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Strength training and biomotor abilities

This is an excerpt from Lower Body Training by Jason Brown.

Before we delve into the various methods of strength development, it is important to understand what strength is. Although one can read about strength in just about any exercise physiology book, let’s review a few key definitions first and see how and why strength is relevant to your training program. It’s important to note that strength provides the basis for success across multiple modalities, as well as increased resiliency and longevity; and it connects to every biomotor ability (see figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1 Interaction of biomotor abilities and various aspects of sports performance.
Figure 3.1 Interaction of biomotor abilities and various aspects of sports performance.
Reprinted by permission from T. Bompa and C.A. Buzzichelli, Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, 6th ed. (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2019), 231.

There is no question that strength is the ultimate biomotor ability and carries over to improvements in other important fitness characteristics such as speed, power, and muscle endurance. So even if the goal isn’t necessarily to improve upon maximal strength (increasing your one-rep max squat), there are still connections between maximal strength and other abilities such as strength endurance. For example, if your one-rep max squat increases, it’s likely that your five-rep max will too.

By definition, strength is the ability of a given muscle or muscle group to generate force (Haff and Bompa 2009). While there are a number of scenarios for strength to be manifested, the training methods presented later in this chapter will help provide context around how strength is developed, its classifications, and specific guidelines on how to develop each type of strength. The exercises and training programs provided later in this book will also include appropriate rep schemes that coincide with these methods. Different strength methods all contribute to increasing strength qualities, but establishing a baseline level of maximal strength (assuming you have built efficient movement patterns with a given lift) will ensure that all qualities are increasing commensurately. Each strength method has a specific intent and specific parameters that are important when using a concurrent (training multiple biomotor abilities within the same week of training) form of training.

Also, understanding the adaptations that take place from various forms of strength training helps ensure that your training program will promote balanced strength development. Maximal force or velocity of a muscle or a muscle group can be expressed in other biomotor abilities like speed and endurance. We hear many individuals say things like “I’m not concerned with gaining maximal strength” simply because they are not yet educated in the connection between maximal strength and nearly every other biomotor ability.

Now that we’ve established that maximal strength plays a key role in the strength development of other biomotor abilities, it is important for you to understand its other advantages, which may not be obvious to the untrained eye:

  • Synergy of strength modalities. It’s important to know the differences between strength training methods and how they blend together in a successful training plan. With this in mind, this book will use a variety of strength training measures that look to improve different components of strength at different locations on the force-velocity curve (maximal force versus maximal velocity). This allows you to effectively create balance within a training plan and prevent overtraining.
  • Improvement of strength limitations. As Louie Simmons says, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This holds true with developing lower body strength. A consistent attack on limitations with a wide variety of special exercises will prevent weak links from destabilizing your training and is instrumental to your lower body training success (Simmons 2015). You cannot effectively build a base of strength if you’re neglecting general strength measures (i.e., unilateral work, which not only allows you to consistently address your limitations but sets up success with other modalities such as maximal strength work).
  • Avoiding accommodation or adapting to a repetitive stimulus. The biological law of accommodation states that constant exposure to the same stimulus results in detraining. In order to prevent accommodation, exercise selection and volume prescriptions should be adjusted regularly (Simmons 2015). We know the body thrives on variability in order to continue to make progress, and this variability will come by way of varying exercise selection while still programming the essential foundational patterns of squatting, lunging, and hip hinging.
  • Improving motor-unit recruitment as it relates to strength training. Maximal strength work has the ability to recruit and use higher-threshold motor units.

In short, having a firm grasp on the methods and their overall goals will be instrumental in creating better synergy, adaptations, and improvement of limitations. It is clear that heavy lower body resistance training has massive returns on investment with regard to improving maximal strength, which has strong ties to performance, but understanding the endocrinology of multijoint training is a key factor in creating an anabolic environment in the human body. You need to make the connection that growth can only occur in an optimal stress environment. Detraining can also occur if you undergo doses of heavy resistance training that are too high. For example, stress levels that are too high (by way of a training session being too long in duration or simply using high-intensity measures too frequently in one’s program design) can increase catabolic hormones such as cortisol that may override anabolic hormones, thus delaying positive training adaptations or eventually leading to central fatigue. In short, how you manage stress within the training session affects the success of your training; there is a fine line between too much volume, intensity, or frequency and not enough stress to induce positive training adaptations.