I have been preparing for our upcoming strength course and it has made me think about the word “Strength” and how we perceive it.
Within the fitness community, it is something that has turned into a coverall for a vast number of physical qualities. In reality, strength has a very specific meaning from both a neurological and musculoskeletal standpoint.
In this blog I would like to give a little insight into the specific nature of absolute/maximal strength, in the following weeks I will go into the other strength qualities and how these different qualities affect each other.
When differentiating between strength qualities the two main delineating factors are the duration of effort, and speed of contraction. When talking about absolute strength, the time will generally be 10 seconds or less. Anything more than that and we will start to drift into the strength endurance zone.
This is due to the fact that the highest levels of muscular contraction are going to be reached in the anaerobic energy system, this energy system uses local ATP (adenosine triphosphate) as fuel for the muscle.
This means that when at rest you have enough stored ATP in your muscles for about 10 seconds of work, after that you will have to start pulling ATP from different sources.
Once the local ATP runs out your ability to contract will diminish due to the slowed fuel source. From a speed standpoint, absolute strength is generally going to be around .5 m/s (meters a seconds) or slower. This equates to lifts that are 90-100% of your one-rep max.
From a neurological standpoint when we use the phrase maximal strength what we are really talking about is how much force can be produced by a single muscle.
The CNS (central nervous system) is the electrical signaling system which controls all muscular function. The CNS like all other things can be trained, this means that with practice we can increase the amount of force produced by increasing our neurological efficiency.
Like all other types of training, specificity is king, we must practice the thing we want to be good at. If the goal is to get better at producing maximal force we are going to have to train at the appropriate intensity (90-100%).
This also means that by increasing CNS efficiency we can increase our maximal strength without having to add muscle mass or body weight. An example of this would be Olympic weight lifters who continually set new PRs year after year in the same weight class, their body weight stays the same yet their numbers go up. There is a multitude of factors that cause this but CNS efficiency is as important as any.
(Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon)