Three Necessary Elements of Strength

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Three Necessary Elements of Strength

I’m on my way to one of my favorite places in the world this morning, Columbus, OH. It’s not my favorite because of its sheer beauty that’s for sure. I enjoy going there because it’s one of the meccas for strength. Columbus is the home of Westside Barbell, EliteFTS, the Arnold Classic, Columbus Weightlifting, and this year it’s the home of the USA Weightlifting World Team Camp. I have been excited for this camp for several weeks now because I hope to get around to some of my strong friends as well as coach my athletes that have made the World Team.

Needless to say I have strength on my brain right now. Getting strong is often the topic of conversation with the friends in my circle, so I wanted to simplify it for you if that’s possible. Getting strong comes down to three elements:

• Maximum Effort
• Efficiency
• Velocity

First nothing will replace maximum effort as the best way to get strong. In 1974 A.S. Prilepin did a series of experiments on high-level weightlifters and determined that lifts above 90% was the most effective for getting strong. You have to lift heavy to maximize strength. There is no way around it. The people that can lift the heaviest the longest without completely breaking down will be normally yield the best strength gains based on the experiments of Prilepin and in my experience.

We normally use one day per week to focus on maximum effort in the Olympic lifts and one day for the strength movements. Strength movements like squats and pulls normally drive the Olympic lifts. We also put more focus on the strength movements when Olympic lifts aren’t the prime concern like in the off-season or early in a training block. If you’re a powerlifter, the strength movements are always the main concern. If you’re training for a field sport, I would train more like a weightlifter because you want velocity to be your end concern.

We use more of a conjugate approach to maximum effort days with rotating variations of exercises like in the Olympic lifts we might use power movements, lifts from the hang, off blocks, complexes, or pauses. In the strength movements we might use pauses, accommodating resistance, special bars, or repetition maximums. However we always end training blocks with the specific movements to make sure specificity is used to perfect the intended movements.

Maximum effort is important, but it can’t be used all the time without crushing the nervous system. With our total volume of competition lifts and primary strength movements about 20-25% of the volume is used for maximum effort work at above 90%, and 50-55% of the volume is for lifts between 75-85%. The 75-85% range is more sustainable without causing major breakdown. This is the range where movement is perfected, or as I called it earlier “efficiency’. Weightlifting and powerlifting are just like any other sport. When you become more efficient at something, you will perform that movement with more ease. When I was a child, I loved the game of basketball. The first summer that I picked up a basketball, the three-point line seemed like a mile away. After a summer of playing, I could shoot three-pointers with ease. Did I get a lot stronger that summer? I might have gotten a little stronger, but the main thing that happened was an increase in efficiency within the neuromuscular system.

You can watch this phenomenon when a great weightlifter takes a year off of training. When they come back to training, they will be lifting around 70% of their old maximum. After a few month of training, they are right back to 90% and above. Did they get that much stronger in a short time? Will kind of, but what really happened was getting their coordination back. They became efficient once again.

The last element is velocity. Force equals mass x acceleration. Dr. Fred Hatfield was the first person to talk about compensatory acceleration in the strength world. Dr. Hatfield or whom some people called Dr. Squat was one of the first people to squat over 1,000 pounds. He put a major focus on accelerating the bar throughout the entire concentric phase causing more force to be produced. There are a few ways to focus on velocity. A big one that most people overlook is with using “intent”. Some people simply don’t focus on moving the bar as fast as possible. A great way to teach intent is by using a tendo unit of some kind that measures velocity. If you will use a measurement of speed as the intended focus of stimulus for the day, a lifter will move the bar with intent. For example if you tell a lifter that the training session is done when the velocity becomes lower than .75m/s, I promise they will move the bar as fast as possible. We also use accommodating resistance to increase speed with bands and chains. Bands will increase the speed simply by creating a faster eccentric portion of a lift.

Later this month we are releasing our first book of methods. We are putting together all the elements that we use to get strong along with the entire programs. We have worked for a long time to develop a system that we consider to be one that we will keep. Of course we will always be looking to perfect, but I have never been more excited about the results. With three men on the World Team (more than any other team in America) I believe that our methods are producing some favorable results. I have had some incredible teachers of course like: Louie Simmons, Dave Tate, Wes Barnett, John Broz, and Don McCauley. I will continue to learn from coaches like these, while I continue to do my own research.

I am sure that I will be giving you guys and gals full reports from Columbus, OH. I hope to see my good friend Louie Simmons, not to mention hanging out with some of the best Olympic weightlifting coaches that America has to offer. I am sure that I will learn a lot that I can pass on to all of you. Now go put some weight on the bar!

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