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Training For Strength

Mans strength is not always commensurate to his size: some bodybuilders have enormous strength and are every bit as strong as they look. Conversely, others look as though they should be able to lift a lot more than they can. This is a direct representation of the individual’s strength. Strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce force; or, more simplistically, the ability to contract your muscles with maximum force. In order to fully understand strength training, it is important to be familiar with the various types of strength, some of which are as follows:

  • Limit strength – how much musculoskeletal force you can generate in one all-out effort.
  • Absolute strength – is the same as limit strength with the exception that the strength achieved has been enhanced by the use of a work-producing aid, such as a supplement.
  • Speed strength – not to be confused with power is how well you apply force with speed.
  • Optimal strength – when an optimum level of strength has been attained and no further increases in strength will improve performance.
  • Strength endurance - the ability to sustain quality sub-maximal continuous contractions.
  • Relative strength – can be thought of as the athletes own bodyweight forming the external resistance (i.e. Dips and heaves), or limit strength that factors in the athletes bodyweight.

Increases in strength occur via the following mechanisms:

  • An increase in the cross-sectional area of a muscle (i.e. An increase in fibre size);
  • The ability to recruit fast twitch muscle fibres;
  • Increased reciprocal inhibition (the muscle on one side of a joint relaxing to facilitate the movement of the muscle on the opposite side of that joint); and
  • Increased muscular synchronisation.

Strength is an important component of fitness, particularly in sport: for strength is the determinant factor in successful conversion to power and muscular endurance, both key adaptations required in many sports. In bodybuilding, the implementation of maximum strength (mxs) training phases will allow you to develop more muscular tension, recruit more fast twitch muscle fibres, increase muscle density and tone, increase testosterone and growth hormone levels, and may increase muscle size (when four to eight repetitions are used / one to four repetitions result in strength gains via neural adaptations with minimal hypertrophy): all adaptations of high importance to bodybuilders. If you want to ensure that your strength is commensurate to your size, read on.

Variable Manipulation For mxs Training

Table 1 identifies the training guidelines for the mxs phase whilst table 2 provides an example of a mesocycle (annual plan) where the primary aim is maximum strength.

Table 1: training guidelines for the mxs phase

 

Reps       

Sets

ri

Load

Freq

Classification

Entry-level

1-4

10-15

4-5

85-100

2-3

Recreational 

3-8

15-20        

3-5       

85-100       

2-3

Advanced

3-8         

20-32        

3-5      

85-140       

3-4

Professional

2-8          

25-40      

3-5      

85-160       

4-5

 

Note: 1. Ri = rest interval between sets (in minutes). 2. Sets = total body sets per session. 3. Load = percent 1rm. 4. Freq = sessions per week.

Table 2: mxs specific mesocycle

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

 

Aa

6

H

6

Mxs

1

T

3

Mxs

3

M

3

Mxs

2

T

3

Aa

3

H

3

Mxs

1

T

3

Mxs

3

M

1

T

3

Mxs

3

T





























 

In order to understand table 2, it may be useful to refer to the previous article ‘understanding  periodisation’. Phases are: aa – anatomical adaptation (circuit style trg). H – hypertrophy (mass trg), t – transition (reduce trg load by 60 – 70%). M – mixed trg (combination of hypertrophy & max strength), mxs – maximum strength. Mxs – maximum strength

Main Points For mxs Training

1. Test for 1rm before commencing the mxs phase.
2. Ensure you adhere to the suggested loading pattern. If the load is to high, reduce it and maintain the recommended number of repetitions.
3. Ensure to employ a two-step vertical loading pattern, that is, superset two exercises together: preferably lower body and upper body to facilitate   maximum recovery.
4. Ensure you adhere to the suggested ri.
5. Mxs training is extremely taxing on the neuromuscular system; reduce the number of exercises to the lowest realistic level.
6. Use compound ‘multi-joint exercises’.
7. The suggested duration of mxs training is six weeks; however, three week macrocycles are suitable if used for hypertrophic purposes.

Table 3 provides an example three week mxs training program for a recreational bodybuilder.

Table 3

 

Week

1

2

3

 

Ex

Step

Low

Med

High

 

No

Day

1

3

5

1

3

5

1

3

5

1

Leg press

70/8x3

75/8x4

75/8x4

80/6x4

80/6x4

80/6x3

90/3x1

90/3x4

90/3x4

90/3x4

2

Bench press

70/8x3

75/8x4

75/8x4

80/6x4

80/6x4

80/6x3

90/3x1

90/3x4

90/3x4

90/3x4

3

Lunge

60/10x3

60/10x3

70/7x4

70/7x4

70/7x4

70/7x4

70/7x4

70/7x4

70/7x4

70/7x4

4

Seated row

70/8x3

75/8x4

75/8x4

80/6x4

80/6x4

80/6x3

90/3x1

90/3x4

90/3x4

90/3x4















Note: 70/8 x 3 means load (%1rm) / number of reps x sets

Main Points

  1. Superset exercise one and two. When you have finished the last rep on exercise one, start your watch: rest for two minutes before starting exercise two. When five minutes has elapsed, start your second set on exercise one and so on. This format will facilitate maximum recovery.
  2. Unlike hypertrophy training where cumulative fatigue is the primary aim, mxs training requires that you are fully recovered in order to maintain the intensity and complete the designated number of repetitions. Each set should be just as good as your first.
  3. If you’re new to strength training, don’t expect mind-blowing muscle pumps like you would get with hypertrophy training. The transient effect is very different, particularly between the 1 – 4 rep range.
  4. Resist the temptation to include more exercises, sets or reps. Again, if you’re new to strength training, your neuromuscular system won’t know what hit it.

The Final Word on Strength Training

The implementation of mxs training phases offer variety, the training stimulus required to ensure strength is commensurate to muscle size and what will be for many, a new training methodology that will set the stage for future hypertrophic adaptations. Hypertrophy is a secondary benefit of mxs training, although large gains in muscle size are possible with mxs, it is generally only in those athletes that are just beginning to use mxs training. For those that have been training for a while, the adaptations developed as a result of mxs training will ensure plateaus are broken and new growth stimulated when returning to hypertrophy training. Eccentric training can also be used by advanced strength and conditioning athletes and is the most effective way of improving strength; however, is beyond the scope of this article as it has little application for bodybuilding purposes.

Batman, p., trapp, g., & host, c. (2001). Muscle mechanics. Surry hills: fitness industry australia.
Bompa, t. O. (1999). Periodization training for sports. Champaign: human kinetics.
Bompa, t. O., cornacchia, l. J., & di pasquale, m. (2003). Serious strength training. Champaign: human kinetics.
Hatfield, f. C. (1996). Fitness: the complete guide. Santa barbara: international sports science association.
Marieb, e. N. (2004). Human anatomy & physiology (6th ed.). San fransisco: pearson education.
Schwarzenegger, a., & dobbins, b. (1999). The new encyclopedia of modern bodybuilding. New york: fireside.
Wilmore, j. H. & costill, d. L. (1999). Physiology of sport & exercise2nd ed.).champaign: human kinetics.
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