An Advancing Definition of Strength
I guess I should have said, “advanced definition of strength,” but it just didn’t seem to fit as well as it should have. When I look back at what I would have thought strength was when I first started lifting and consider the experiences that have shaped my thoughts on this subject up till now, I would have to say that my definition has radically advanced or changed. As I journey down the road of strength it may change more. No man has complete understanding of strength and rarely does any man have total understanding of anything, but this may give you some insight into a working definition of strength that will help you mold your own philosophy.
Three men I’d like to refer to here who are all great strong men and who have penned their opinions on this subject are Steve Justa, Arthur Saxon and Herman Goerner. Some of the things they have said play relevantly into this discussion. Justa has said in some of his materials that all strength is interrelated. This is definitely concurrent with my philosophy. There are hundreds of different kinds of strength and each is specific, but has some carry over to the other kinds of strength. You can get strong using many different types of training and different materials to train with. You will be the strongest at the things you train specifically for, but you will also have strength carrying over into other areas that you would not have previously had. That is if you push your levels of strength in the things that you train on very high.
Saxon wrote about true strength being the kind that stays with you all of the time. About having a high maximum lift, but that your true strength is that which you can lift heavily over and over gain. Both of these men have spoken about true strength having not only the ability to lift a heavy weight, but the ability to demonstrate endurance as well. Endurance in strength and endurance in the pure ability to continue with unflagging energy for long periods of time at any task.
Herman Goerner said the real test of any man’s strength is what he could lift off the ground, what he could lift over head and what he could carry. All of these opinions and writing are extremely relevant to what I think the true definition of strength, or maybe better stated, a strong man should be or possess.
So my definition will incorporate the ideas of all these men along with some ideas of my own. I do believe Goerner had a very solid lock on what are probably the best tests of a man’s strength. To them I would add a squatting movement or a movement that truly tested the extension of the legs. With this group squatting, pulling, pressing and carrying you have most of the movements that are natural to mankind and are useful in demonstrating strength. If you practiced only these four movements you would have tremendous development and muscle.
I think that building true strength should be done with consistency and variety. Meaning that of those four basic movements of strength one of each should be the staple movement that a man always tests himself with. They should always be the same type of test. For instance, squatting the same way for the same type of reps should be your basic yard stick on measuring your progress. Because in sticking with one thing for long periods of time you get to a place of building true strength and true progression, not just adaptation to a new exercise. Variety should play in. Gauge your progress by your single favorite exercise in each of the four areas and work it first in your training programs, but add in as you wish and rotate at intervals exercises which stress these same types of strength and movement so that the body stays constantly challenged and develops strength at many angles. Examples of these might be using the standing barbell press as your cornerstone lift, but also pressing dumbbells, rocks, barrels, logs and sandbags to build in a variety of strength.
I think single repetition training is probably one of the most effective training styles in existence and most of my barbell work is dedicated to singles. However, you should be able to display and occasionally participate in strength in many different styles. Repetition lifting whether it be moderate multiple sets, high rep sets, or extremely high repetition lifting feats (50 to 100 or more repetitions), should also from time to time be part of your training to have some efficiency at demonstrating these types of strength. Endurance strength such as is demonstrated by strong man events (high level work for sprint type bursts of up to two minutes or so), as well as that which is demonstrated by high rep bodyweight exercises (500 to 2000 squats, 500 push ups, etc.), and endurance strength as mentioned by Justa (moderately high level work extended over many reps and sets for a one to five hour period), should all be part of the strength of true strong man.
The strength we’re seeking here should have completeness and purity. Complete in maximal and repetition lifting in conventional lifts, odd lifts and strong man events. Complete in supporting strength and poundage lifting as the old timers did (very short-range lifting movements where a massive amount of weight was lifted). It should include bodyweight exercises and road work. It should include the grip, neck and abdomen, not just the hips, thighs, back and shoulders. It should be useable in the workman’s world and the competition world. It should be demonstratable to a high degree at will over and over again. It must balance the mind of an athlete with its intense momentary focus for peak performance and the mind of a workman who goes about his daily efforts without excess fatigue and can do his job whenever called upon. It should move the body with efficiency and powerful grace through space. It should include nearly miraculous endurance of muscle, lung, heart and mind. It should strengthen every area of the body, not only the muscles but also the tendons, joints, ligaments and bones, as well as the internal organs, heart, lung and digestion. It should see efficiency of internal workings and of muscular ability. It should not have “counterfeit muscle” (as termed by Karl Gotch), which is muscle that looks great but can’t perform. It should serve as an added protection from injury. It should be pure in that it is based on your own efforts and what your own body can do not polluted by drugs or enhancing equipment. It should be useable in combat and in protection of those you love added to knowledge of self-defense. This strength should enhance the health and vitality of a man. It should seek to add to a man’s strengths and improve his weaknesses and not just in the physical or lifting sense. It should show you more about yourself and what your true character is. It should be balanced with a strong mind and belief in God, spiritual, strength, morality and solid priorities. It should enable a man to display gentleness. It should increase his charisma, presence and confidence. It should be passed on and used as a helping hand. It should carry on a tradition of respect and safety since the beginning of time and carry on the honorable pursuit, which is quickly being lost.