We all know about exercising to get fit, but where does strength fit into this picture? While training to look lean and athletic is a common goal for many, attaining strength seems to be more of an afterthought for most. A beach-body might be nice thing to have, but what purpose does it serve other than the aesthetic? Strength on the other hand, has numerous applications – you don’t need to have the goal of becoming the next Hercules to appreciate getting strong!
Many strength & conditioning coaches go by the maxim “training for strength equals training for the future”. A catchier version might be “you can’t go wrong with ‘strong’”, which is commonly tossed around in powerlifting and weightlifting circles, as well as other strength sports. The idea of strength as an investment is hardly a purely philosophical one; strength is an important component of good health. Health in turn, leads to longevity.
As the human body ages, its ability to express strength and power gradually diminishes. This is due to both neurological and physiological factors – the mind and body are just not as supple as they used to be. Strength training is perhaps the best way to stem this regression. Contrary to popular belief, strength is not all physical. While the muscles, bones, joints and tendons are responsible for most of the work, they rely on the mind for proper signalling and synchronisation. When you lift a heavy load, you’re not just stimulating your body. You’re also honing the brain’s ability to navigate complex neural computations and pathways.
One of the most effective ways to build strength is with free weights. Unlike bodyweight training, utilising tools such as barbells and dumbbells allow the trainee to progressively increase the body’s ability to move heavier loads, which is the primary measurement of strength. However, it is important to be able to distinguish between the exercise and the sport. For instance, even though the squat is a primary movement in the sport of powerlifting doesn’t mean that you have to mimic a powerlifter’s approach to training the squat. Basic concepts such as overload, exercise variation and weak link-training can help, but a wholesale adoption of a powerlifting training routine might not be what you’re looking for.
While lifting heavy (>80% of a 1RM) is one of the most commonly accepted methods to build strength, a holistic approach where one seeks strength along various intensity levels can yield more appreciable benefits for the non-athlete. Strength athletes regularly make use of higher intensities due to specificity of their sport, but when it comes to health and well-being, training around all points of the strength curve has a better carryover into the demands of daily life. For this purpose, an undulating approach to training loads (as what is practiced in Daily Undulating Periodisation) can be utilised to great effect for most trainees.
As with all schools of thought, strength training is governed by principles designed to give practitioners a better understanding of their study. Andyn Kadir, a strength coach of over 10 years, outlines 5 basic principles:
1. “Basic” doesn’t mean “easy”
Sticking to the basics is one of the hardest things to do. We tend to overcomplicate things without having the patience to mastering the basics.
2. Strength as a journey
Embrace the process because the process enlightens you more about yourself as well as what works for you.
3. Appreciate the mental aspect
Aside from the physical benefits, strength training creates mental fortitude and instils discipline by reminding you to not deviate from your objective when training starts to get hard.
4. Get professional support
Hire a coach that has your long-term development and growth in mind.
5. Keep practising
Focus on getting your technique on point every time you train. Don’t be stubborn about chasing numbers because as long as you're consistent and disciplined, the numbers will come.
Because there is no “one size fits all” approach to strength training, protocols can be tailored to meet the needs and situations of any individual. This makes strength training one of the more forgiving physical regimens around when it comes to structure and format. Anyone – from a teen to a senior – can adopt a strength training programme and see results in both the short and long-term.