Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Strength as a Skill

There was an article this week on T-Nation about powerlifter Dave Tate's training history - Dave Tate's Iron Evolution

In it, Dave Tate says:

Strength is a high-level skill. Like any skill, to get good at it, you have to practice. That means performing the same lifts, the same way, repeatedly until you develop some degree of mastery.

What exactly does that mean? Isn't strength, well, strength, and skill something else entirely? Are strong guys necessarily skilled?

Strength really has a few components. Two we'll concern ourselves with here are raw muscular strength, and the nervous system.

Strength is partly just the size and composition of the muscles. Big muscles, with many large muscle fibers, are going to be stronger than smaller muscles, all other things being equal. What the muscle consists of - the fiber types, how much of it is fluid size versus actually enlarged fibers, etc. - is also important. These are essentially the basis of your strength, as these fibers either contract or don't, and if they aren't big enough or numerous enough or appropriate to the type of contraction, you won't have the "strength" to do what you want to do.

But another critical component is your central nervous system. When your brain tells your body to squat, do all of the proper muscles fire in the right order? Do they do so efficiently, because they have a lot of practice doing so? How many of those fibers contract when you need them?

Your body generally gets more efficient at doing things you do often. You get specific endurance for those activities you do over and over. This is why a runner might be able to run forever but tire out doing MMA (at least at first), or vice-versa. You use more energy on an unfamiliar task than on a familiar task.

Your body also gets better at coordinating the different muscles into a new motion. This is why your basketball foul shot or baseball throw or low front leg kick get easier and easier to execute. This is why a strong guy with no yoga background has so much trouble in his first yoga class despite having the muscular strength and coordination base to do the exercises. They are new, and the pattern isn't ingrained yet. What needs to be contracted, what relaxed, and when to do either, are not yet learned. As they are learned, you can more efficiently apply your strength.

So, therefore, strength is a skill. You need raw muscular "strength" to pick up heavy things, but you also need the neuromuscular ability to execute that movement properly.

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