If you’re a fan of kettlebell training then you know all about the new book out by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline titled Easy Strength. The title may be a bit of a misnomer – it’s not suggesting that gaining in the gym is easy in anyway, more that the path that you should travel to get there is actually a lot less steep than you think.
The main premise of the book’s section on gaining strength is that somewhere between 60-70% is the prime area for strength gains long term. In fact, research on elite Russian lifters showed that their average intensity over time was almost exactly 70%!
I’m about to commit RKC heresy again as I say this, but what you’re about to read is dead true – endurance and strength are intimately linked.
Strength comes in many forms and only a couple are usually thought of as relatively similar.
Maximal strength – refers to the maximum amount of force production available (also can be termed absolute strength). Usually refers to a single effort, or One Repetition maximum (1RM). In classic strength literature all efforts are usually written as a percentage of the 1RM.
Relative strength – for me, this is probably my favorite of the types of strength. It refers to the maximum amount of weight lifted relative to body weight. If you ever watch elite lifters you will note that the smaller guys display far higher amounts of relative strength while the biggest guys, the heavy and super heavy weights, display higher levels of maximal strength. For fighters and other athletes relative strength is the Holy Grail – greater levels of strength at competition body weight bring greater performance.
General strength – believe it or not, there is actually a form named General Strength. Usually trained for in the 8-12 rep range it also leads to muscle hypertrophy and is perhaps best categorized by a body building style of training. There’s nothing wrong with body building and a certain amount of hypertrophy training can be useful for athletes during various stages of their careers as well as for older athletes to help maintain body composition. Senior RKC Dan John has written about it many times (such as this article here on T-Nation). The rep ranges work well for muscle gains, injury rehab and even motor patterning, although loads will differ as typical General Strength ranges are ~70% 1RM while patterning and rehab loads will be far lower on the scale.
Power – The one thing that I always scratch my head at is watching people work on power production. Power is a function of how much force can be produced as fast as possible. So while speed is an essential element, blunt maximal strength is also important. Working on only the speed element (typically via shock training methods such as plyometrics) will ultimately see only small gains in power production. To maximize power both maximal strength AND speed need to be addressed.
What you’ll see here is that these forms of strength are all short lived. They are all for a few seconds, at most ninety seconds if done slowly for hypertrophy work. But that isn’t where strength is finished. Many, wrongly, assume that once the first few seconds of anything are done that it is endurance that takes over. It is, but do you know what the correct term for endurance is?
Strength endurance – the ability to produce force for long periods of time. Consider how many times you’ve been running when your heart and lungs have given out versus how many times your legs either forced you to slow down due to lactic acid build up or cramps. In most cases outside of elite competition, where the pace may actually be too high for a competitor to continue from a cardiovascular viewpoint, it is the lack of strength that limits performance.
Now, in the last post I railed against the interesting contrast between Tim’s usual crash and burn style of training versus the comments of “Victor” who clearly has strength endurance in spades.
The interesting thing to me, and one that as a society we are all keen to side step, is that progress isn’t overnight, rather he speaks of it in terms of having built his base fitness over many, many years. Lance Armstrong was quoted as saying that training is for building the body, not breaking it down. And this is why Tim’s usual go, go, go, get injured mode won’t work. In the short term, if you have a training base in place already, you can see short term improvements in abilities – typically this is what most gym and magazine programs focus on, the short term improvement. Doesn’t the rest of the world know that you can solve all of your cares in only 6-8 weeks?
Where this starts to get really interesting for me personally is that within the Easy Strength framework there exists a way to participate in a single sport. By keeping the lifting within the third quadrant as opposed to the fourth there exists a very real way to gain sport specific strength while improving sport skill. The use of 70% high frequency lifting allows the body to stay fresh enough to gain sport skill and minimize muscle soreness that can often inhibit performance while at the same time offering enough stimulation to the muscle to improve.
So I’ve started to put together a plan that combines both – kettlebell training as well as endurance training, both at around the 70% mark. Given my upcoming 1000km ride (more soon on this) as well as my lack of riding this year I actually do need low intensity riding to reteach my body’s aerobic system how to operate strongly. Most people blast right through their aerobic ceiling in nearly all of their training and the only thing they’re really doing is teaching their body to suffer, to burn carbohydrate. Yet, at slightly lower speeds they would be teaching their aerobic system to function better which would vastly improve their eventual top speed as well as work capacity ( call this aerobic strength).
My plan involves following the Easy Strength template – a few exercises done near daily at loads of ~70% as well as rides done near daily at efforts of ~70%. While at first glance that is going to be a lot of volume, the key is that I will be doing this at lower intensities so I will recover quicker between sessions. The next post will show what exercises I plan to use, some strength test results as well as how I’m going to use Dan’s basic 40 Day formula for piecing together an aerobic training plan for the bike. If possible I’m going to do some power tests (and a MVO2 test if I can organize it) so I’ll have some metrics to track for later on.