Beyond Bulk: The Many Ways to Strength Train!

I’m a firm believer that EVERYONE needs to engage in some form of strength training. Whether you’re under age 10 or over age 70, male or female, fit or not, and regardless of what sport or recreational activity you engage in, and regardless of whether you have an illness or an injury – you need to be building strength.

When most people think of “strength training”, they think weights.  Dumbbells, barbells, usually being lifted by large dudes.  But strength training takes many different forms, and it goes way beyond squats and deadlifts.  There are different types of strength training that condition the muscles to perform in different ways, and every person is going to need something different depending on what their goals are! Here, I’ll take you through the different types of systems that you can train, and who might benefit from each type depending on your goals.

Strength:

Pure strength is actually defined as the amount of weight a person can lift one time – your “one rep max”, if you will.  In order to build strength in a muscle (which, by the way, is not the same thing as bulk), you need to be lifting heavy amounts of weight for a low number of repetitions – getting close to that “maximum amount” of weight that you can lift one time.

Strength work pretty much always involves external weights.  This is where your squats, deadlifts, and bench press come in.  I would argue that most everyone needs and can benefit from strength work – yes, including endurance athletes- but in particular this type of training is most specific for football linemen and strength athletes/weightlifters.  Gymnasts can also benefit from strength work – they might not be moving other people or weights, but they’re moving themselves!

Muscular Endurance: 

Muscular endurance – how long can you lift a given amount of weight for without fatiguing?  This is similar to cardiovascular endurance – for how long can you maintain a given aerobic workload.  In order to train muscular endurance, it’s best to lift a relatively light amount of weight for many reps, and with less rest between sets.

This type of training may or may not involve external weights.  For example, hill repeats in running or cycling are actually a form of muscular endurance training (as well as cardiovascular capacity training!).  This type of training, of course, is most specific to endurance athletes, but also for athletes who need to be performing for long periods of time, such as wrestlers and soccer players.

Power: 

Power is all about time – how fast can you lift a given amount of weight?  In order to train power, you want your load to be somewhat moderate – not as heavy as if you’re working for strength, but wayyy not as light as if you’re working for endurance – and your goal is to lift it FAST.

Another way to train power is through plyometrics – here, you’re training your own body’s ability to produce enough power to get you off the ground quickly.  This is key for runners (less time on the ground = less impact force, and faster running), as well as soccer, basketball, and other jumping athletes.

Hypertrophy: 

This is where the bulk comes in.  Hypertrophy training is all about getting your muscles bigger.  This is obviously a good thing for bodybuilding competitions, but I’d argue that a little hypertrophy is never really a bad thing.  The more muscle you have (to a certain extent), the more mass you have doing the work required by your sport – less load on the joints! In some sports, especially endurance sports, it’s all about finding balance – being light enough for maximum speed, and muscled enough to be powerful and protect your joints.

Other Types of Training: 

Isometrics: 

The research shows that isometrics are great for pain relief.  If you’ve got a nagging ache in your knee or hip, some isometric strength around that joint before and after your normal training can be great for pain relief and muscle activation. This is also a great way to build strength after an injury or surgery in which your joint range of motion is restricted.

Neuromuscular/Motor Control Training:

This is all about getting your body into a certain position or certain alignment and keeping it there while performing an athletic task or heck, even while just breathing. Core work falls into this category, as does yoga and pilates (yes, yoga can be a form of strength training!) If we’re being honest, I believe everyone can benefit from this type of training.

So…can you train all these systems in the same session? YES! The general rule is that you should start with the heaviest load/fastest lifting speeds/most compound multi-joint movements first.  AKA, start with the stuff that’s going to fatigue you the fastest and work your way down to what we call “accessory” work – single joint motions (think bicep curls, leg press) that we use partially for aesthetics and partially for resiliency within a specific muscle or around a specific joint.

Hopefully this information will help you hit the gym with a more focused plan in order to reach your goals a little faster!

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