Casual strength, “roll out of bed” strength, instantaneous strength, herculean strength

Featured Strength Training Equipment: barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, bench press

There are many types and kinds of muscular strength, many shades and degrees of strength. There is the absolute strength of an elite powerlifter grinding out the final excruciating barbell reps of a maximum low rep set; there is the explosive strength of an Olympic weightlifter performing a high-velocity power clean; there is the sustained strength of the kettlebell instructor performing an ultra-high rep set of snatches or swings. The complete strength athlete is a master of all three realms: absolute, explosive and sustained strength. The commonplace mistake is to practice one or two strength types, ignoring the others. This is shortsighted and leaves strength and muscle gains on the table.

Between each of these three generalized strength classifications lie grey areas as one category bleeds into the next. Strength is not one dimensional, strength is subtle and nuanced, and one of these nuanced varieties could be labeled casual strength. Casual strength always has a proportional relationship to maximum strength. Casual strength is the amount of power and strength a person can bring to bear without any preliminaries. Casual strength is instantaneous strength: how strong are you without any warmup?

I do a lot of work with active duty special operations soldiers and casual strength, which they refer to as “instant strength” or “roll-out-of-bed” strength, is a wonderfully descriptive phrase that encapsulates the concept of casual strength. How much can you press, squat, bench, overhead press, power clean. Etc., etc., without any warmup whatsoever?

The report card is the relationship between your current warmed-up maximum best (regardless the exercise) and your no-warm-up capacity. We express the relationship as a percentage. If a man, after a thorough warmup, can deadlift 405-pounds for a single rep maximum, and if this same man can deadlift 315-pounds without a warm-up, then his roll-out-of-bed strength is 75% of his max strength.

The idea, over time and with application, patience and ferocity, is to narrow the gap. In this instance if the athlete were to improve his 315-pound (done cold) deadlift up to 345-pounds, a modest 30-pound increase, his ratio jumps from 75% of warmed-up max to 80%. To get to 90% of 405, he would have to roll out of bed and deadlift 365 and 90% is better than 70 or 75%.

The concept, how much instantaneously available strength do you have on tap, is an idea that is particularly well received in the military community. Spec ops soldiers need to spring into immediate action. Whereas an athlete participating in an athletic event goes through an elaborate and protracted warmup procedure, the military fighter must be ready to engage in life or death combat at the proverbial drop of a hat. If you get into a gunfight with the Taliban you don’t get time to warm-up and there are no time-outs, half-times or referees.

The idea of instantaneous strength, how much power and strength can a man exert without any prelims, is tied to how strong you are. Sheer strength is the single biggest factor: better to “only” achieve 75% of 405 than to achieve 90% of 125. Hopefully this is an understandable concept because it is an important one. Equally important is knowing how to tie into a limit poundage (without warm-up) without hurting yourself.

The first rule: when starting out, do not attempt no warm-up low (1-3) rep sets. The ideal rep range for a someone new to no warm-up lifting is to stick to lighter weights and higher reps. Find a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell poundage that allows you to obtain 6-8 reps before being unable to do another. You do not have to fail with a rep to know you should not attempt it.

Over time, seek to push the done-cold reps up to 10 reps. If a man is capable of a 150-pound, single rep, strict, overhead barbell press, he will be able to handle 100-pounds for 6-8 strict reps. Each successive session, he would seek to push the reps upward. Strict form will keep you safe: sloppy reps will get you hurt.

A man with a 150-pound barbell press is not going to be scared of 100 pounds, 75% of his max. Each session he walks up to 100-pound barbell, or two 50-pound dumbbells, cleans them to the shoulders and reps out. He pushes until he cannot push another and always seeks to push the reps upward. Once he succeeds and makes 100 x 10 with no warm-up, like a modern Sisyphus, he increases the payload to 105 and begins the process anew.

The best way to dramatically increase your quotient of casual strength is to continually practice it. I leave a pair of heavy dumbbells on my outside deck. On a good day, using perfect form, I can (currently) hit 8 reps, this in the dumbbell overhead press. I work out of my house and many times a day when I pass the bells, I stop, bend down, pick them up and rep them out.

I am determined to work my current best of 8 perfect reps up to 10 perfect reps; at which point I replace those bells with a pair that are 5-pounds heavier (apiece.) This will likely knock my reps back to 6 and I will commence to run up the hill once again…only I will have increased my muscle and power and roll-out-of-bed strength by 2-5%.

The photo of Franco Columbu was taken in 1970 and shows him repping 455 lbs. on the bench press. At the time, the world record in the 181-pound class was 475 pounds. Franco weighed 185 at the time the photo was taken. Most impressive is his utter yawning distain for the weight. Instead of using an arched back, which would have added pounds, he lies flat as a pancake. Instead of digging in his feet, thereby increasing his leverage, he just leaves them relaxed and unflexed. The utter casualness of his bench pressing technique is made remarkable by the world record-level poundage. What do you suppose his roll out of bed bench press strength was? My guess is on his worst day and without a warm-up he could bench 405. The idea of instantaneous strength needs to be practiced.

About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.