When I committed myself to getting strong back on January 17, 2015, I possessed only a vague notion of what STRONG looked like. As a climber, I understood what climbing strength looked like. Being somewhat familiar with modern culture, I also had a general idea of what different types of fitness looked like. Think of the difference between a NFL player and an Olympic gymnast, for example. Both are strong in their unique way. Yet, not knowing what I didn’t know at that time, I had only a sparse understanding of what it means to be STRONG.
Today, I have a much firmer grasp of what STRONG looks like. Though, if I’m being honest, there is still so much to learn. Nevertheless, here are a few tidbits I’ve managed to pick up along the way.
Fitness Is Task Dependent
This was one of my earliest lessons. I picked it up from a strength coach named Dan John. Although I suspect many of you intuitively know this fitness truth already, as I did, having someone spell it out makes it so much easier to see. The fitness needed to sprint 100 meters is different than the fitness needed to shot put or throw a discuss, which in turn is different than the fitness needed to climb Mount Everest.
I believe we can all agree on that.
So what does that have to do with being STRONG? Well, each example above requires a different type of strength. So when we think of being strong, it’s important to be clear of what type of strength we mean. However, as I was to learn, there was one quality of STRENGTH in which I was most interested.
There Are Different Types of Strength
In his book The Naked Warrior, Pavel Tsatsouline describes three “highly simplified” (his words) types of strength:
maximal (or absolute) strength,
explosive strength (power), and
A One Rep Max deadlift displays maximal strength. It’s kind of like lifting a very heavy object, such as a rock or piece of furniture, off the ground. Doing squats for low reps is another form of maximal strength.
The vertical jump, as well as the broad jump or box jump, is an example of explosive strength, or power. The clapping pushup is another.
Any type of lift or exercise done for repetitions greater than 5 to 10 is for developing strength endurance. High rep pushups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, like we did in Marine Corps bootcamp, are all examples of strength endurance.
As it turns out, when I said I wanted to to be STRONG, what I meant is I wanted maximal (or absolute) strength.
What Does MAXIMAL STRENGTH Look Like?
Developing Maximal Strength is about being able to lift heavier and heavier weight for a given exercise or lift. For example, the first deadlift (lifting a weighted barbell off the floor) I did after my decision to get STRONG was on February 19, 2015. I lifted 38 kilograms (or 84 pounds). I was forty-six years old and that weight represented a little more than half my bodyweight.
My heaviest deadlift to date occurred on April 23, 2019. I managed to pull 128 kgs (or 282 pounds). That was a 237% improvement. I was fifty at the time and that was 1.7 times my bodyweight. My goal is to surpass two times my bodyweight in the deadlift, which would be a little over 300 pounds.
The thing that is cool about getting stronger (maximally stronger, that is) is explosive and endurance strength come a long for the ride, up to a point. Furthermore, being stronger makes everything easier. That is to say, if you’re a high jumper, then your high jump will improve. If you’re a long-distance runner, your running will improve. And so on it goes. All things being equal, the stronger competitor, athlete, what have you, will prevail.
In a way, STRENGTH looks like winning or succeeding.
STRENGTH Is Relative
My maximum deadlift weight of 282 pounds is a paltry 25% of the world record weight of 1110 pounds. But it doesn’t matter. Pretty much every activity I like to do, such as mountain biking, skiing, and yes even rock climbing, have benefited from my increased strength in the deadlift.
So whatever it is you are looking to achieve, being STRONGER, will help you get there. It doesn’t matter what your neighbor or your arch nemesis at the gym might lift. The only thing that’s important is your own improvement.
Becoming STRONG, for me, went from being a destination to being a process. There are certain bench marks, such as deadlifting twice my bodyweight, that are recognized, in a way, by the “fitness” community. However, achieving those benchmarks, is only a means to gauge your progress.
If you’re on social media, you will see posts (including my own) about how so and so did this or that. Use those posts for inspiration, for motivation. They can certainly get you headed in the right direction. However, seldom, if ever, use them to measure your own progress. Everyone, has different reasons and motivations for why they’re training to be fitter, leaner, stronger, etc. It is unwise to compare yourself to others as a way to determine how you’re doing.
If you’re making gains, compared to what you did last week or last month or last year, then you are heading in the right direction. In the end, STRENGTH and becoming STRONGER is a personal journey. It’s a long-term commitment to becoming a better you. Don’t ever forget that.
Thanks for reading,