When a lot of us think of the word strength, our minds might jump immediately to a picture of someone hoisting a fully loaded barbell from the floor, squatting with an extremely heavy load, or cranking out rep after rep of pull-ups. And that isn’t necessarily wrong! Those activities obviously require a great deal of strength…but are they the only way to express strength? Are there many ways to be strong, and many activities to be strong in? We think so. Strength can be expressed in countless ways and is not pigeonholed into one activity, one lift, or one sport.
Strength is very much individual-specific and context-specific. A person may be incredibly strong for their unique work, life, or sport activities, but may not necessarily be strong in another activity – especially if it is a task they have never attempted before. For instance, a person who can squat an extremely heavy weight is certainly a strong human, but could he or she demonstrate strength in the same manner as a Cirque de Soleil performer? Absolutely not! By the same token, the Cirque de Soleil acrobat is an unbelievably strong athlete, but likely cannot squat an extremely heavy load.
This is obviously an extreme example, but hopefully it illustrates that there are many ways to be strong, and many methods to get there. Cyclists express strength by driving incredible forces into bike pedals, wrestlers express strength through tremendous grip and body leverage, gymnasts express strength through their ability to achieve and control extreme body positions…the list could go on. Every activity has different strength demands, yet all of these people can be classified as “strong”.
The key element that ties all of these different activities and types of athletes together is that they still all need to be strong! Whatever that might look like for any given person, the common thread remains – they need to be able to bring their specific strength to bear in a specific way for their activity.
It is important to note that we are not saying that strength gained by lifting weights in the gym has no carryover into sport or life activities. It most certainly does! Each athlete mentioned above could improve their general strength by performing a weight training program. However, improved ability to express strength through a squat or deadlift does not directly translate into improved ability to express strength through a bike race, wrestling match, or gymnastics event – the athletes must still utilize task-specific strength when they participate in their sports. The weight training program simply gives them more potential to do exactly this.
We can apply this overarching theme to ourselves as weekend warriors, gym enthusiasts, or people training for general health and wellness. Getting “strong” may not look the same from person to person, as everyone has their own unique life demands, jobs, or activities that they are training for. Different people may need to express strength differently in their daily lives. But regardless of what it looks like, everyone should still train for increased strength. Strength is king – it is required for almost everything in life, it is needed in many forms, and it is for everyone!
Erica Saunders, BPE, CSCS, FRCms