and articles by Mike Boyle, Bill Parisi, Stuart McGill, Eric Cressey, Paul Fabritz, Michael Delchort, and many other very experienced human performance coaches. Although, their training styles are very different across the board, I started to realize a common theme with all of their training philosophies. What I noticed was that they didn’t overemphasize Muscular Strength with their clients, when it came to muscular strength they prescribed the dose that was necessary. It’s not to say that Muscular Strength isn’t apart of all of their programs, it’s just that it’s programmed with the right amount of dosage with the individuals goals, injury history, and training history in mind.
For the most part, when we think of what Muscular Strength is I believe all of our heads immediately go to how much weight someone can lift in linear fashion. Exercises like the barbell squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press are a few of the most common exercises that are valued to measure Muscular Strength. However, these types of movement patterns only go so far to optimize true human performance and injury resiliency. Like it or not, these lifts are one dimensional and can optimize your performance only to a small degree. Over the years I truly believe that traditional heavy strength training has been over inflated to a point where a lot of us believe it’s all we need to do all of the time and we’re good to go. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as Too Strong, you can make yourself so strong that you force your body to only have mobility and stability in one plane of movement. This type of adaptation can only not only lead to decreases in performance and injury resiliency as well.
Now for the magic question you’ve all been waiting for, what should I do? Well, keep up with your strength training because it is valuable, I’m not saying to throw the baby out with the bath water. What I’m truly trying to get across to all of you is to make sure you’re complimenting your traditional strength training with other methods/modalities of training. Here are a few example:
- Train rotational and lateral movements with medicine balls.
- Take your main lifts and perform them with single leg and single arm movements possibly using dumbbells and kettlebells.
- Train your power with sprints and plyometrics.
- Enhance your coordination by implementing an agility ladder and jumping jack variations into your priming session.
- Even practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Martial Arts, and Pilates can all be valuable complements to a traditional strength training routine.
All of the above can go a long way into making your current strength training routine more mentally engaging and yourself more adaptable.
To sum all of this up, creating biases in your training by just solely focusing on strength training will create biases with how your body moves. Muscular Strength is important and should be trained with intent and consistency. However, don’t believe the dogma that Muscular Strength is all you need all the time no matter what anyone inside or outside of the training field tells you. Human beings have often been compared to robots and machines with how we’re designed mechanically. The problem with this comparison is that robots and machines can’t adapt to their environment to the extent that human beings can. Humans are a product of their environment, meaning right, wrong, or indifferent we will adapt to our environment to an optimal level in order to keep our body operating safely and efficiently within our environment. When you solely train or over train Muscular Strength you make yourself one dimensional within your environment by default. So, the next time you go to train make sure you combine and don’t segregate all the ingredients (power, coordination, strength, and endurance) that can enhance optimal authentic human movement.