by Frederick C. Hatfield, Ph.D.
In a recent post on m.f.w, Mr Deadlift said, “Increased strength can come from two sources… Increased muscle size, and increased neuromuscular efficiency. I replied by saying “In my experience, strength can be augmented in many more ways than this, and in fact MUST be if you’re ever gonna break any records! I then went on to list 38 factors (certainly not exhaustive of the possibilities) that affect strength. Some of the factors I listed are either so subjective that one can only ponder their significance, or so new that hypotheses relating to their applicability cannot easily be made at this time. They are there simply to pique interest.
Further, I made it CLEAR that while not all of the listed factors can be manipulated, most can. Spector, in his typical tongue-in-cheek (easily mistaken for caustic sarcasm by some on m.f.w) fashion, pointed out that he had a problem with some of the factors. That’s ok, considering the fact that his background is not the same as mine — we all have our unique contributions to training methodology that we can make, which is why the m.f.w newsgroup exists. So, I will attempt to explain some of them, as I understand that not all of the people on m.f.w have similar backgrounds. We all, however, have a similar PASSION to lift — and to learn — no?
FACTORS AFFECTING STRENGTH
“Gotta go train” is a phrase heard by spouses everywhere. What does it mean? Save for the crafty pencilneck who uses it as a convincing excuse to go out carousing (the spouse is easily duped because his/her spouse is obviously in desperate need of training), it typically means going to a gym to lift weights.
Tch tch! Lifting weights is NOT training! It’s certainly an integral part of training, but there’s so much more. Let’s lay down some simple guidelines as to how each of the factors affecting strength can be augmented. Let’s concentrate on the critical factors, as they are the ones that will give most of us the greatest returns in limit strength and speed-strength for both immediate and long-term sports excellence.
Your job is always going to be to identify — and apply — those technologies which BEST augment each of the respective factors, and arrange them into a coherent, integrated training program for your sport. Perhaps then you’ll see the wisdom of the opening paragraph (“Lifting weights is NOT training!”).
Let me back up a moment, and consider the word “apply.” How many times have I met lifters who know something is beneficial, but don’t take advantage of it? This is sick! If you KNOW that massage following lifting is beneficial, then DO IT! If you KNOW that eating 5 or 6 meals a day is better for muscle growth, then DO IT! Even if it’s only good for 5 pounds on total, it’s WORTH it! That is, IF you have PASSION for what you do.
All of these factors can be augmented, manipulated or in some way made more efficient through various and timely applications of one or more of the eight “technologies” of training (defined below). Clearly, some are not alterable (e.g., fiber arrangement or insertion points of muscles). That doesn’t mean you can’t make use of your knowledge of this limitation in structuring your training, in avoiding less-than- fruitful practices, or in some way manipulating them to your advantage.
Bear in mind that many of the factors affecting strength are inextricably interrelated and may be directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, affected by your attempts to augment or in some way manipulate any of them, regardless of which technologies are employed in training. For example, long, slow distance running (aerobic) will invariably hamper your efforts to achieve maximum starting strength. There are many, many similar scenarios, and the wise coach or athlete will learn to avoid this often costly kind of mistake.
The eight technologies of training are the branches of science of greatest consequence to athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. Each represents a different approach to solve training problems, and each has its advantages with respect to how effectively it will aid in augmenting any one (or more) of the factors which affect strength (listed above).
Remember that there are only so many hours in the day, so prudent use of the technologies that will yield the greatest returns to you are the ones you must opt for.
The basic rule of thumb in choosing the technologies that will give you the most “bang for your buck” is to zero in on the most important training objectives for the training mesocycle you’re in. Then, through a multiplicative approach that incorporates the concepts of “integration” and “synergy,” you choose the methods that will get you to your goals most safely, quickly and to the greatest extent possible.
THE EIGHT TECHNOLOGIES OF TRAINING
- Weight Training: Dumbells, barbells, fluids, pressurized air, elastic devices, springs, and the host of devices designed to provide “heavy” external resistance to one’s musculoskeletal effort all constitute “resistance training.”
Tradition has it that exercises designed to be performed with dumbells and barbells (and the technologies designed to simulate traditional dumbell and barbell movements) constitutes “weight training.” The existing categories of weight training technologies are 1) constant resistance devices, 2) variable resistance devices, 3) accommodating resistance devices and 4) static resistance devices. New technologies will be developed in time.
- Special Forms of Resistance Training: Running, swimming, calisthenics, aerobic dance, plyometrics — there are many more — all are special forms of “light” resistance training. When bodyweight alone is the source of resistance, tradition and reasons of clarity dictate that they be referred to by their individual names. Cycling, rowing, stair-climbers, and similar forms of training which utilize “light” external resistance collectively constitute a second category of light resistance training which are also referred to by their respective names.
- Psychological Techniques: Self-hypnosis, mental imagery training, transcendental meditation and a lot of other “mind games” can help improve your strength output capabilities in sports and training.
- Therapeutic Modalities: Whirlpools, electrical muscle stimulation, massage, ultrasound, music, intense light, and a host of other therapies can have a very positive effect on your strength training efforts, both indirectly (how quickly you can recover from your previous workout), and directly (greater force output).
- Medical Support: Periodic checkups, exercising preventive care, chiropractic adjustments, and even clinical use of prescription drugs are sometimes indicated for athletes in heavy training when medical problems arise. Only qualified sportsmedicine specialists are able to prescribe such support.
- Biomechanics (Skill Training): Performing your skill perfectly will almost always result in greater force being applied, whether it is applied to an object, opponent or the ground. Good skills execution involves the efficient sequencing of activation/inhibition of prime mover, stabilizer and synergistic muscles. Your sequencing efforts involve factors of position, direction, timing, rate, speed & effect of force Session.
- Dietary Practices: Athletes don’t eat only to stay alive and healthy; they eat to excel at their sport. Their eating is designed to assist in achieving specific sports/training objectives. There are many nutritional techniques that will ensure greater force output capabilities both immediately as well as over time, thereby improving your training and competition efforts. Despite your most dedicated efforts, however, you will not be able to gain ample nutritional support from food alone, a point which has been supported time and time again in sports nutrition research.
- Nutritional Supplementation: Most often, eating is not sufficient to give you all the nutrients you need in order to achieve your sports/training objectives. This point is widely disputed among sports scientists and nutritionists alike, who would have us believe that eating “three square meals” per day is ample fare for athletes in heavy training. They overlook at least three important points: 1) many state-of-the-art supplements are designed to take your body beyond normal biochemical functioning, 2) no one on Earth consistently eats “square meals,” and 3) myriad research reports clearly show that deficiencies most often exist in athletes’ diets for many well-documented reasons.
MATCHING TRAINING TECHNOLOGIES TO TRAINING OBJECTIVES
In your quest for fitness, your job is always going to be to identify — and apply — those technologies which BEST augment each of the factors that affect fitness, and arrange them into a coherent, integrated training program. Clearly, some factors are not alterable (e.g., fiber arrangement or insertion points of muscles). That doesn’t mean you can’t make use of your knowledge of these limitations in structuring your training, in avoiding less-than- fruitful practices, or in some way manipulating them to your advantage.
Bear in mind that many of the factors affecting strength and fitness are inextricably interrelated and may be directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, affected by your attempts to augment or in some way manipulate any of them, regardless of which technologies are employed in training. For example, long, slow distance running (aerobic) will invariably hamper your efforts to achieve maximum starting strength. There are many, many similar scenarios, and the wise coach or athlete will learn to avoid this often costly kind of mistake.
Remember that there are only so many hours in the day, so you must choose the methods of training that will yield the greatest returns to you. Zero in on your most important training objectives, and integrate the training methods that will get you to your goals most safely, quickly and to the greatest extent possible.
Matching Training Methods To Fitness Objectives
- Muscle Fiber Arrangement: Sorry folks, nothing you can do about this one. You can, however, take advantage of your knowledge about how the fibers of each muscle are arranged. Some are made for speed, some for great limit strength, some for stability and some are made for all three. Train them that way! (Once in awhile, at least.)
- Musculoskeletal Leverage: Nothing you can do short of radical surgical procedures will change your leverages. But, by knowing how best to take advantage of your leverage systems’ structure, efficiency in lifting techniques (and thus your strength output) will be optimized.
- Tissue Leverage: Interstitial and intracellular leverage stemming from fat deposits, sarcoplasmic content, satellite cell proliferation and the accumulation of intracellular fluid all provide a sort of “bloat” factor to your body. Believe it or not, the big boys in sport — the super-heavyweights — can benefit in limit strength output from being “bloated.” For the rest of you, it’s not a tenable source of improved fitness.
- Freedom of Movement Between Fibers: Adhesions and scar tissue between muscle fibers and between gross muscles can limit your muscles’ ability to contract fully. Simple massage can reduce this condition.
- Tissue Viscoelasticity: All of your muscles have a certain amount of “elasticity.” That is, when you stretch them, they tend to return to their resting length. This tendency can be dramatically increased by rapid stretching, much the same as rearing back sharply before throwing a punch. If you rear back slowly, the muscles’ natural viscoelasticity will not aid in the return movement.
- Intramuscular/intracellular friction: As the actin and myosin myofibrils slide over one another as the result of cross-bridging, friction is taking place resulting in heat production. Fast movements create less friction than slow ones, and eccentric movements create far more friction than concentric movements. High friction during muscle contraction has a negative effect on force output.
- Ratio of Fiber Types: Explosive athletes have fast twitch muscle fibers (Types IIa, IIb or IIc), and endurance athletes have primarily red muscle fibers (Type I). Proper training can actually enhance your muscle fibers’ ability to do their respective job, although little can be done to convert one type to another type.
- Range of Motion: Impaired flexibility stemming from either congenital factors, inactivity or poor training habits can limit the amount of force you can apply in many sport-related and training-related settings.
- Freedom From Injury: An injury can keep you from your fitness goals. Even miniscule ones can nag you enough to prevent you from getting more fit. so avoid them!
- Connective Tissue Structure: Tendinous and ligamentous mass and their structural characteristics all contribute to your potential strength level. Did you know, for example, that the collagenous matrix comprising various ligaments and tendons are susceptible to change through highly specialized training?
- Stretch Reflex: Your muscle spindles — highly specialized muscle cells which detect stretch — react when stimulated by making your muscle contract involuntarily. This involuntary contraction can, if applied correctly, augment total force output to a small but significant degree.
- The Feedback Loop: Your muscles’ force output potential far exceed the threshold at which your brain tells them to shut down. It’s easily changed — lowered — with weight training.
- Endocrine System Functions (hormones): Your hormones ebb and flow according to little-understood circadian rhythms. You can indeed control many of them, and doing so requires a full understanding of that circadian rhythmicity.
- Extent of hyperplasia (cell splitting) or fiber fusion: As yet not totally confirmed is the notion that fibers (especially Type IIb fibers) fuse with surrounding satellite cells for greater hypertrophy. As for hyperplasia, there is no concrete evidence that it occurs in humans. In either case, there is no defined connection between either processes and greater strength.
- Extent of myofibrillarization: The contractile elements within your working muscles are called myofibrils. Weight training increases the number of myofibrils inside each cell.
- Motor Unit Recruitment: Firing as many muscle fibers as possible instantly is how speed is produced.
- Energy transfer systems’ efficiency
- Extensiveness of capillarization
- Mitochondrial growth and proliferation
- Stroke volume of the left ventricle
- Ejection fraction of the left ventricle
- Pulmonary (ventilatory) capacity
- Efficiency of gas exchange in the lungs
- Heart rate
- Max VO2 uptake (ml/kg bwt/min)
Factors 17-25 are affected by training. Remember that they positively affect the force output — footfall-per-footfall — of the aerobic athletes acquiring them! This same form of training would NEGATIVELY affect the force output efforts of explosive athletes.
- Freedom from disease: PREVENTION includes sound nutrition and medical support.
- Arousal Level (“psych”): Psychological and psychosocial strategies can often aid you in training.
- Ability to concentrate (“focus”): Your mind is said to be the master of your body. Again, psychosocial techniques as well as sound nutrition can help.
- Incentive (motivation): In short, you’ve gotta WANT it bad enough to work for it!
- Social learning: Overcoming learned inhibitory can be a monumental undertaking, especially in light of the fact than your Mamma scolded you for years not to lift something, run too fast or whatever — because it’d hurt you.
- Coordination (“skill”): Efficient movement involves carefully planned activation or inhibition of muscle contraction. Factors of position, direction, timing, rate, speed & effect of force application are all part-and-parcel to skill training.
- “Spiritual” factors: Without becoming embroiled in a philosophical discussion regarding the merits of one religeon or another, my strong belief is that if you are spiritually at peace with your Creator, all things are possible. If you don’t believe in and practice this in your everyday life, then how can your life — and your quest for fitness — even have meaning?
- The “placebo” effect: Theories abound on this phenomenon, most citing various psycho-social factors. The effect is nonetheless real.
- Equipment (use of “the best” available tools): Are you able to take full advantage of your body’s leverage with crummy shoes? A bent bar? Poor equipment? …the list is endless.
- Environment (Temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, altitude, etc.): Train in a cold gym? Does the high humidity get you down while training? Altitude training for aerobic athletes and hyperbaric training for strength athletes surely aid in performance.
- Effect of gravity: Clearly, gravity exerts its influence on your force output efforts. You can’t change that, but you can certainly take advantage of it! For example, putting a shot at around 45 degrees, the shot will travel further than if you put it at (say) 30 degrees. Another example: When you throw someone to the ground (wrestling), you do so with greater force than if you threw him in the air. Gravity assists (adds to the force of your effort) in both examples.
- Opposing and assisting forces (e.g., opponent’s efforts may add to your force output vis-à-vis Newton’s three laws of motion): Get a guy moving in your direction, and you will find it more easy to throw him than attempting to do so while he is stationary. Myriad examples of this simple tenet abound in the martial arts and all other sport endeavors.