Maximum strength is something every human has; it is something required to simply live life. Some people have higher levels of maximum strength than others, but everyone has a level their body can reach. Yet, I often speak with people that have a misperception of strength and how muscle mass is related to it.
So what that defines that level of strength?
Maximum strength is simply the heaviest weight we can lift in any given exercise, and the ability to lift that weight is dependent upon your muscles being able to create a bunch of force at slow movement velocities. To illustrate this with yourself:
Stand up from your chair where ever you are.
Now, stand up from your squat BUT take ~5-10 seconds to stand up.
If you moved slower than you normally do, then you have moved at a slow velocity and by effect created a lot of force production in the lower body, relative to if you simply stood up at a normal pace.
Now, if you add weight to yourself with a dumbbell or kettlebell or a barbell then your body would increase the force production because you are lifting more weight.
With more and more weight, you would eventually have to increase the velocity to stand up from that squat otherwise you might not have enough force production to complete the movement, and you would get forced to the ground because gravity whooped your butt.
So that brings me to my next six points for learning how never get dominated by gravity again:
There are six things that undergird your ability to get maximally strong; three are neural (has to do with your brain and spine) and three are peripheral (has to do with the muscles in your body).
- Muscular Coordination (body getting better at moving or allowing movements).
If you haven’t lifted some dumbbells or kettlebells in a few months or like… ever… Then the first way you will get strong is by your brain figuring out how to do the movement better; you will become more efficient rather than looking like a baby giraffe : )
If you are new to lifting, my encouragement is to take a 2-3 weeks utilizing lighter weights with your strength training, but don’t do body weight movements if, all things considered, you are a healthy and pain free; you’ll need to use weights to get stronger.
More importantly you need to let your body learn how to handle the weights; don’t be discouraged if you feel like a weight is too heavy. You have two options, (1) lower the weight and work the technique or (2) do less reps with perfect technique. In either case, your brain is learning, and your movement patterns are getting more efficient. Finally, tension will begin to release in any other muscles that aren’t helping the performance of the particular exercise; this release in tension will allow you to move more freely and with more strength.
My last encouragement is do not believe ANY weight is too heavy as long as you are lifting with perfect technique – you may need a coach to determine that though!
Coordination happens within a few weeks, so if you allow yourself, you will be able to use more weight very quickly just showing up and getting more confident in the weight room.
The second change on your way to getting stronger is similar to coordination, because it still has to do with neural control.
2. Motor Unit Recruitment (Electrifying the muscle fibers more)
When people first start attempting to get stronger, they cannot activate all of the motor units in their muscles. This is especially true for all the show muscles – like legs, glutes, back, and arm muscles. So, in the beginning, you should not expect to gain a lot of strength and muscle definition due to this one fact:
To grow stronger and bigger muscles/get toned/etc… you need to be able to activate all the motor units in the muscles you want to see more of, and activating motor units is about lifting heavy weights.
As I established above you wont be able to lift very heavy weights in the beginning because it’s quite possible you have the coordination of a baby giraffe. I want to emphasize it’s not because you are WEAK!
You have many muscles with so much potential; you just need to get coordinated before you lift heavy enough to actually make some changes.
I’ll say this though: once you get coordinated, if you do not start lifting heavier weight, you are wasting your time in the weight room.
So you might be wondering what “heavy” is. Heavy is the weight that causes maximal effort by the end of prescribed reps. Here maximal effort means you are trying really hard but the weight is moving really slow.
Practically speaking, If you are doing 10 reps of something, by rep 10 the muscles should be nearly spent; you should be very close to muscular failure.
If you do all that above you will be maximizing motor unit recruitment and on your way to getting stronger and bigger muscles. (and burning more fat and all the cool things exercise regimens promise you).
The final neural control change is some fancy words.
3. Antagonist coactivation (other muscles putting on the brakes)
During the bench press exercise some of the muscles lifting the weight will be your chest muscles. However, if you are newer to strength training, you have more antagonist muscle activation at the same time, when compared to folks that have been lifting for a longer time – like several years of training.
That is a real bummer for your ability to lift enough weight to maximize motor unit recruitment, which eventually will cause muscle growth, fat loss, and maximal strength.
Ultimately, this one boils down to this: If you consistently lift for a very long time, we’re talking several years, without stopping, then you will continue to get very strong. You will get stronger because your body learned how to “silence” any muscles that don’t help and allow the muscles that are doing the exercise can continue doing their thang!
The next three are peripheral modifications that help you get stronger.
4. Bigger muscles (Getting swoll… or toned up!)
You are going to get bigger muscles by at least the first two neural components above. If you get coordinated you will lift heavier weights, and when you lift heavier weights you will get more muscle fibers to work, and when you get more muscle fibers to work, you will do some damage to those muscles, which will cause your body to repair them.
Assuming you are eating enough protein (your goal body weight multiplied by .6 up to goal body weight multiplied by 1) and enough calories (Goal body weight multiplied by 12-16) then when your body is in repair mode it will also be able to add size (diameter) to the muscle fibers you have.
Without getting too science-y on this part, the lesson here is the bigger your muscles = the more strength you have. period.
But don’t forget the first three neural components! If you don’t want big muscles thats ok; you don’t need big muscles to get really strong. Muscles only grow bigger when you eat excess calories and protein.
If you are eating calories that will cause weight loss while still lifting heavy weights then you will still increase strength, but you won’t get “big bulky muscles.”
5. Tendon stiffness (Joints are less floppy looking)
This is a quick and easy one.
When I see young athletes, or adults that haven’t ever picked up anything heavier than a purse in their entire life, I see people that exemplify lose tendons.
When something is lose, it can stretch further, and the further it is stretched the faster it will snap back to the point where it came from. That sounds like a good thing right?
Actually, no it isn’t, when the goal is to get stronger and move with more integrity.
Now before you go all wild and crazy and say, “Well, Zack this is exactly why I don’t want to strength train and get stronger! I want to remain flexible.”
I will say to you that strength training does not at all rob you from any flexibility as long as you move through a full range of motion for all your exercises and work on postural position exercises that maintain all of your movement options.
You can have strength, muscles, stiff tendons, and adequate mobility all at the same time.
So with many kinds of strength training, in which the goal is always to put forth maximal effort, increased tendon stiffness is one of the results. And that result will have you moving around the world with more force and power – with more confidence.
THAT is a good thing as opposed to getting older and losing muscle mass and function.
The last one, folks, and its a doozy!
6. Lateral Force Transmission (this is some crazy stuff inside the muscle that only exercise science geeks care about)
Never will I have anyone come to Byler Elite Strength Training and say I want to increase the lateral force transmission in my muscles. It is just simply something happening at the muscle fiber level, when each muscle fiber shortens during a contraction.
The bigger the muscles, the more lateral force transmission you will have.
Ill be back with more concepts around getting stronger in my next post! Stay tuned.
If you are interested in having my help in getting stronger for life or for sports, then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 330-989-0022 and I will give you some details about how you can get started with 3 training sessions for free.