“You can never be too strong.” That is a phrase I’ve probably said over a million times. I like to think I made it up, but I probably didn’t. Either way it’s something I believe in with all my heart. Strength is the foundation for everything. It is the foundation that all other athletic attributes are built upon. Speed, power, quickness, balance, that highly sought after “first step” and even conditioning all rely on strength as the engine that makes them go. You want to increase any of those areas? It’s an easy answer, son. You have to get stronger! You want to get rid of fat, gain muscle, change body composition? Guess what? If your answer just now was get stronger congratulations you’re a quick learner, if you answered something else you’re maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed. If you currently train somewhere or with someone who says otherwise, they are lying to you, or even worse they don’t know any better. Strength is King. Period.
Now that we have established that strength is paramount let me tell you the best parts about it.
What it is?
I’m sure there are many different definitions and ideas out there but, my own personal definition is: Strength comes from the human will to survive and succeed. You don’t think there is survival in the gym? Put down the thigh master, step under a bar with over 400lbs loaded on it and squat it. Don’t think there is survival in sport? Then you have never played a real sport, so take off your touch ball (I don’t dare call it football) jersey and strap on a helmet and shoulder pads, or lace up a pair of skates. Play five minutes and tell me survival does not exist.
Developing strength not only enables you to survive, it gives you the ability to conquer. You see, the benefits of developing strength are twofold. It increases both your physical and mental capabilities. Once you have become strong enough to survive then you start to believe that you can succeed. And once you believe you can succeed, you can conquer.
How you get it?
You can only get stronger through hard work. There are no short cuts, no quick fixes, and no easy way outs. You have to have the courage to show up every day and be willing to learn and ready to work. In today’s society everyone wants things to just happen for them, and fast. There is a sense of entitlement that exists with younger generations that blows my mind. But I don’t care how much money your daddy makes, that bar is not coming off the floor until you have put the work in to move it. It is the ultimate lesson that a lot of people need to learn.
Who it’s there for?
Perhaps the greatest thing about strength is that it exists for everyone. It is accessible to anyone with the courage to seek it. It doesn’t matter if you are short, tall, fat, skinny or of any gender, race, or socio-economic background. You can get stronger. If you are willing to put the time and effort in you will survive, succeed, and conquer. Is everyone going to be the world’s strongest man, or a pro athlete, or Arnold? No, not at all. If you think that’s what this is about then you are missing the point. It’s about becoming the best version of yourself. Mentally and physically developing and building confidence to help you succeed in your endeavors.
Remember, strength is out there, and it’s yours for the taking.
I have spent a lot of time reading books written by some of the world’s most successful athletes, body builders and trainers. I’m always curious to know what drives people to be great. What their mind set was day in and day out as they ascended to the top of their respective sports. I like to try and find common links that built the foundation for their greatness. Two of my favorite all time are Michael Jordan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now what can the world’s greatest basketball player, (sorry Kobe & Lebron fans; it’s the truth, accept it), and the world’s greatest bodybuilder, (this one is indisputable), have in common? They attacked their workouts. Sure Arnold primarily did it lifting weights and Jordan did it on the practice court, but the principle was the same. They attacked. They trained and practiced with such intensity that their work ethic became legendary. They did not just try and survive the workout, they dominated the workout. The workout did not dictate their performance; their performance was at the highest level possible no matter what.
Not sure where you stand? Think of it this way. Picture your workouts as the biggest, baddest man on the planet, think Mike Tyson in his prime, and you have to last a 5 minute round in the ring, just you and him. There are two kinds of people: First, there is the person who is going to run around the ring for 5 minutes just trying to hang in there and survive. Don’t be that person. The second type of person, the one you want to be, is going to go in there and say I might die trying but I’m going knock this guy out. If you want to achieve greatness on any level you must have this mindset. So next time you go to train……………..ATTACK!
The other day I wrote about understanding the fundamentals of speed. The main premise being that you must get stronger and be able to produce more force if you want to increase your speed. So if getting stronger is the first step, the second part to the speed equation is being able to produce force quickly.
The ability to produce force quickly is often referred to as power and the most common form of power or explosive training is plyometrics. When talking about developing lower body power, plyometrics often consist of different types of jumps. While it is true that jumping is a great way to develop power unfortunately as often happens people skip steps and want to get right to the big pay off without instituting the proper foundation first. In the case on jumping everyone is only concerned with how high or how far they can jump, in other words the concentric phase of the movement. In reality if you want to be fast and powerful it all starts with the landing. In order to be able to accelerate quickly and explosively in any sport whether it’s jumping or changing direction you must be able to decelerate efficiently. The ability to decelerate effectively is what puts the athlete in the proper position to able to accelerate.
The foundational drill that we use for athletes when teaching them how to land or decelerate properly is what we call altitude landings, a phrase coined by strength coach Eric Cressey, in which the athlete simply steps off a plyo box and lands on the ground in a good balanced athletic position. If done properly this position should have the athlete land softly with slight hip and knee flexion and their ankles, knees and hips all stacked over their feet. When in this position of controlled deceleration the athlete is now in the best possible position for them to be able to produce force through a sprint or jump. Much like the old saying you must learn to walk before you run you also must learn to land before you jump.
If you are planning on employing jumping into your training routine to help develop increases in power be sure to make use of this often overlooked tool to maximize your ability to decelerate efficiently and effectively in turn giving you the power to fly.
As a person who works with athletes all the time I can tell you that the single most sought out athletic attribute is speed. I think that most athletes, trainers, coaches would all agree with that statement, the part where they would not agree is how to obtain that speed.
Like any topic in the fitness field there is a large amount of conflicting information surrounding the topic. Although the topic of speed can be very extensive when you get into the finer details the foundation of it is simple. Speed like every athletic attribute is based on strength. In other words if you want to get faster you have to get stronger first. Speed is dependent on force production; if we want to get faster we have to produce more force, to produce more force we have to get stronger. A lot of people equate strength training to being big and slow. This is not necessarily their fault there is information out there that definitely would lead them to believe this. Hence the existence of a countless number of so called “speed camps” being run every summer where kids spend hours on end running through ladders and around cones. Now don’t get me wrong, ladder and cone drills can help with co-ordination which is always important especially with athletes going through prime developmental years in their early teens. But if the athlete has done nothing to increase their strength, so they can increase their force production they will not increase their speed.
Strength training has many progressions and like anything else the progression at which you start should be relative to where you are at. At Focus Fitness we break our strength work into 5 basic movements: push, pull, squat, hinge, and carry. Every exercise ever invented falls into one or more of these 5 categories and each category has countless variations and progressions of exercises. Strength training is appropriate for athletes of all ages because it starts with body weight movements and then progresses up from there. Sport at its foundational level is being able to move your body efficiently and effectively. An athlete should never be put under a load until they can move their body weight effectively.
It is imperative as an athlete looking to get faster that you start strength training and set the foundation for not only your speed but all your athletic attributes to grow. This article is not by any means a complete guide to speed there are many other steps such as technique, mobility, and training to produce force quickly but hopefully it directs people down the right path and they take up a proper strength program in their quest for speed.
If you have any questions about the article or would like more information about the programs offered at Focus Fitness please call AJ Zeglen(Manager and Head Strength Coach) at (204)770-2059