“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”
– John Dewey
Franco Columbu, movin’ some serious iron…
I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog and learning more about your application of Evolutionary Fitness. I find myself constantly on your blog, Mark Sisson’s blog, Richard Nikoley’s blog (great for health information and recipes!) and, of course, Art De Vany’s website.
I have a question for you…would you have a recommendation for minimal strength requirements, i.e., something to shoot for on the strength end of the spectrum? For example, I think I read on your site that you think anything more than 2x bodyweight for squats is not very useful. Any other guidelines for pullups, chins, dips, muscle-ups, etc?
The reason that I ask is that I have good lower body strength, but struggle with upper body strength. Should I spend more time working on strength-focused workouts until I can do, say 10 bw pullups, before focusing on speed workouts? Thank you for your help and for your great website..
First off let me say that just asking the question indicates a high degree of sophistication, especially from what I gather to be someone of a fairly young training age (i.e., someone who hasn’t been in the iron game long – nothing to do with chronological age). Because the truth of the matter is that strength (and relative strength) are the kingpin about which everything weight room related ought to hinge. Now, why in the world would I make a statement like that, when I’m known to drone on and on about the power-to-bodyweight ratio, and about how speed and agility are what ought to be coveted as far as athletic parameters are concerned? Quite simply, because strength is by far the easiest of all parameters to train. It’s also the easiest parameter to manipulate, and – (and this can’t be stressed enough) – it’s also the one parameter that’s most often overdone.
What? Are you saying that a trainee can be too strong? Well, not exactly. What I am saying is that a trainee can easily overtrain strength to the detriment of speed – and yes, if this is the case, then any added strength past the point of speed detriment is, in most cases, useless (strongman-like trainees notwithstanding) . And even within the power lifting community, the need to maintain speed (and by extension, power) while increasing strength is realized – this is the basis behind Louie Simmons’ Conjugate method of training. Vern Gambetta recently posted about the phenomena of the wrong-minded pursuit of strength to the detriment of speed over at Elite Track. And for some good follow-up on that particular post, check out this related discussion thread. Lots of interesting comments.
So this is just one example of what makes training as much (and more, in my opinion) art as it is science. All methods work for the trainee who happens to be weak in the area the particular method is designed to address. No method, however, works in perpetuity. NONE. And the greater the training age, the greater the sophistication required to further adequate progression – and the easier it is to do more harm than good. There is only the right answer for a particular trainee at a particular point in that trainee’s development. Two weeks from now, a new relative weakness will appear, and that will need to be addressed. And so it goes, with this “flux” being the only condition that remains in perpetuity. Adjust, adapt, reassess, change…in training (as in life itself?), there truly is no destination – there is only the ride.
But if that is the danger of the far end of the strength spectrum, what of the other end? What of the trainee who is truly “not strong enough”?
Meet Allyson Felix…
This is a dicey, dicey question, and I almost hate to engage it without a list of caveats as long as my arm. It’s so very easy to dispense with the ol’ 2x bodyweight squat, 1.5 x bodyweight bench press, blather – the truth is, though, that it depends. It depends on so many factors (and the context surrounding those factors), in fact, as to make blanket thumb rules just about useless. And what manner of factors are we talking about, here? Well, things like age, sex, build, training age, natural strengths and weaknesses, stated ultimate goals…and the list goes on. Without knowing too much about Paul, though, I can toss out these ideas for what he might shoot for. I think they represent a realistic strength base from which the average guy might then diverge into athletic betterment or more bodybuilding-type pursuits:
- 2xBW deadlift (primary) or 2xbw squat (secondary) – depending upon the trainee’s build (i.e., short & squat vs tall & lean…or somewhere in between)
- 1xbw military (or btn) press with minimum jerk/push
- Approx. 7 bw+ 10% chin-ups (hands supinated)
- Approx 7 bw+15% full dips
The dips and chins also account for someone who might need to shed fat (thereby decreasing the exercise loading, while gaining strength) in order to meet the “standard”.
I’ll delve more deeply into the deadlift vs squat, and why I prefer the deadlift in most instances as a vehicle for both increasing and gauging overall strength, and how this relates to the Allyson Felix scenario, in an upcoming post. In the meantime, if you have differing ideas on “base strength” standards, please post them. All I ask is that you qualify your standard by way of trainee goal and “bio” so we can establish some context to the scenario.
7/15/10 Edit: I came across this post from TCU strength & conditioning coach Zach Dechant, keeper of the fine blog, Sports Performance Training. I wanted to link to it here, as it offers a fine observation on the comparison and correlation of strength and speed. It’s an interesting read from someone who has to wrestle with this puzzle on a daily basis.