Types of Strength
Absolute strength is how much you can do. Period.
Relative strength is how much you can do… relative to your body weight. This type of strength is the most “functional” because it doesn’t come with the high cost of heavy bodyweight. This is what most normal people are looking for.
Barbell strength is generally measured by how much weight you can lift with a barbell. This is what most powerlifters are after: big squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.
Bodyweight strength is taxed by decreasing your joint leverage. If I want to move the most weight on a barbell, I want my joints to be in optimal alignment. If I want to do crazy bodyweight stuff, “optimal alignment” means something totally different. There is usually a strong mobility / flexibility component to this as well. High bodyweight strength is highly impressive.
Intensity is Important
Intensity is kind of jargon term. It means force and speed. Fast movements have high intensity. Heavy movements have high intensity. Pushing a really heavy sled — a weight you can only walk with, not run — is a high intensity activity. So is lifting a 5 rep maximum (5RM) on your squat.
Sprinting is very intense. A 1RM squat is a little less intense. A 3RM squat less than that. A 3RM deadlift less than that. A 3RM bench press less than that. Keep this in mind when picking your exercises.
Rest is Important
Rest is just as important. When fatigued, intensity drops; you can’t move as fast and you can’t use heavier weights. It is, therefore, imperative that you rest adequately. 1 minute is enough sometimes. Usually you need closer to 3 minutes. Sometimes you need 15 minutes (for max effort sprinting, as an example).
Your Weekly Plan: High/Low
Some days should be really intense. Your other days should be quite easy. There is no middleground.
CrossFit is a good example of middleground. You have pretty heavy weights and you just keep going and going and going and going until you’re too fatigued to continue. You aren’t using the most weight you’ve ever done, but you also couldn’t keep going for much longer.
You should generally avoid this type of training unless it’s what you’re testing.
High intensity days are your heavy lifts, challenging bodyweight position holds, and fast movements. You should have to hold your breath for this stuff.
The high intensity days develop your strength, speed, and power.
Low intensity days are your continuous movements, your long runs, your elliptical work, and your exercise circuits. You should continue breathing here and nothing should burn too much.
The low intensity days teach technique and help you recover before your next high days.
If you aren’t used to training high intensity days, start with two a week. You can move to three pretty quickly, but don’t let every day be heavy. This wears the body down. Lighter, fast work trains your nervous system to rev up hard without all the extra stress on the joints. Maybe you do some jumps, some med ball throws, and then work into a 4-exercise technique circuit.
More advanced trainees will even get to 4 or 5 high days each week.
- Make your high days heavy and/or fast. Make it hard enough to have to hold your breath. Don’t do this if you’re at risk for stroke or not cleared by your doctor for exercise, please. Everything should be difficult, but still possible.
- Make your low days full of movement. Breathe consistently. Your legs and lungs shouldn’t burn much, especially after the initial warm up period. Let this exercise clear your mind and energize you.