The Three Muscular Strength Training Modalities

The Three Muscular Strength Training Modalities

Different muscular strength modalities require different types of strength training

I transform human beings for a living. I make them more muscular and way stronger. My clientele is largely elite athletes and elite military. Pros seek me out to get my advice on how to get stronger and how to become more muscular. Together we riddle out how best to improve on their already otherworldly physique and performance. How do you get results for someone already at 100% of their potential? Let's explore the three muscular strength training modalities.

A lot of what I do involves reintroducing these athletic sophisticates to some purposefully unsophisticated ultra-basics; throwback techniques and tactics, the kind a lot of them used getting started at the beginning of their career. Over time those super effective Simple Simon tactics were discarded, replaced by ever-more modern training evolutions.

I take them back to their training roots and invariably some variant of this purposefully primitive simplistic yet sophisticated approach unsticks the progress log jam. Simpler does not mean easier: our method is powered by intensity; intensity, degree of effort, is the force multiplier. Put differently, our short strength training sessions are so intense and physically demanding that they need to be infrequent.

The core tenants of our minimalistic strength training approach were developed by our world champion mentors in pursuit of world records in the world’s strongest sport, powerlifting. Our methods are, coincidentally, extremely time efficient. Our approach was not designed to be short, insofar as session duration, it just turned out that way. There is an inverse relationship between training intensity, session length and training volume. The degree of effort exerted in one of our strength training sessions requires time for traumatized muscle tissue to heal, repair and grow. Do not repeat that workout until fully healed and recovered.

Our strength-training approach is analogous to racecar technology and how racecar technology filters down to passenger cars. Nowadays it is routine for a 2-liter (121 cubic inches) turbocharged engine to put out 300 horsepower. When I was growing up it took a 375 cubic inch engine to generate 300-horsepower.  Our current technological efficiency (the same power from an engine 1/3rd the size) comes directly from the first wave of turbocharged Formula 1 engines introduced in the 1980s. That ancient race technology birthed today’s super-powerful super-efficient passenger car engines.

Our muscular strength technology, the strategies and protocols we use for our elite athletes, has great applicability for regular individuals with more modest goals and aspirations. Just as racecar tech filters down, our approach shows you how to turbocharge your strength training, making you more powerful and muscular - and with far greater time efficiency. i.e. we get the most (results) from the least (amount of training time.)

Strength is the most important bio-motor attribute. The five bio-motor attributes are speed, strength, endurance, flexibility and agility. Strength is the premier bio-motor attribute because strength bleeds over into the other attributes. Without muscular strength there is no speed. Without muscular strength there is no sustained strength or strength endurance. Strength is the undisputed bio-motor King.

Strength has many definitions and many expressions, muscular strength is varied and nuanced. How do we define muscular strength? How do we differentiate between different types of strength? For generalized purposes, strength can be broken out into three broad categories…

Absolute Strength                      Explosive Strength                      Sustained Strength

Maximum payload                            Moderate payload                              Light payload

Minimum velocity                             Maximum velocity                             Sustained velocity

Short rep-stroke                               Maximum stroke length                   Rep strokes vary


Best epitomized by…

Powerlifting                                         Olympic weightlifting                        MMA-style training

There are shades and degrees between each of the three generalized muscular strength types. Many training activities will fall in a grey zone between the generalized types. 

No one strength system optimizes all three generalized strength types simultaneously. To the contrary, each of the three strength types deserves its own training strategy. Optimally, three distinctly different strength training regimens are created and set into motion, three training templates exist within the overarching training template and are executed simultaneously. Each successive week, a periodized (preplanned) game plan is adhered to in three distinctly different modes. Each successive week performance is inched upward.

The complete athlete needs to train all three types of muscular strength. The trainee’s strong and weak points will dictate training emphasis and resultant deemphasis. All three modes need be present and trained within the weekly template, all are included in an overarching periodized game plan. All serious transformative athletes preplan. As the old adage goes, “A goal without a plan is a wish.” Each strength mode (absolute, explosive, sustained) deserves a seat at the periodization table.

  • For obtaining optimal absolute strength, power training is the ticket. You will need squat racks, a weight bench that inclines, Olympic barbell, preferably a power rack, dumbbells, all of which can be found at any local commercial gym or YMCA.
  • For obtaining explosive strength, all that is needed is a barbell and squat rack. Rubber bumper plates are ideal. In Olympic weightlifting, the negative of the rep is avoided; bumper plates reduce noise and damage.
  • Sustained strength tools and modes are varied. All out running up steep hill, sprint rowing, MMA training, kettlebells hoisted for protracted periods, the modes for performing sustained strength are limitless. Access aerobic intensity by wearing a heart rate monitor.

How would you weave all three modes into a weekly training template? Here is one hypothetical training split for an intermediate trainee that trains five days a week…

Monday           power snatch, hi-bar back squat, calf raises, leg curls

Tuesday           plyometrics, bench press, dumbbell bench, triceps           sprints 30 minutes

Wednesday     power clean, kettlebell ladders

Thursday         overhead squat, deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, curls         K-bell swings, snatch

Friday              jerk off racks, barbell press off racks, strict laterals             sprint swim in pool

Saturday          off                   jog in the park

Sunday            off                   games or active rest

If an explosive lift or drill is to be done, it is always positioned first in the workout, when the central nervous system is fresh. Power training holds down the second position within the workout structure. Sustained strength drills and activities are placed last or done at different times or done on different days.

The template should be adjusted based upon your particular strengths and weaknesses. The idea is to reapportion available training time towards addressing weak points. We all have our likes and dislikes, our preferences and tastes; we like sameness and repetition. However, sameness is the enemy of progress.

Stop continually playing to your strengths. Begin concentrating on weaknesses. The greatest gains lie hidden in plain sight. If a man is big and powerful and forty pounds overweight, it doesn’t take a genius to see the needs to cut back on his beloved power training in favor of more sustained-strength cardio-biased training – and he should clean up his eating. If a man has the cardio to compete in marathons - but is so weak he cannot lift 100-pounds overhead, that individual will need to reel in his umpteen miles per week and reapportion recovered training time towards hardcore weight training – and start eating nutrient-dense power foods!

Ruthless self-assessment is critical for the serious athlete seeking progress and transformation. A weekend warrior can engage in pretend fitness, doing the fun stuff over and over, staying in the comfort zone, growing ever more disproportional and imbalanced and progressively more unbalanced as the years roll by.  Left unchecked, imbalance inevitably leads to injury. Untrained body parts are zones of weakness and vulnerability.

If a beginner seeks to become an intermediate, they need to bring up their weak points. At least get the deficits back to zero: lacking cardio? Emphasize sustained strength while backing off the absolute strength. Are you fit but weak? Time for some explosive power cleans and heavy, deep barbell squatting. A specialization program designed to improve weak-points will realistically require 10 to 12-week of concentrated effort.

Once a general balance is achieved, once weak points are attended to, the optimal training template pays equal homage to each of the three generalized definable strength types. Here are a few rules to abide by….

  • If performing an explosive Olympic lift, always do it first in the routine and keep the reps low, 1-2 reps. Avoid the negative. The central nervous system need be fresh. Do the explosive lifts first, do them for low reps, avoid the eccentric portion of the rep. Seek maximum central nervous system activation needed to create genuine explosiveness.
  • On the absolute strength exercises, squat, bench presses, deadlifts, overhead presses, use a maximum range of motion and consciously accentuate the eccentric. Muscle, power, tendon and ligament strength are radically increased when perfect technique is paired with intelligent programing. Arm work, biceps and triceps, are not periodized.
  • Make haste slowly with sustained-strength drills. Warm up thoroughly before exerting maximally for extended periods. The tools can vary: a moderate weight kettlebell hoisted over a protracted period generates incredible VO2 maximums. An intense MMA training session will have the fighter roll from one all-out effort to the next, linking exercises.

*To see the Kirk Karwoski deadlift video this image was taken from go here.

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.