Strength itself is defined as a muscle’s ability to generate force under specific conditions usually measured via 1 rep max testing. Strength training is categorized as training with a heavy load (> 80% of a one rep max (1RM)) with a focus on exerting maximal force.
Strength training has been shown to directly improve athletic performance and is an essential component of the development and preparation for any athlete.
Research has shown that strength training contributes to the development of peak power production, the rate of force development, and increases in the cross-sectional area of myofibrils (type 1 and type 2 muscle fibres) all of which improve the ability to exert maximal force at any given moment.
Additionally, strength training promotes neural adaptations such as motor unit activation and synchronization, inter and intramuscular coordination between muscles and motor learning skills, all of which benefit to the development of peak power and rate of force development and subsequently strength development.
Why is strength training beneficial?
Well, its purpose is the development of force, and all actions come down to the production of force. During sports individuals can come under immense force from actions such as jumping, running, turning and in some cases additional forces (such as tackling, rucking and mauling in rugby). Being able to handle larger forces through strength training can put us at a mechanical advantage during sporting events.
Outside of sport, our daily lives can incur large forces, and the stronger we are the less prone to injury we become. For the bodybuilders of the world, being stronger means you can perform volume training with a larger weight. Larger weight means an increase in stress imposed upon the body and as stress is a large factor in the muscle size development this directly benefits hypertrophy training.
Due to the integrated neurological and muscular variables that makeup strength training, there are many compounding variables that can influence the success of strength training. These can range from the level of athlete (with elite well-trained athletes needing more specific varied programming), fatigue (from training, life and other stressors such as amount of food and water consumed), sex, exercise selection and training load (starting too high to soon) as well as physiological mechanisms within the muscle. Therefore, it is important to try and be as consistent as possible when training to allow for directed reflection and development of programming.
Programming For Strength:
The intensity of strength training is naturally high due to the use of heavyweights. Therefore, the control of volume is done through the manipulation of sets, reps, and frequency (how often you train). The higher the intensity (closer to your 1RM) the lower the reps. For example, Bishop et al (2014) found 3RM to be 93% of 1RM. If you have never done a 1RM test before, you can use a 1RM calculator to do so. However, this is a calculation so be cautious when using this to program your strength block as this may not be a true reflection of your 1RM as it makes a variety of assumptions.
As a guideline, stick to 1-5 sets of 1-5 reps. Popular variations are 5 sets x 5 reps (the Stronglifts program uses this set up and is a good basic strength block program m for beginners), 4x3 and 5x2. There is a desire when strength training to start as heavy as possible, which often leads to short progression in the program and quick plateau. In regards to rest between sets, a minimum of 3 minutes was seen as sufficient recovery time by Richmond & Goddard (2009) who performed all testing sets to fatigue. As you will not be training to fatigue this should be ample time for recovery. Personally, I use a window of 3-5 minutes as this allows for consideration of external fatiguing factors and days when you are just not 100%.
Hopefully, this gives you a nice introduction into what strength training is, and how to put together a basic progressive strength program.
Bishop A, M DeBeliso, T.G Sevene and K.J Adams (2014). Comparing one repetition Maximum and three repetition maximum between conventional and eccentrically loaded deadlifts. Journal of strength and conditioning research vol 28(7); Pages 1820-1825
Cardinale M, R. Newton, K. Nosaka. 2011. Strength and conditioning. Biological principles and practical application. Wiley- Blackwell. Oxford.
Cormie P, M.R. McGuigan and R.U. Newton (2010) Adaptations in athletic performance after Ballistic Power vs Strength Training.
Jeffreys I and J. Moody. 2016. Strength and Conditioning for sports performance. 2016. Routledge. Oxon.
Richmond S.R, M.P Godard. (2009). The effects of varied rest periods between sets to failure using the bench press in recreationally trained men. Journal of strength and conditioning. Vol 18(4); Pages 846-859.
Verkhoshansky Y, M. Siff. Supertraining. Sixth edition expanded version. 2009. Rome. Ultimate Athlete Concepts