Strength: The Common Denominator Irrespective of Your Ultimate Goal (Part 1 of 4)

By Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle Building.

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In this article I will build a case for the importance of being strong and how it  heightens your ceiling to increase muscle and achieve your ultimate goals.

 

The nuts and bolts of what you must understand… 

  • Progress must be quantified, to indicate whether or not you’re obtaining the result you initially set out to achieve, or if you’re just spinning your wheels.
  • Strength is the common denominator when it comes to achieving any physical attribute whether it be more endurance, muscle size, or power.
  • Oftentimes strength levels become a limiting factor in maximizing your ability to produce maximal power, sustain your effort over time (endurance) and pack on pounds of pure muscle.
  • On the flip side, heightening our strength levels can increase our ceiling to improve any other physical attribute that we wish to develop. For all you muscle seekers, the stronger you get, the greater your capacity to build muscle.
  • There is an individual “threshold” in terms of necessary strength to maximize your capacity to develop whatever physical attribute you wish to achieve, and once you’ve reached that threshold your focus can be placed on maximizing that specific attribute.
  • Over the course of 12 to 24 months, these are realistic but challenging strength goals you should strive to achieve. Consider these minimum requirement strength thresholds:

Shoulder Press – 0.8 – 1.2 x Bodyweight
Bench Press – 1.25 – 1.5 x Bodyweight
Squat – 1.75 – 2 x Bodyweight
Deadlift – 2 – 2.5 x Bodyweight

So for me, sitting at 210 pounds, I should be able to shoulder press 160 to 240 pounds; bench press 262.5 to 315 pounds; squat 367 to 410 pounds; deadlift 410 to 525 pounds. Currently I’m sitting on the low end of all those strength thresholds, meaning if I train to hit the upper end I should heighten my capacity to build more muscle. Want to come along for the ride?

Why do you train? What’s your goal?

Do you ever stop and think about what you want in return for the investment of time and effort you put in to the gym each day, or do you just show up with a vague idea of what you want to accomplish? Do you work around whatever equipment is available and hope that you’re rewarded at the end of the day, or do you have a plan laid out before you walk through the door?

Even if you know specifically what you want to accomplish and how to get there, how do you go about measuring it? Or do you just assume that your time and effort will pay off?

I realize that these may be some hard questions, but they are necessary questions to ask yourself because if you’re serious about getting the most return on your investment (time and effort), you’re going to need to know the answers.

You need to know where you’re at and where you want to go. You need to know how long it might take, and whether or not it’s realistic. You need to know how you’re going to measure your success (or failure). You must have a strategy which allows for your progress to be quantified, to indicate whether or not you’re obtaining the result you initially set out to achieve, or if you’re just spinning your wheels. If you’re moving closer toward your goal, keep doing what you’re doing – if not, you’d better re-evaluate.

The Common Denominator

Regardless of what your answers are to those heavy hitting questions, you can almost always tie your goal back to one common denominator – strength.

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In this first part of a four part strength training miniseries titled, I want to talk about the importance of being strong, and how it increases your capacity and heightens your ceiling to increase muscle mass, improve your level of physical preparedness for sport performance, boost your ability to generate maximum power, and prolong your ability to sustain a given amount of effort over time (endurance)¹.

How Strong Is Strong?

Strength itself is a relative term, and your goal will ultimately determine just how strong you need to be. People training for size may not need to be as strong as people training for sport, and people training for one sport may need to be stronger than people training for another sport – but the common theme here is they all need to be strong, because strength is the foundation upon which all other physical abilities are built.

Even people training primarily to reduce their body fat will benefit from increased strength levels because the heavier the weight that is being lifted is, the greater the effort required to overcome it will be. This in turn will translate into more muscle mass working, and more calories being utilized to provide the working muscles with the energy to perform and recover from the work, which can positively influence body re-composition.

The goal of this miniseries is to build a case for the importance of strength, irrespective of your ultimate goal. There is not one goal I can think of, in which strength doesn’t matter. That isn’t to say that everyone must get as strong as possible; far from it. This simply suggests that there is an individual ‘threshold’ in terms of necessary strength to maximize your capacity to develop whatever physical goal it is that you wish to achieve. Once you’ve reached that threshold your focus can be placed on maximizing that specific attribute.

This of course is subject to the ‘law of diminishing returns’ which suggests that strength up until a certain point will have a very positive impact on increasing your capacity to improve other physical attributes², but once that point is reached, continuing to increase strength will not have the same effect. Unfortunately, many fail to ever reach that threshold, so until then, all focus should be on increasing strength!

Here’s how you can increase your upper and lower body strength:

It’s Black And White – There Is No Grey Area

One of the best things about strength in comparison to other goals is that the results are black and white – you’re either stronger, or you’re not. You either lifted more, or you didn’t. Whether or not the lift was ‘clean’ or not is another story, but assuming a lift is performed in the exact same manner every time, strength is a very quantifiable way of measuring progress – and we need a quantifiable way of measuring progress to ensure what we are doing is working.

Strength can also provide clues in terms of what needs to be worked on and prioritized in your training program. Because a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, strength testing can highlight whether or not you have any glaring imbalances that need to be corrected. Failing to do so will ultimately hold you back at some point or another anyway, so it’s in your best interest to identify and correct them sooner rather than later. Imbalances not only prevent further strength from being gained, but they can greatly contribute to the development of chronic pain.

If you experience shoulder pain, and notice that your overhead press is significantly lower than your flat bench press, this may be a clue that your shoulders are weak, and why you are more prone to shoulder pain. If you experience knee pain, and notice that your front squat is significantly weaker than your back squat, this may be a clue that your hamstrings are weak, and why you are more prone to knee pain.

Generally, chronic pain is nothing more than the result of repetitive stress placed on a tissue because one muscle isn’t doing its job. Why it’s not doing its job is another story, but strength imbalances can be used as a quick diagnostic to shed light onto why something is happening – obviously if you are experiencing pain, you should get it looked at by a professional, but the point I’m trying to make is that strength can be used to help understand whether or not what you are doing, or have been doing, is causing the pain in the first place. If it is, maybe you ought to rethink what you’re doing.

No Nonsense Strength

By now you’re probably starting to understand how important strength is, and why developing it, or at least getting it up to the individual threshold I mentioned above, is of paramount importance. In fact, one of the first things I do when working with anyone is to help them understand that the stronger they get, the greater their capacity to build muscle, improve athletic performance, or increase endurance, becomes.

I know this to be true not just because it makes sense in theory, but because it played a pivotal role in my own personal transformation. A lot of people ask me what my secret was to transforming my physique from a skinny guy to a professional fitness model, and many are surprised to hear that I spent a great deal of time getting my numbers up.

All The Tension In The World Means Nothing Without Sufficient Loads

A lot of people link the development of muscle to ‘time under tension,’ but what they fail to realize is that they are missing the first part of the equation – LOAD X TIME UNDER TENSION is what builds muscle³. Without the ‘load’ all the time under tension in the world means nothing. I realized this early on, and from that point forward I decided that I needed to get my strength up to a certain point so that the loads I was using would promote the desired response. When I got my strength to a respectable amount in relation to my body weight is when I experienced the best gains of my life. Once I reached my individual threshold all the other types of training that I was using before began to magically work wonders for my physique. But, like everything, my body has adapted, and my threshold is higher now – meaning that my body has filled out and caught up, and by further increasing my strength, I believe it will unlock the door to further muscle growth.

Moving forward my goal is to increase my strength on what I consider to be four foundational lifts to which all others are built.   Consider these minimum requirement strength thresholds:

Minimum Requirement Strength Thresholds

Shoulder Press – 0.8 – 1.2 x Bodyweight
Bench Press – 1.25 – 1.5 x Bodyweight
Squat – 1.75 – 2 x Bodyweight
Deadlift – 2 – 2.5 x Bodyweight

Once I’m able to reach the upper end of these numbers, I believe my ability to put on muscle will improve dramatically. These numbers reflect my current individual threshold, and once I reach them, I’ll be switching gears to a more conventional bodybuilding type of routine to pack more muscle onto my frame than ever before. Who am I kidding – it won’t be anywhere near ‘conventional,’ as anyone who knows me, knows that the only thing conventional about the methods I promote is the fact that they produce results.

But enough about me, it’s time to ask yourself this question.

How close am I to hitting the strength thresholds, and am I strong enough to accomplish my goals? If not, do I know how to go about doing that?

What’s your take on gaining strength? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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Like this article? Check out the rest of the series at the links below!

Strength Verses Power (Part 2 of 4)

Strength Verses Endurance (Part 3 of 4)

Strength Verses Size (Part 4 of 4)

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Scientific References:
*1 – Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24.10 (2010): 2857-872. Web.
*2 – “Squat Rx.” : The Law of Diminishing Returns. Boris, 11 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 Jan. 2015
*3 – Burd, Nicholas A., Richard J. Andrews, Daniel WD West, Jonathan P. Little, Andrew JR Cochran, Amy J. Hector, Joshua GA Cashaback, Martin J. Gibala, James R. Potvin, Steven K. Baker, and Stuart M. Phillips. “Muscle Time under Tension during Resistance Exercise Stimulates Differential Muscle Protein Sub-fractional Synthetic Responses in Men.” The Journal of Physiology. Blackwell Science Inc, n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.

 

 

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