Maximum strength, explosive strength and sustained strength require different training frequencies

There are three generalized types of muscular strength…

Type:                                        rep range             poundage                          characteristics

Absolute strength                   low rep            max poundage               low velocity, grind-torque

Explosive strength                  low rep            moderate poundage     max velocity, horsepower

Sustained strength:                high reps         light poundage              maximum duration, stamina

To optimize absolute strength a “rested effort” is required. Maximum payloads take longer for the body to recover from. It takes a man longer to recover from a 600-pound barbell squat (absolute strength) than it does to recover from a 300-pound barbell snatch (explosive strength) or running up steep hills wearing a 60-pound backpack (sustained strength.) Empirical observation suggests that absolute strength performance is optimized by being restrained and only training when fresh and rested.

Just as there are three generalized types of strength there are also generalized types of fatigue, defined as the physiological after-effects of an effective progressive resistance training session.

  • Deep fatigue: characterized by an overall deadness of muscle and limb, the phrase ‘moving through mud,’ describes the depth of fatigue felt.
  • Sore-to-the-touch: muscles are so traumatized during a high-rep progressive resistance training session that jolts of pain are felt when muscles are touched, squeezed or flexed.
  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: the soreness, either type, does not become evident for 48-72 hours. DOMS afflicts many trainees. DOMS makes it difficult to gauge recovery.

Another overlooked factor in absolute strength training: the major lifts have ‘spillover’ in that many of the same muscles are used in the barbell back squat and deadlift just as many of the same muscles are used in the flat bench press and the various types of overhead pressing.  How many times a week can the same muscles be stressed maximally before the point of diminishing returns is reached? The stronger a man is, the less frequently he can train.

When training explosive lifts such as the power clean, snatch or clean and jerk, sessions can be more frequent. Ditto sustained strength; lighter payloads allow the body to bounce back quicker. Lighter payloads mean weight training sessions can be more frequent.

The human body needs to recover and regenerate after a savage hardcore workout. Intense and effective training is only 1/3rdof the muscle growth equation. The other 2/3rds being nutrient-dense nutrition and recuperative rest and deep sleep.

Most civilians do not train hard enough (intense enough) to trigger muscle and strength gains. Though the earnest trainee might train religiously using a truly sophisticated program if the training effort is insufficiently intense no hypertrophy can occur: no muscle will be built, and no strength gained. Effort, pure physical exertion in relation to your 100% maximum, is the trigger mechanism for muscular hypertrophy.

Intensity is always measured in relationship to personal best efforts, recent personal best efforts. When performing the major progressive resistance movements, it is the duty of the hardcore trainee to generate some form of a 100% effort.  That effort can take many forms.

Elite trainees have an established a 100% max in every lift and in every rep range. By having a personal record in different lifts and different rep ranges, in every training session the trainee can seek to approach, equal or exceed recent best efforts.

  • How do we define 100% maximum effort? What is the intensity benchmark?
  • The trainee exerts until they are unable to perform another rep.

Regardless the exercise, poundage or rep range selected, when the trainee is unable to push or pull another rep, it can be said that they have exerted 100%.  They have given all (or more) that they are capable of. A man does not have to fail with a rep to know he should not attempt that rep.

Those that train hard enough, intense enough, and do so on a consistent basis, need be on guard against “too much of a good thing.” More is not necessarily better in the counterintuitive world of hardcore strength training.

A compelling case can be made that if the athlete is supposed to engage in an all-out Banzai training session on Tuesday, and if they are sick, feeling legitimately tired, worn out or burnt out, the smart move is to postpone the session for 24-48 hours. Wait on the rested effort, don’t go all out when burnt out.

Recuperate, recover and always train when fresh, healed and rested. Those that insist on “staying on schedule,” despite being fatigued and frazzled, these are the athletes most at risk.  Injury rears its ugly head when the Mind writes checks the body can’t cash. Using willpower to train when fatigued can backfire.

Limit equaling, 100% all-out lifting attempts, done while the body is fatigued and exhausted is inherently dangerous. Expecting exceptional results from a training session when psychologically and physiologically at 79% of 100% capacity is unrealistic. Do you really want to try for a rep record in a limit set of barbell squats on an off day?

Yet, a sizeable portion of the athletic elite will ‘power through’ and take that workout on the designated day – regardless of any extenuating circumstance. While this is a tribute to willpower and fortitude, being iron-willed is no guarantor of success. When a tired and worn out man is pitted against heavy iron, ponderous poundage teaches with a big stick.

Squats and deadlifts use many of the same muscles, i.e. glutes, hamstrings, upper quads, lower back and abs. Bench presses and overhead presses use many of the same muscles, triceps, upper pecs, front and side delts and lats (on the controlled lowering.)  If sufficient intensity is generated, very few trainees would, could or should train each of the major lifts more than once a week.

Because of the spillover effect, place squats and deadlifts at the opposite ends of the training week. Because of the spillover effect place bench presses and overhead presses at the opposite ends of the training week.

A classic power training weekly program would be, Sunday – squats and benches; Wednesday – deadlifts and overhead presses.

After deadlifts, hit explosive strength with power cleans or high pulls.  Sustained strength could be woven into the training template by adding some morning outdoor sprints or a high rep kettlebell workout.

Nutrition and rest are critical for generating the recovery that must precede muscle growth. Those that over-train and under-eat are doomed to the hell of catabolism, muscle cannibalism.  While those that under-train and over-eat are destined to add an unacceptable amount of body fat.

Ride the nutritional razor’s edge: train hard and train consistently, pay homage to all three strength types. Consume quality proteins and produce, eat lots of vegetable fiber. Control carbs and control insulin, control insulin and melt off body fat.

The elite are driven and fanatical. Those prone to over train need to dial it back a notch, do not be dogmatic and rigid; listen to the body – those that wait and are patient are rewarded by dramatically improved session results.

Ultimate success is a result of an endless series of successful sessions, sequentially strung like pearls on a strand necklace. Lift, eat, rest, recover, repeat, ad infinitum. Don’t rush hardcore sessions, be patient. Launch only when fresh and attack sessions with gusto. Get a little crazy – which is hard to do when worn out and burnt out. Kick a session down the road when appropriate.

*Photo Credit - CrossFit Athlete Jackie Perez

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.