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Strength Training Hub

Welcome to the Sprint Ninja Strength Training Hub. The aim here is to give people an in-depth, working knowledge of strength and how to obtain it. In addition to this main hub page you will also find links to strength articles.

What is Strength?

Strength, in the simplest form, is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to contract with a high level of force. But there is more to it than that....

The strength of a given muscle to produce force will aid strength. However strength cannot be defined by the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to produce force. Force produced by a muscle is the very basis and foundation of strength, but there are a number of factors that influence the actual application of strength.


Some factors that influence the application of strength include.....

Force production: We've established that the production of force for a given muscle or group of muscles is essential for strength. Muscle must be able to produce force to be strong. And this sort of force is developed both in isolation, with the focus being entirely on the muscle or muscle group in question, and through the more practical application of force, which is an essential part of a training programme. It is therefore important to incorporate both basic, simple movements, such as isolation exercises, as well as more complex movements that involve a larger engagement of musculature, such as deadlifts and squats.

Coordination: Coordination refers to two things. There is coordination of a muscle itself. This means that the muscle is trained in such a way that the right number of motor units are called to action to make the muscle contract in the right sequence and at the right speed. This is on a nervous system level. The other coordination refers to the coordination of all the muscle groups involved to complete a given task moving in a synchronous fashion, recruiting sufficient muscle at sufficient force to create the desired movement.

Physical Tolerance: We may have the ability for a muscle to contract at a given level of force output, however we may not have the ability to do so without damage to that muscle or other supporting structures. What you can physical tolerate without damage plays a large role in how much strength you realistically have. There is no point being strong enough to do a task if that task injures you in such a way that you are unable to repeat it until the injury is healed.

Types of Strength

At the most basic and foundational level, strength is strength. It's the ability to produce force, and more than that the ability to produce force in meaningful and applicable movements. However going a step further, strength is not always simply strength. There are multiple ways to apply force, each with its own uses and applications. 

Brute Strength/Raw Strength: Brute strength or raw strength, is the overall ability of a person to produce force or move an object, independent of speed of movement and relativity to body mass. As an example, the person with the highest level of brute strength or raw strength, is the person that can lift the most weight, regardless of their size. 

Strength Training Articles

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Super Human Strength

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Strength, Power and Explosive Strength

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Benefits of Strength Training

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Core Strength Workouts: Training your core effectively

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Kettlebells

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Barbell Complexes

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Ideal Strength Training Program

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Human Strength Potential

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Unilateral Training: Should you be doing it?

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Ten Facts About Strength Training

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Powerlifting Routine: A periodised powerlifting programme for powerlifters and other athletes.

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Isolation Exercises: Applications for exercises acting on a single joint or muscle. Yes, compound movements are king, however isolation exercises have some specific applications.

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Functional Muscle Gain: Serious strength and mass gain program for athletes or those who like to train like them

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A beginner strength training program in a simplified format. This is a program designed for maximum athletic function for any individual, athlete and non-athlete alike.

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Optimizing Strength Training

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Strength and Power

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Beginner Strength Training Exercises: Exercises that stand the test of time from beginner to highly advanced. Includes stages of strength training mastery

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Bulgarian Weightlifting: The system and its applications outside of weightlifting

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Muscular Hypertrophy Explained

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Best Strength Exercises

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Basics of strength training

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Brute Strength/Raw Strength: Brute strength or raw strength, is the overall ability of a person to produce force or move an object, independent of speed of movement and relativity to body mass. As an example, the person with the highest level of brute strength or raw strength, is the person that can lift the most weight, regardless of their size. 

Relative Strength: Relative strength is the amount of strength a person has relative to their body mass. Generally speaking, if we look at trends in elite strength athletes, relative strength is higher in smaller athletes. The super heavyweights obviously have a much greater brute strength, but the guy in the 77kg class will have a far greater relative strength. There are some lighter weight class powerlifters that have deadlifted 5x their own body weight. 

Explosive Strength: Explosive strength is related to power, but there is a slight difference. Explosive strength is the application of a high level of force at a high speed. A good example would be the ability of a shot putter to hoist the shot the furthest, or a weight lifter performing a snatch.

Static Strength: Static strength is the ability to produce or resist force in a static position. An example would be attempting a bench press with a weight so heavy you are unable to complete the rep, so you push as hard as possible trying to push the weight until your spotter assists in moving the weight. Static strength is always greater than dynamic/moving strength. In other words, you are able to resist a lot more weight in a static position than you can move.

Strength Endurance: Strength endurance is the ability to produce a given level of force for either a prolonged period or for a high number of repeated movements. An example of strength endurance would be the ability to perform 30+ reps with 60% of your 1RM for a squat.

How to Build Strength - The Essential Foundations

Building strength is essential in just about all sports and vigorous activities. It's also an important component of functioning as a human in general, not just an athlete. Strength is essentially the foundation from which you can build all other components of fitness. Strength makes everything easier.

The following are some basic guidelines in the development of physical strength, for each individual type of strength.

Brute Strength/Raw Strength

Build as much muscle mass as possible. When body weight is not a concern and the main objective is the maximum amount of strength possible, more muscle always equals greater strength. This is achieved through moderate weight and moderate volume strength training up to high volume. Methods such as German volume training (10 sets of 10 reps per exercise), among other things, will achieve this. 

Greater muscle mass is half the picture in gaining brute strength. That muscle mass needs to be consolidated with periods of becoming accustomed to greater loads, performed at a lower volume. This can be achieved through heavy, high intensity lifting at reps between 1-5 per set, with significant rest between sets.

Relative Strength

The objective of relative strength is to be as strong as possible while limiting the amount of body weight you carry. This is obviously the objective for athletes such as sprinters and gymnasts. 

Training volume should be kept relatively low. A moderate to high volume will produce gains in muscle mass. In this instance, small gains can be beneficial, but there will be a top-end limit. It must be noted that there are still gains in mass with low volume, ultra-high intensity strength training. However the lower the volume, the lesser the size gains. Sets and reps should be kept lower than 5, with periods of training nothing but 1-3 reps. The load is high and the overall training volume is low. A deadlift session may consist of just 21 total reps in a given session for example. 

Explosive Strength

Explosive strength is much like explosive power. The difference being that with explosive power, the load can be very low, such as launching body weight in the air with a jump. Explosive strength places more emphasis on moving greater loads at a fast pace.

Train with a variety of load. Scale back to 50% of your max one all lifts and perform those movements as fast as possible. Go all the way up to the top-end range of your strength or just short of it, and aim to lift the weight fast on the concentric. Scale back slightly until you find a weight that is equally heavy but can be moved fast too. Volume should be kept low for sets of no more than 5.

Olympic lifts are a perfect recipe for explosive strength. They are purpose-built to move fast. To limit the learning curve, perform the bastardised variations of Olympic lifts, such as power snatch, power clean, push press, snatch high pull etc.

Static Strength

Static strength can be a very valuable tool in breaking through plateaus. It can also increase your overall max strength. But it must be noted that static strength, or isometric strength, should not be used as an isolated training method, as it lacks the common movement pattern of dynamic strength training.

Static strength can be trained through the use of supra-maximal loads or immovable objects. An example would be grasping a barbell that is 20% heavier than your bicep curl max. Attempt to curl the weight as hard as you can. Once you get to the point where you can't go any further, continue to try to lift the weight with all your strength for 3-7 seconds. Alternatively, cheat the weight to halfway and hold there for a given duration.

There are also isometrics that can be done anywhere. Push both your palms together in front of you like you're saying a prayer. Push as hard as you possibly can to activate the chest. Or, twist up a towel and hold in two hands, hands facing palms down, arms stretched out in front. Now attempt to pull the towel in half in front of you as hard as you possibly can and hold.

Strength Endurance

Strength endurance is the ability to exert lower level strength for a prolonged period. Therefore higher volumes and lower intensity is required.

Strength endurance is best trained using uncomplicated exercises. Olympic lifts are a poor choice. Strength endurance should be developed using exercises with less skill involvement, such as squats, bench press, pull ups, push ups, lunges etc.

Perform these exercises at a lower than normal weight from 50% to 70% of your max. There are several formats that can be used...

High rep sets, where sets are 15 reps at a minimum per set.

Short rests, where you might only do sets of 10, but rests are anywhere from 10-20 seconds.

Or density, which involves a maximum number of reps in a specific period of time. For instance as many back squats as possible in 15 minutes. Rest as needed, but no more than bare minimum. The aim is to do as many reps as humanly possible.

Strength Training Tools And Methods

Strength training is a pretty broad topic, and there are a thousand ways to skin a cat. Sprint Ninja uses the principle of adaptability. If you have the equipment, facilities, space etc, then use them. Where resources are limited, you need to understand ways around that using minimalist training methods that still bring progress.

Powerlifting

Powerlifting is a competitive sport. But I also like to highlight that it is also a way of building strength for those that aren't powerlifters.

Powerlifting involves the use of heavy, compound barbell movements, with varying volume depending on the goal. Powerlifting is simple and effective. It makes use of movements such as the big three, which includes squat, deadlift and bench press. It also makes use of auxiliary exercises such as military press, barbell curl etc.

Bodybuilding

You don't have to be a bodybuilder to take a bodybuilding approach to strength training. The bodybuilding approach makes equal use of heavy compound movements as well as more targeted isolation.

Bodybuilding is an underestimated tool for strength training among athletes. I encourage people to look to bodybuilding as a foundation approach for gaining strength and muscle mass.

Olympic Weightlifting

Olympic weightlifting is a competitive sport. However the lifts are a useful method for developing strength and power. There is a big learning curve with the full Olympic lifts. I therefore encourage the broken down modifications such as snatch high pull, power snatch, power clean, push press etc

For Olympic lifting to be useful, it should be low reps up to a max of 5 per set, adequate rest between sets and overall relatively low volume.

Gymnastics and Callisthenics

Gymnastics, again, is a competitive sport. But the movements are perfect for full body strength training. There is a limit to how much strength you can build using gymnastics, but the limit is high, and you're probably not reaching it any time soon.

Gymnastics and callisthenics ranges from the bare basics beginner to elite athlete. The goal being at first an increase in volume, progressing towards more advanced versions of exercises.

To give you an idea of something a beginner can do, think of walking lunges and push ups from the knees. For a super strong elite athlete, you have single arm push pull ups, clap push ups etc.

But what about my legs? It's tough to train absolute strength using callisthenics. For this it is not a great method. However the legs can be targeted at the advanced levels through high rep jumping drills.

Note with jumping drills, those with a fast reaction such as box jumps and bounding are plyometrics exercises and should not be done at high reps. High rep jumps can be done using scissor jumps (aka lunge jumps), squat jumps and broad jumps.

Strength endurance can be trained with callisthenics using super high volume density training. My go to preference there are either split squats or walking lunges non stop for 20 minutes.

Strongman Training

I use the term strongman training loosely. It's a niche sport. However the training is useful for athletes, in that it makes use of heavy, awkward items. The stimulus differs from uniform movements and forces you to lift in ways you wouldn't normally lift using just barbells and dumbbells.

Keep in mind that modified strongman training can be creatively done in a gym environment. But that's a topic for another tutorial in itself.

Some Strongman Training Ideas: Farmers walk using a loaded barbell in each hand (as opposed to dumbbells); overhead barbell carry with unbalanced weight (more weight on one side than the other); carrying, throwing, loading heavy stones at varying weights; full a large keg or bin with water and carry it for distance with a bear hug grip; using a heavy log for squats, zercher carry, explosive lifts onto alternating shoulders; pinch grip walk (pinch 2 weight plates together in each hand and walk; pushing a heavy vehicle up an incline; sled pulls and pushes..... Or, if you have the luxury of using legit strongman implements, take advantage of it.

Programming

In order for strength training to be effective, it needs to be consistent. There is no point sporadically doing Olympic lifts a few times and then switching to callisthenics for a week or two and then taking up powerlifting.

Having said that, a flexible and varied approach can work effectively, as long as each theme of training feeds into the next. The Sprint Ninja approach to strength training is flexible in nature and not tied down to specific stats, percentages and numbers. Rigid programming makes it easy to fall off the wagon.

At the same time, the programming is designed to be able to be progressive, even as your time and your resources change. There is no need to fall off the wagon just because you were utilising powerlifting for a several months and then suddenly have no access to heavy barbells. However it does mean that you often need to switch your focus as your needs and access change.

The following are a few basic guidelines or principles, or whatever you'd like to call them, for strength development. Keep in mind that these are broad guidelines that look at strength training overall. Each specific athletic goal needs to be programmed according to the needs of the task at hand.

Have a broad plan: Outline how often you will train, the specific type/s of strength you want and need and the tools and methods that will achieve it, as outlined earlier when we spoke about how to develop each type of strength. You will need to work out which tools you have access to and how reliable they are.

Have a back-up plan: So you're using heavy barbells and training a mix of powerlifting and Olympic lifting. What happens when you don't have access to this equipment for six weeks? You need a basic back-up plan, a plan for flexibility and adaptability. You may need to switch your focus for a period of time and incorporate high density/volume callisthenics for that period of time. In some circumstances, some lifestyles will mean that you will have to regularly engage this adaptability. If you live a highly regular and reliable lifestyle, you can still be derailed by injury or find yourself in a situation that requires you to change your training temporarily.

Test, observe and measure: So you have an objective, a goal. Lets say you’re a rugby 7s player. You need to be strong, fast, explosive, agile and possess anaerobic endurance. First of all, if your objectives are vague, not measurable, too broad etc, don’t be lazy, go back and do it again. In order to know where you’re at, in order to know if you’re making progress, you need to test. Just like your training itself, observation and testing of progress should be flexible.

There are three layers of testing and measuring: 1. Regular, formal fitness tests such as testing 1RM or 3RM or other specific tests. Regular here means a frequency of between 4-8 weeks. 2. Regular, informal testing, such as impromptu testing of a 5RM on a given lift or testing your max pull ups. Frequency here can be anything you like, but I recommend every few workouts. 3. Observation and keeping track of training sessions themselves. Even if you’re not the type to record all your training sessions, you should know how much you can lift on major lifts and where you’re up to. If the weight or volume goes up, you’re making progress.

Be consistent: A single workout produces small changes. You’re not going to get stronger from one-off workouts performed sporadically. Strength is the cumulative total of all the workouts you’ve done over a given period of time (among other factors of course). So in order to produce results, consistency beats skill, knowledge and everything else. Consistency refers to consistently showing up and training, as well as being consistent with the theme of your training. There’s no point doing a complex lift like a power snatch sporadically every 10th workout.

Variation: Yes, training should be consistent and should all work towards a given objective. However variation is also beneficial for progress. Variation means that one workout to the next should have a common theme, but they should all be slightly unique. If you’re doing power cleans once a week, you might do 12 sets of 3 on one session and nothing else. The next session you might do 9 sets of 3 and then finish off with a few sets of dumbbell weighted squat jumps. Then there is periodic variation. If you’re following a bodybuilding style programme, after 4-6 weeks it might be beneficial to do a week or two of high volume callisthenics as an example.

Recovery/Deload: It’s impossible to progress in a linear fashion indefinitely. If it were possible then we would all eventually be super saiyans. The law of diminishing returns, unfortunately, means that results will begin to slow down the stronger you get and the closer you get to the top end of your strength potential. For this reason it is essential and non-negotiable to recover and deload. Recovery can refer to regular recovery such as rest days, sleep, food etc. But it also refers to periods of lighter training or no training at all periodically at least a few times a year. Your recovery periods depend on how much progress you’re making, fatigue levels, training frequency etc.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to programming for strength training. Here we have covered the basic foundations that should be present in all programming.

Wrapping It Up

Strength training, in one way or another, is an essential component of athletic development and even aesthetic development (read, weight loss, muscle gain or tone). Your goal will determine how you train. Do your research, plan ahead and have a back-up plan. Train according to the goal, don’t go in blind. But most of all, be consistent. Without consistency you ain’t got shit.

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