Getting Stronger Without “Strength Training”

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS


What if I told you that gaining strength is not always about “strength” training? What if I told you that you can gain a sufficient amount of strength without ever touching a weight? Crazy right. Well, since I am a math and science guy, let’s look at it as some simple math…

Let’s say your one repetition maximum (the amount of weight you can use to complete for one rep of a given exercise) is 150 lbs. Now let’s say that you are only utilizing 75% of your true strength to move the weight. This is due to the fact that you are losing strength as a product of flawed movements (also known as energy leaks). You are moving through unstable joints and improper neuromuscular activation (the timing and quality of the nervous system and muscular system working together). But, if you were to clean up the movement and use more of the strength you already possess, say 90% instead of 75%, your 1 rep max would magically increase from 150 lbs to 180 lbs…and you can do this without lifting heavy stuff!  Ok, so you are probably wondering just what the hell I am talking about.

Think of body and movement  as a network of power lines, like the ones running alongside the road. At one end you have a power generating plant and at the other end you have your home. The electricity (or energy) must make it from the power plant to your home, and in a great enough quantity in order to turn on the lights as well as other appliances. Now, what happens when a crazy, once in a lifetime storm (or at least we hope once in a lifetime) hits and sends trees toppling onto the power lines?

If your lucky, the power lines don’t snap but instead the lights flicker, the TV and computer crash and you have to restart the microwave to finish heating your leftovers. If your not so lucky, as many of us in the Northeast can attest,  you lose power for an insane amount of time and life quickly becomes much more difficult or at least much more inconvenient (I mean what the hell do you do when you don’t have Facebook or the Biggest Loser to keep you occupied?!).


And how does this relate to training and strength gain? Let’s say you are a lucky one. When the power lines (your ability to transfer energy through your body/joints) become disturbed by a large branch (a movement flaw / unstable joints / improper neuromuscular activation) all of the electricity (strength/power) can not make it to your home and the lights dim or go out for a brief moment (strength is lost). So what is the quickest way to gain strength? Use more of the strength you already possess!

This is accomplished by making sure your joints are stable and your muscles are working together and in the correct order. Focusing on the quality of the movement, instead of just adding weight (especially to an improper movement) will not only increase your strength at a greater rate, but it will keep you free from injury. Utilizing bodyweight, bands, medicine balls, suspension systems, kettlebells, etc to establish fundamental and efficient movements allows us to increase strength, power, agility, etc at greater and safer pace. Once proper movement is established and no strength is lost, then, and only then, are heavy movements warranted to further increase strength. I love moving heavy stuff, but only if you are prepared to move heavy stuff. Otherwise, an inefficient movement not only becomes a limiting factor to increasing performance (strength, power, agility, etc) but as previously mentioned, injury risk quickly increases…and there is no greater limiting factor than injury!

Heavy weight is great but not when it looks like this…can anyone say disk herniation?

A video I recently came across on a really smart dudes blog…this is just ridiculous!

So, focus on keeping your wires free from fallen trees by dedicating your training to proper movement. You may have to sacrifice the sexy and traditional exercises for a brief period of time, but once you have established more efficient movement your strength, power and agility will increase quicker than ever before (and more importantly you will ward off injury). Then, as Justin Timberlake tells us go ahead and, “Bring Sexy Back.” Whether you are a beginner or a high level athlete, if energy/strength is being lost, you will never reach your true performance potential, especially if you are sidelined by injury.

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