What do bodybuilders, yogis and farmers have in common? They are all undeniably strong, yet in very different ways. And different types of strength call for different types of strength training.
Strength training is one of the most popular practices of conditioning. When people decide they want to lose weight, gain weight, perform better, or exercise for better health, strength training is likely to be considered. When we think of strength training, we think of gyms and weight rooms; and when we think of gyms and weight rooms, we think of weights. And when we think of weights, we think of lifting.
Even though strength training is so common, the ability to define it is not. Strength is a relative word, and most of us would have a difficult time providing an objective definition.
If we can’t accurately define it, how do we measure it? Do we know it when we see it? Is it a body type? Which of the following body types look strong: bodybuilder, yogi, acrobat, farmer? They look very different, but all are undeniably strong. All four bodies are conditioned in very different ways. This gives rise to the question, what is strength training? Let’s begin by looking at some of the various types of strength.
Maximal: Producing maximum force through a given range-of-motion in order to accomplish a particular outcome or movement. This type of strength depends on efficient neuromuscular communication and myofascial compliance.
Explosive: Rapid generation of high levels of force in a specific movement pattern. This demands a highly coordinated response from the neuromuscular system, and high levels of tissue resilience to produce and transfer force.
Relative: Production of forceful movement within the surrounding environment. Requires whole-body positional awareness, coordination, mobility and stability, and can be performed in various body orientations, often transitioning from one position to another.
Starting: Generation of high levels of force with minimal contribution from the elastic components of connective tissue. Beginning from a stationary position without any initial motion to create a mechanical pre-stress. Examples include Turkish get-ups, and most sprint starts and pulling patterns.
Positional: Purposeful movement from a pre-position. Holding odd positions such as a low sagittal split or lateral squat while moving or controlling an external resistance adds variable stress. Think of a tennis player’s return of serve from an outstretched, sometimes sliding position.
Endurance: The ability to produce and sustain movement for an extended period of time. This is specific to the tissues involved, movement patterns, and time under tension.
Lifting weights is one way to load the body for strength – but it is not the only way. In fact, an external load is not always required for strength training.
A more complete understanding of strength training
In many cases, the load of the body itself is beyond our threshold. In determining if bodyweight load is enough, or external loading is required, we first have to know how the body is going to be positioned, or oriented, as well as how we will be required to move with the load.
There is value and purpose in many forms of strength training. It is critical to include Loaded Linear Training (LLT), Unloaded Linear Training (ULT), Unloaded Movement Training (UMT), and Loaded Movement Training (LMT). For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on two of these: LLT and LMT.
Loaded Linear Training (LLT)
This describes what we’ve been seeing in gyms and weight rooms for decades. The exercises are mostly single-planar lifts (with the mass traveling up in the field of gravity), that usually require one action (up and down).
Many of the conditions are set: the way the tool is held, the foot position, the path the tool travels, the range of motion, the speed of movement, and the ground surface. For LLT, the body is put into a position of maximum stability. But this comes at the expense of mobility.
Loaded Movement Training (LMT)
Strength is relative to demands. And when we change up the variables, the demand changes. Instead of set conditions, LMT has as much variability as we can create.
So, we move the load from close to our bodies to further away, try different ways of holding it, alter our footprint, change the path of travel of the load and play with ranges of motion and speeds of movement.
As the body moves through three planes at various levels, and the load moves through three planes at various levels, each with its own varying speed of movement, the load demand is in constant change, and the body is becoming stronger in its sphere of function.
In a nutshell: where LLT builds mostly isolated strength, LMT results in more integrated strength.
This broadens the scope of strength training to more than just lifting weights. Sure, weight can be lifted, but also shifted, tilted, flipped, carried, dragged, rolled, thrown, and so on, in all three planes of motion.
We mentioned that Linear Loaded Training maximises stability at the expense of mobility. In Loaded Movement Training, stability largely comes from the ability to mobilise. That is to say, our ability to be stable depends on our ability to be mobile. Mobility in the feet and ankles, hips, and spine are all benefits of Loaded Movement Training.
Mobility is key for complete strength
The more mobile we can be, the more potential we have to increase strength. At IoM (Institute of Motion), we strength train in the gym, but also at the park, at the beach, in the mountains even. We change the environment. We’re not always looking for the flat ground. We prepare the body for life’s demands, which means various surfaces, various loads, and various body positions under load, in all three planes.
We constantly change the way we use tools to load the body, the way we move our bodies with them, the way we hold them, the position of our feet, the way each repetition has a different speed and direction of travel, and the conditions in which we train. We constantly vary the demands for integrated strength, for the ability to move under load, and for resilience in our environment.
Our lives are not static and linear: neither should our training be.
Michol Dalcourt is an internationally recognised leader in human movement and performance. He is the founder and CEO of the Institute of Motion, inventor of ViPR and co-founder of PTA Global. To learn more about Loaded Movement Training, and an inclusive, integrated approach to health and movement, visit instituteofmotion.com