Friday, November 25, 2011

So, What Really is Strength?

Sometimes, I have to marvel at the ability of people to pile up mounds of words so worthlessly. That ability to ramble on and on about nothing just staggers my imagination. I inadvertently subjected myself to such a discussion mere moments ago without realizing it. I wouldn't have thought that people who usually have so much worthwhile to say about the pursuit of strength could waste so much neural electricity trying to define strength.

Geeze, how many times has that utterly simple question been chewed on with dull teeth of nearly dead horses waiting to be beaten after they exhale their last? It shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Just go to a fucking dictionary for fucks sake...



Okay, so terms in a dictionary certain don't don't always give us the answers that we're looking for. Numbers certainly don't either but somehow people, including those I mentioned above, didn't get that memo. Instead they launched into a full-blown numerical assault on what strength was, throwing x number of sets and y number of reps at z bodyweight defines strength.

What's with the numbers? We're strength trainees, NOT ACCOUNTANTS! The funny thing that accounting and strength training have in common is both can manipulate numbers to give a false impression. Number can look impressive without meaning jack shit. I had a friend who told me that when he (briefly) worked out, he deliberately avoided squatting because his leg press numbers were way more impressive.

So we might all have our own definition of strength. I have one that I like. After giving it some thought, strength is the ability to overcome great challenges. That certainly would answer another element to what that previous conversation was nibbling around but, for some reason, just couldn't eat the whole cake.

When trying to use numbers to define strength, there comes a point where we start talking about single-rep max strength or relative strength/strength endurance/strength-to bodyweight ratio, etc. Is it more impressive to one huge rep or several reps with lesser gravitational pull? Obviously there are body types more adapted to one than another. Big guys are far more impressive at moving huge piles of weight fewer times. Smaller souls are better at repetitive demonstrations of strength.

I've run across this before. To apply my definition of strength being the ability to overcome great challenges, what would be most impressive is to take on and defeat a challenge that pushes a body past it's comfort zone, or what's it's not used to doing well. While I appreciate the human gorilla's ability to move hundreds of pounds in a Lat Pull machine a few times, I'm far more blown away by shows of strength such as konstantinov's 55 pull-up set. THAT'S SOME SERIOUS STRENGTH!

On the other end of the spectrum, I watched an acquaintance work up to a 300 lbs deadlift through pictures on Facebook. The number might seem unimpressive to the legions of internet strongmen out there except for one thing. This was done by a woman who, by my guess, clocks in at 5'7", pretty light (I'm not going there) , and, if memory serves me correctly, is an avid runner.

We have to get this whole thing figured out. Otherwise, how can we hope to obtain something when we don't even know what it is? It's odd and unfortunate that after so long, there are still so many that can't really define what strength really is.

To me, strength is about shoring up your weak links, whatever they might be. Your weaknesses are the best source of great challenges. If you note that I didn't include any references to physical challenges in my definition of strength. That wasn't an accident since no great physical challenge can happen without an equal amount of hard, mental work. It's certainly a strain just to admit to ourselves what we suck at and then face it down, day after day, until that weakness can be counted as strength. After all, the less weaknesses you have, the stronger you really are.

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