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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Strength before Conditioning?

There is a new article by Mark Rippetoe over on T-Nation, provocatively called Conditioning is a Sham.

The article argues strongly that the best way to get better conditioning is to get stronger - that is, the best way to deal with doing something at a sub-maximal strength (less than the most you can do) is to get your maximal strength up. Until you've gotten strong enough, conditioning is counter-productive at best.

The money quote, which tones it down a bit from the implication that conditioning is useless, is here:

"here's a shocking statement that applies to all novice lifters, as well as the vast majority of all trainees: training specifically for conditioning without a well-developed strength base is a waste of time." (emphasis mine)

The "well-developed strength base" is the key. You need a certain minimum strength. This is where I agree.

Strength is the low-hanging fruit for beginners. Most people aren't anywhere near where their strength could be after even a short course of lifting for maximal strength. Therefore, improving strength is pretty easily. In addition, improvements to strength by lifting weights will:

- improve muscular size (hypertrophy)
- increase muscular strength
- improve endurance, both by reducing the effective load of a weight and by increasing actual endurance.

Doing pure conditioning exercises will give you some gains in those areas, but not as much. That is, for a beginner, you can expect to get more endurance by getting stronger than you can expect more strength by getting more endurance.

By concentrating on strength, beginning lifters will progress quickly, and make gains that will spill over into endurance, mobility, balance, and overall health.

However I don't think the listed standards are really that key. While a 1.75x bodyweight squat, 2x bodyweight deadlift, and 0.75x bodyweight press are good things to have, not everyone is going to reach that, not even that 200 pound male. That's a 350 pound squat, 400 pound deadlift, and 150 pound (overhead) press for that 200 pound man.

These are useful and good goals but that's not where everyone will end up after a strength-focused approach. I prefer to drop the standards, and ask every workout, have the easy strength gains from a strength-focused approach dried up? One this occurs, no matter how strong or weak the person is, I start to diversify their approach. It doesn't matter what the numbers are, it's the inability to progress workout after workout, week after week. Once that stops, strength is no longer the low hanging fruit that it once was. It takes additional programming to get stronger at this point, and here is where strength-endurance and specific conditioning start to make a lot of sense. But there are no fixed numbers attached to this decision, just a fixed standard.

I think the article also takes a deliberately provocative approach. It's really just saying that you need to focus on what's going to get you the most gains the fastest, and avoid that gets in the way of that, before you pay attention to the things that don't get you as much.

The Take Home Point - Strength training gives the most bang for the buck/the most reward for the effort for beginning trainees, so they should focus on that, just as Mark Rippetoe's article states.

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