By CARTER HAYS
Strength is the ability of a muscular unit or group of muscular units to apply force at a given intensity. Our training approach to strength is to focus on relative strength or strength to weight ratio as opposed to simply absolute strength. That means that strength to us takes bodyweight into account.
Absolute strength is the maximum amount of force exerted, regardless of muscle or body size. Greater amounts of absolute strength favor those with higher bodyweight and in general, larger individuals. Greater absolute strength can improve relative strength capabilities with proper training.
Relative strength is an aspect of fitness that we should focus on as opposed to simply strength in general. Relative strength is the strength of an individual in relation to their bodyweight. It’s easy to be strong and huge, but this does not always serve the most efficient function. This sort of strength development means being super strong for your size.
Imagine being able to squat three times your own bodyweight. This is efficient. Being big would never allow that. If you weigh a lot and are able to lift a lot it does not mean you are functionally fit. Functionally fit means you are able to lift a lot for your size and also move efficiently.
If someone weighs 264 pounds and is able to dead-lift say 660 pounds there is no argument that they are strong. However what if that person is in the military? They get injured and have to be carried. This is not efficient because it slows down the whole platoon. If someone weighs 154 pounds and can dead-lift 484 pounds they are considered stronger in terms of relative strength. If they are injured they can easily be carried as another piece of luggage.
So having a higher strength to weight ratio is highly effective and functional in the real world. That’s the aspect of strength that we should be interested in.
So how do you condition this sort of strength? I mean aren’t some people more responsive to gaining muscle size?
Well yes and no. People can be responsive to gaining muscle size more than others who perform strength training. The ones who get stronger than they do bigger are generally more neurologically efficient. But strength training even for genetically responsive people to muscle growth, can be structured to make the person stronger for their weight.
In order for a muscle to be strengthened, one of two things must happen: one way is to increase the cross-sectional area of that muscle. This means a larger muscle capable of producing more force. Another way is to increase dormant aspects of the individual’s strength potential and reduce inhibitory responses. This is done through maximal strength training where the neuromuscular system is trained into utilizing more of the existing motor units.
How to increase relative strength:
- First of all eat like a track and field athlete or gymnast, not a body builder. This means eating the calories your body needs, not excess!
- Keep your body fat level below 10-15% percent. This will mean maximum efficiency because there will be very little nonfunctional body tissue. Yes this is challenging, but being unhealthy, and frequently injured and sick is too.
- Train with lower repetitions, like a range of about 1-3 reps per set. Training with low reps produces a response more conducive to neurological strength gain as opposed to muscle size gain. You never need do more than 5 reps per exercise, and never should train to failure. (meaning you cannot perform another repetition) keep 1-2 reps in reserve so to speak.
- Rest a lot between sets. Give the body time to recover and replenish creatine stores before attempting subsequent maximal efforts. This takes about 3-5 minutes. You are training patience as well aren’t you!
- Perform compound, free weight movements in order to recruit the maximum possible number of motor units. This produces neuro-endocrine responses that contribute to higher maximum strength.
- Perform maximal strength training infrequently. This means giving the body a lot of rest between strength workouts. Two per week or three at most is great.
- Ensure the strength training is relevant. The movements chosen will be most effective if they are specific to the movements you want to actually get stronger at. This transfers over into the real task much more readily.
That’s a basic rundown of relative strength training. This is more important in my opinion than muscle gain because it allows an individual to lift much more than their bodyweight. This transfers over into a wider range of tasks than absolute strength accompanied by huge body size. Strength is a skill and must be practiced weekly for the actual effects you seek.
Developing your emotional strength, or mental toughness can help you be more emotionally resilient, push you to go further and harder, and build the armor to persevere against the bullets that life fires your way. The challenge it’s difficult to be “tougher” consistently isn’t it?. Here are some strategies to toughen up your mind for life’s challenges.
Mental toughness is strength in the face of adversity. It’s the ability to keep your focus and determination despite the difficulties you encounter. Events in our life rarely go the way we’d like them to, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it throw you off your game. Mental toughness gives you the tenacity to learn from your mistakes without the devastating blow failure can sometimes deal. This resilience and fortitude also gives you the strength to keep emotions in check when something in your life seems overwhelming and you need to be strong.
Essentially, mental toughness is the voice in the back of your head that tells you to keep going, keep pushing, and keep trying, even when the going gets tough. They say “life’s tough, get a helmet.” These tactics can help you create the helmet you need.
The best offense is a good defense. One of the biggest ways you can build resilience to the things that come your way is to manage your expectations. If you have poorly managed expectations, you’ll run into more surprises, which can make you feel out of control. Lack of control can lower your self esteem and weaken your mental fitness. Flexibility and adaptability are the key components to laying the groundwork for your strong mental resolve.
You can only have realistic expectations by defining them. By this I don’t mean your expectations cannot be high, just a challenge that requires definition and high effort. Surprises may come more often than we like, but you can be better prepared for them by articulating what you specifically think might happen. Getting your hopes up or banking on mere possibilities in a situation puts holes in your armor right from the get-go. When a problem arises, take some time to ask yourself what outcomes you think are truly possible. Do this even before you look for solutions, and write them down if you’d like. If you can see the possible realities and accept them before you even react to it, you’ll be better prepared for whatever comes your way. Eventually, you’ll start to do this automatically and you’ll be able to approach situations calmly and with a clear head.
Prevent Emotions from Getting the Best of You
Being in touch with your emotions is a good thing, but they can also cloud your judgment in the moment. Mentally tough people know how to keep cool in heated situations. Emotions can get the best of us when we’re between a rock and a hard place, but having some emotional resilience can increase your ability to handle heavy situations.
One way to build emotional resilience is by owning what’s happening to you instead of running away to seek comfort. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. You can’t get stronger if you stay in your comfort zone at all times. Learning to be comfortable with uncomfortable situations will force you to learn from the situation instead of running from it.
Find Your Source of Motivation
Even if you maintain realistic expectations, and you’re capable of keeping your emotions under control, you still need some motivation from inside of you to keep on keepin’ on. Whether you’re tackling a problem, handling a difficult life event, or looking for a way to push yourself harder during your next workout, you need to stay motivated. So where do you find motivation? The simple answer is to always be able to answer your “why?” What is your defining and overwhelming purpose?
- Why do I need to solve this problem?
- Why do I need to get through this?
- Why do I need to get stronger, faster, healthier…?
By asking yourself these types of questions you can identify the true reason you need or want to accomplish something. Answers like “because I have to” don’t help you. When something difficult comes your way in life, you don’t always have a choice on whether you want to get through it or not, but there is always a better reason than “I have to.” Have a specific goal in mind, and look at the possible reactions to your actions. What’s the process. Think of something or someone that depends on you, and imagine you’re a soldier with a sense of duty to yourself and others.
When you know why you need to get through something it makes it easier to suck it up and carry on, but you also need the willpower to break through the barriers you might come across. Building up willpower takes time, but you can do so by developing simple, unrelated habits. For example, if you’re bad at flossing, push yourself to floss when you shower. You’ll forget some days, and other days you might lazily avoid it, but if you keep at it, eventually you’ll maintain your simple habit without thinking about it.
Little boosts in willingness increase your confidence, and when you accomplish little things, you begin to see that you really do have control of yourself. You might think of willpower as a finite resource, but you have as much willpower as you believe you have. Challenge yourself and you’ll find that motivation is easy to come by when you actually believe you’re capable of overcoming things.
Are you willing to do whatever it takes?
Combining faith, fitness, and athletic performance to deliver 40 years as a recognized expert in the field of fitness and athletic performance, Carter has spent his career as a personal trainer and strength coach. He has helped his clients create optimal health and peak performance including nine contestants from NBC’s Biggest Loser TV Show as they prepared for their live season finale. “My training system has been utilized by professional athletes, celebrities, and award winning recording artists to maximize their physical potential.”
Carter is currently a partner and head trainer/strength coach for Music City Fitness in Brentwood TN, as well as a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Speaker, and Trainer.
Elements of Health is sponsored by Elements Massage of Franklin, Tennessee. It is located at 539 Cool Springs Boulevard, Suite 140 Franklin, Tennessee 37067. You can contact the studio at (615) 771-0003 or visit their website here.