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Strength is Important, but Context is Key: Expanding our Perspective on Strength, but Staying True to the Basics

Strength is a term that permeates through many aspects of our daily lives. It can define the degree in intensity of our feelings, or the ability of infrastructure to withstand daily use. It can serve as a great quality or attribute of our closest friends or a measure of someone’s influence. The common theme: strength is context dependent, and the word itself likely resonates differently with all of us. This is no different in the health, wellness, and fitness realm, but we often default to traditional ideas about how to define strength. Typically, it is the amount of weight we use or even worse, comparing ourselves to physical attributes of another person. In this blog we are going to discuss different types of strength, how they translate to our daily lives, and most importantly, the underpinnings of developing strength that we value at Empowered.  

 

Types of Strength

As a quality of human movement, strength is the ability to produce force against an external object. Simply put, can you support your body when you want it to perform? At Empowered, we feel it’s important to expand the word beyond its traditional meaning. And while it is a quality we all need, it can look differently for each person.

Maximal strength is the largest amount of force you can generate in single effort. One example of this is a barbell back squat and deadlift, but it can be moving that piece of furniture to finally redecorate your home.

Endurance or strength resistance is the ability to perform repeated efforts over a sustained period. This is embodied in the sport of CrossFit but is equally important for all yardwork and landscaping endeavors.

In the world of sport performance, reactive strength is the ability to produce force during plyometric movements on the court or field. But if you stumble off a curb or step, reactive strength is vital to maintain your balance and prevent an injury.

 

Building Blocks of Strength

There are many mechanisms and strategies to improve muscular strength. However, the magnitude of these strategies can be influenced by things such as baseline strength and genetics. Two physiologic underpinnings that translate to building all types of strength are a muscle’s capacity or cross-sectional area and musculotendinous stiffness.

A muscle’s capacity is simply its ability to produce force (aka each muscle doing its job to perform a task). Capacity is built through repeated bouts of basic movement patterns that involve all major joints and muscle groups and serves as the launching point to progress all different types of strength qualities.

Musculotendinous stiffness is the relationship between the force a muscle produces and the amount of stretch the muscle-tendon complex undergoes. This relationship can enhance our muscular strength, and like work capacity, sets the stage for other qualities such as power. Adequate joint range-of-motion, body positioning, and coordination are all important factors to build musculotendinous stiffness.

 

Building Strength: The Empowered way

            At Empowered we believe physical health, wellness, and performance all begin with a foundation of stability and basic strength. Movement patterns like squatting, hinging, deadlifting, pressing, carrying, and hanging are intertwined throughout our daily lives. And restoring adequate range-of-motion, improving basic work capacity of the musculature surrounding our major joint intersections, and loading appropriately to create robust musculotendinous stiffness are vital components for improving our movement patterns. This is important not only when we are injured, but worth revisiting to maintain our physical health and daily pursuits. It can be likened to this: the best sports performance centers in the world will always start their athletes with the basics that develop into the specific qualities needed by the athlete. And guess what? Each year… they return to those same basics to start again.

 

Build your foundation the right way, revisit the basics when appropriate, and keep moving forward.

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