Where our strength comes from:
Our physical strength is determined by the cross-sectional area of our muscle fibers recruited to generate force and the intensity of the recruitment. Muscle fibers can be divided into two fiber types: Type I slow twitch fibers
and Type II fast twitch fibers. A person with a higher proportion of Type I fibers will be relatively weaker than a similar sized person with a high proportion of Type II fast twitch fibers, but would have a higher capacity for
physical endurance. Things get a little more complex when you break down Type II muscle fibers into Type IIa and Type IIx (yes there is a Type IIb fiber but from my understanding, humans don’t have them). The Type IIa fibers have more endurance than the Type IIx which are for faster and more powerful in nature. Interestingly there is evidence that Type IIx fibers can be converted to Type IIa with the right training stresses and visa-versa. However, The proportion of slow twitch to fast twitch muscle fibers that our parents gave us sets the outermost boundaries of our physical strength. The truth is none of us never reach our true strength potential, leaving us a unique ability to maximize the capacity of these fibers within our envelope through training.
The intensity of muscle recruitment is the other important factor in our physical strength. A use it or lose it principle applies when it comes to muscle fiber recruitment. Our central nervous system must regularly tell our muscles to fire via our motor end plates or we not recruit all our muscle fibers as intensely. The ability to gain muscle also varies person to person, based mainly upon genes dictating the amounts of hormones secreted, but also on sex, age, health of the person, and adequate nutrients in the diet. Lastly what we can do with our strength is governed by our individual biomechanics including joint angles, muscle insertion location and limb length effect how you can use your strength to generate force or power. For example, a given cross-section, shorter limbs are able to lift more weight.
Why Strength train?
- Counter the lean tissue loss that naturally occur with age
- Improve our resistance to fatigue
- Decrease the chance of injury in sport and every day activity
- Create a bigger ceiling so higher-resistance endurance stresses can remain aerobic longer
- Increase maximum force and power production capacities
Through my17 years of physiology study, endurance racing and coaching, I have only found support for strength training in conjunction with endurance training and racing. Recently researches have found that cyclists and runners increased time to failure by 36% and 12% when asked to go at 80% of Maximum Aerobic Power (VO2max). 80% of VO2max might equal Lactate Threshold for many of us, and I know I certainly don’t want to miss out on holding my LT for an extra 15-20minutes!
In order to get the most out of a strength training routine it is best to re-engage our muscles every 3-5 days. Any longer and we might get a de-training effect that could leave our muscles more vulnerable to that pesky Delayed
Onset Fatigue imposing on the quality of our endurance training. …I certainly know this feeling first hand as I am often tinkering on the 5-6 day no-man’s land and dealing with a little more soreness than necessary. If I know I am not going to get in a quality strength session at an appropriate increment, I will do an abbreviated strength session that I can do nearly anywhere in 20minutes or less. On the other-hand, you could realistically do strength every other day but it would start to limit the potential for focused aerobic sessions. Further more strength work three or more days a week does not show significantly better results than two days a week.
Create your own home and traveling gym
You can get your strength done anywhere! Here are a list of things that you can store in a laundry basket and simply slide out of your closet for instant strength!
- You – the most versatile strength apparatus around: you can push and pull yourself up, squat you, jump, lunge, step-up, coil, crunch! You are amazing and can be easily stored in a laundry basket in your closet!)
- Fit-ball – the ball can be used to work hamstrings, quads, chest, lats and all the core including but not limited to low back, hips, obliques, and abdominal.
- Stretch cords – great for upper body including delts, lats, biceps, rhomboids.
- Balance discs and Bosu Balls – add instability to place greater demands on your stabilizers while working everything!
- Sliding Discs – great for plank type exercises, mountain climbers and overall core work.
- Medicine Balls – can be thrown against a concrete wall for explosive core moves or held as a weight.
- Kettle Bells – can weigh as little as 10lbs or as much as 60lbs for huge resistance. Great for swings, squats, lunges, deadlifts, power cleans, rows, turkish get-ups, core work an much much more!
- A back pack – just load it up with heavy things and you have your own olympic barbell type weight on your back for squats, lunges or even push-ups!
- TRX Straps – these highly versatile straps that can be attached to anything sturdy allow you to manipulate your body weight, position, balance, stability for an endless array of exercises.
Although you probably won’t throw a 60lb kettle bell into your suit case; you could easily toss in some stretch cords, a couple discs and yourself in there for a great routine on business trips or vacation!
A popular and efficient style of strength training where two different exercises are paired. The exercises typically target different muscle groups; so while one muscle group is being worked the other is resting. One example would be push/pull pairing where a dumbbell press is paired with pull-ups. I prefer an upper body exercise be paired with a lower body exercise allowing for a better recover of the respective limbs.
This strength training style has been recently popularized by a company called Crossfit. The circuit style involves training where you rotate through 3 or more exercise for designated amount of time or for multiple continuous sets with very little or no rest. The fast pace and short rest places both high-end aerobic and strength demands on your physiology. Circuit training has great application for endurance sports but we have to respect that the stress is similar to a lactate threshold workouts and requires comparable recovery.
Hi-rep Endurance strength
Hi-rep endurance strength involves doing an exercise for over 30 repetitions. You could do 30 squats with weight or 100 body-weight squats or simply squat for 2-3 minutes and then move on to the next exercise. This type of strength training is very sport specific as it could represent the extra resistance from biking, running, or skiing up a hill in the middle of effort. Although hi-rep strength does less for improving or maximum strength it can us be strong when we are tired.
Slow Protocol Strength
Slow protocol is Arguable the most discipline demanding strength style. With 6-8 repetitions at 15-20seconds each, sets last upwards of 90seconds. Typically in this style you will eccentrically contract your muscle for 6-10seconds, pause for a moment and then concentrically contract for 6-10seconds. This training has been picking up steam as a weight loss aide and has shown to be a safe an effective strength training style across many populations since the mid 90’s. The slow pace allows our muscles to form more actin myosin cross-bridges and produces greater muscle tension than traditional velocity movements. Strength gains are very close to what can be achieved in maximum strength workouts.
Research has found that the best way to improve maximum strength is by performing sets of 6-8 reps at 85-80% of your one rep maximum respectively. Strength training done in this style can incorporate super-sets with a little more rest or straight sets (if you have the time). 2 up to 3 or more sets of 6-10 exercises is typical. Although this type of training eats up some time, you certainly get a lot results for time spent and most certainly stresses the Type II fibers.