If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. I watched a short strength training video the other day (yeah, that’s what I do in my free time) about the importance of setting and pursuing goals for training. The presenter, Brooke Haubenstricker, of Starting Strength Online Coaching™, a strength training and education company, talked about the relationship between training and goals.
The Strength PE classes and FC Barbell Club participated in the first ever FC Strength Lifting Meet recently. It was an opportunity for the students to approach lifting weights in a competitive situation. Competitive weight lifting has existed for centuries, if not milenia, in some form or other.
Many if not most gym-goers, especially those who are members of the typical commercial exercise gym/club, engage in resistance based exercise using isolation exercises primarily or exclusively. They go from machine to machine in a circuit, doing one or more sets of many different isolation movements. If their goal is just to exercise (that is, do physical activity which produces a transient physiological response which does not necessarily contribute to long term improvement--see blog post #2) and pursue general physical well-being, that approach is fine. It cannot, however, induce meaningful transformation in strength for a couple of reasons.
In the previous post I introduced readers to strength training specialist Mark Rippetoe’s three guiding principles of training and their role in producing stress that leads to strength. Rippetoe’s principles, the bedrock of his Starting Strength™ method, are expressed in this statement: Use the greatest amount of muscle mass to move the most weight possible through the longest effective range of motion. The three crucial components, muscle mass, heavy weight and range of motion combine to create enough stress in the body’s systems to trigger an adaptation. The old song lyric I referred to in the title of this post holds the key to understanding and applying these principles. It reinforces the fact that all human movement is the result of interplay between various elements of the skeletal muscular system. This means that training the system as a whole must be the main determiner in movement selection.
If you want to get strong, you must make your muscles move heavy weight. There is no other way. Strength is simply the ability to produce force. Force production is the process of muscle fibers contracting in a coordinated way under control of the nervous system. Application of that ability occurs when muscle fibers that are bundled up into whole muscles and muscle groups contract together and pull on the bones or other tissues they are attached to. The efficiency of nervous system signaling and the number and size of the fibers involved determine how strong the contraction is and how much force is applied. Getting strong is the process of making the muscle fibers thicker, which increases their contractile force, training the muscles and nerves to work well together and recruiting as many fibers as possible to participate in the contractile action. The only way to make these three processes occur is apply stress to muscles by making them work and force them into the Stress Recovery Adaptation (SRA) cycle* an explanation of the process of increasing strength derived from Dr. Hans Selye’s general adaptation syndrome.
This is a blog for students and adults who want to ponder the benefits of exercise, fitness and strength training and their implications for life beyond the momentary endorphin rush or the pursuit of some physical aesthetic ideal. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are founded on several years of personal experience, observation, trial and error (lots of the latter) and study. This is the fifth of a biweekly series of blogs written by Mick Fuller. No one can make you train if you don’t want to. That is both the best and the worst thing about the process of getting stronger. I say “best” because I don’t have to depend on anyone else to decide that I am going to train. It is also “worst” because I MUST rely on myself and my own self discipline and determination to stay motivated when training is hard. It is possible to have other people, such as friends, coaches or personal trainers help me with some of the motivation, but only I can force myself to do it.
My previous posts have focused more on philosophical and theoretical aspects of training and exercise. Theory and ideas are important, but sometimes it’s good just to talk about practical matters. As in every other human activity, strength training has its own vocabulary or jargon--special words or phrases used in the gym that may be obscure to those not familiar with that environment. I am grouping these terms into two categories that I’m calling “words we like to hear” and “words we don’t like to hear”. Words in the first category are descriptive of neutral or positive aspects of lifting. The 2nd group aren’t actually bad in a value sense, but they refer to negative or undesirable actions or effects or their impacts on training.
Two Important Questions for Those Who Train This is a blog for students and adults who want to ponder the benefits of exercise, fitness and strength training and their implications for life beyond the momentary endorphin rush or the pursuit of some physical aesthetic ideal. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are founded [...]
Do you exercise or do you train? That question addresses crucial differences in value and purpose for the way we approach our workouts. To answer the question it will be helpful to understand the distinguishing features of training and exercise and examine how these concepts are related. This post will mostly be about defining terms, in order to be very clear in in framing our answer to the question at hand. Strength coach Mick Fuller instructs students in his strength class on the proper way to bench press. Training involves performance of repeatable patterns of movement that produce sufficient muscular and neurological stress to initiate the body’s recovery and adaptation systems. Each training session is calibrated to be more stressful than the previous session, to account for the body’s recovered and adapted state.
Are you a functional human? To answer that question honestly and accurately, you need to understand how it addresses a central truth of human experience. Every person, at any given moment in life finds himself in one of two categories; he is either functional or dysfunctional. To be functional is to operate well and effectively according to a particular design, plan or set of priorities. A functional tool is useful and effective in the task for which it was designed. The more robust the tool is, either in strength or complexity (depending on what is needed for the task), the more effectively it can perform its function. A functional hammer drives a nail. A functional sledge hammer drives a wedge or a stake. The hammer is sufficient to drive a nail but is dysfunctional when used to drive a stake; the sledge hammer is the more functional tool for that job. A functional tractor pulls things. The average riding mower functions well for mowing the yard and pulling small loads but not robust enough and therefore dysfunctional if you try to make it pull a grain combine.