“…strength drives everything. That’s your foundation, even if you run marathons. How much you develop that foundation will depend on the needs of your sport. For the marathoner, that won’t be extensively; for the competitive CrossFitter, it will be considerably more extensively, although less than a strength athlete like a weightlifter.”
Like I said in the last post, the most important biomarker of athletic performance is strength. Being strong enough is your ticket to play. If you’re not strong enough to actually lift the paddle, you can’t play ping-pong.
So how does one go about developing the requisite level of strength for his or her sport of choice? Short answer: by imposing demands that cause the body to adapt in a strengthening manner. That is, by exposing the body to resistance which requires near-maximal strength to overcome. Thus, by way of super-compensation, the body gets stronger.
Most of us are limited on training time. We’re desk-jockeys or service-providers, not professional athletes. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. So how do we maximize efficiency when training for strength? There are hundreds of muscles, dozens of joints – which movements should we focus on?
Just like we established a brief hierarchy of biomarkers, we can create a similar hierarchy of training movements. Since our primary focus is strength, we want to use movements that accommodate heavy loads. Since our limiting factor is time, we want to utilize as much musculature and as much of the body’s structure as possible.
The beauty here is that these two criteria also coincide with hormonal response desired for strength development: anabolism.
Enough with the Socratic method already – which movements? Squat, deadlift, bench press, press, dips, pull ups, chin ups and cleans. When performed properly, these movements require the vast majority, if not all, of the body’s musculature and structure. As such, they are referred to as complex or multi-joint exercises.
Part two: how much of these exercises? This answer is simple, but complicated. One of the most definitive answers is Prilepin’s Chart. Depending on what training phase (periodization) you’re in, you’ll be training for size, maximal strength, power or strength endurance. The chart clearly tabulates the sets, reps and relative intensities that lead to the desired outcomes.
Given the demands of the exercises and intensities, you’ll want to allow for rest and recovery. It will be optimal to include 36-48 hours between heavy squat sessions, and the same will hold true for most of the other movements. It’s a good idea to then establish your training split by breaking it into upper and lower body, and push and pull groupings. Day one could be both upper and lower body pushes (squat and press), and day two could be upper and lower body pulls (deadlift and chin ups). The cumulative loading would then call for rest and recovery on day three before repeating the push and pull combo (perhaps with different exercises) in the second half of the week.
This brings us essentially full circle. In order to get stronger, we need heavily loaded, complex/multi-joint movements. In turn, our gym needs the equipment to perform those movements. Come back next time to complete the journey with some recommendations on how to choose a program that suits your needs, using the Principles and Elements we’ve covered over the last several posts.
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