Two weeks ago, I explained my concept of “Fit” as encompassing all aspects of Physical Fitness. Today is part 2 of a 3-part series exploring the 3 big categories I’ve broken “Fit” down into: Endurance, Strength, and Movement Ability.
There is a whole heck of a lot to be said about Strength and I am only going to barely scratch the surface of it today. Following off of my earlier article about Physical Fitness, I’m going to define strength training as the use of resistance and gravity to make oneself stable, sturdy, and capable of producing force. I’ll break down a few of the concepts I’ve mentioned before in further detail, but this is really just a survey of some basic strength-training concepts.
“Bodyweight” refers to the use of self-resisted strength exercises such as calisthenics. That word, “calisthenics” comes from ancient Greek roots meaning ‘strength’ & ‘beauty’. These are exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. Some of these variations are pretty easy, while others (handstand push-ups, for example) can be quite difficult.
Weights are the things you use to increase the resistance you’re working against and to allow you to work within ranges of motion that are not available strictly with bodyweight. An example of the first would be wearing a weight vest when you do push-ups or hanging heavy kettlebells off your waist for pull-ups. An example of the second would be lifting a heavy bar with the deadlift; this is a movement you couldn’t perform by bodyweight alone.
Coaches and exercise scientists before me have described and defined numerous patterns of human movement to be employed in strength training. I use a system from OPEX Fitness that includes six of them: Level Change (squatting), Hinge (bending), Hip Separation (single-leg), Upper Push (pressing), Upper Pull (pulling), and Core (midline stability). Others, such as rotation and locomotion, are also commonly discussed.
These are the different objects you use for strength training. The most ubiquitous are dumbbells and plate-loaded barbells. Kettlebells are common nowadays, and things like medicine balls and weight vests are frequently seen in modern gyms. However, I still think rocks and logs are great for strength training. I like atlas stones. There are also the gymnastics apparatus, such as pull-up bars, ropes, rings, and parallettes.
Volume is how many reps you do. There are the number of reps per set, number of sets per session, and total amount of reps per session, as well as reps per week, month, season, and year–all to be considered. Bodyweight exercises and those performed with lighter implements are typically suited to higher volumes, while heavier loaded exercises would be suited to lower volumes.
Strictly speaking, “Intensity” in strength-training is defined by the heaviness of the load being moved. Heavier weight = more intense. What else can I say about that? I can say that the strict handstand push-up is more intense than the horizontal push-up because more of the body’s weight is loaded onto the working muscles (100% vs. 65%). I can also say that lifting a 300lb bar once is more intense than lifting 100lbs numerous times.
This refers to how many joints are involved in the movement. Skeletal muscles move or stabilize joints, so more joints being involved means more muscle groups are working. Therefore, less complex exercises are those that isolate joints (like a bicep curl). More complex exercises are the “compound” exercises that use many joints, such as back squats and pull-ups.
This is the speed at which you perform your strength exercises. It’s important to recognize that every repetition has a tempo, whether it is intentional or not. If you’re doing some sloppy fast reps, that tempo might look like, “fast up, fast down”, but it might decay at some point into, “fast up, fast down, rest at the bottom, slow up…” Without controlling tempo, you’re training your nervous system to lack control, and therefore tempo must be controlled for. There are also different effects on muscle tissues with different tempos.
Contraction styles are all about the change in the muscle length. First are the isometric contractions, in which the muscle length does not change, such as holding a difficult position (planks). Then there are isotonic contractions, in which the muscle length changes. A concentric contraction is a type of isotonic where the muscle shortens, typically when lifting a load. An eccentric contraction is a type of isotonic where the muscles lengthens, usually when lowering against the resistance of gravity.
So, there are some concepts for you to explore. A whole lot of things to play with and experiment on. If you’re not sure which of these tools to use and when, well that’s what coaches are here for.
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