T Nation

Functional Strengh, Endurance and Size

After a busy weekend, I was sitting around catching some T.V. and looking at some tapes. It was then that I began to realize that this whole concept of “strength” is very activity specific. These were the examples:


1)Andre Agassi: Caught a little bit of him this weekend. Probably in his late 30’s? For almost TWO HOURS fires a ball across the net at greater than 90 miles per hour! By the look of his skinny legs and arms, Andre ain’t gonna win no “Strongman” competition. But I bet the average strongman would not last TWO MINUTES serving, much less two hours… and the velocity of that serve would be no where close to Andre.


2)Ironman/Ironwomen: DAYUM! Yes…this has a lot to do with endurance, but these athletes are also STRONG! (On a side note; the top competitors have that sort of “swimmer’s” body. Is this a case of genetics pre-deposing one to a certain sport OR the sport leading to this type of physique? Just a thought). Again…strong…but not huge. And I doubt they have powerlifter numbers on benches and squats.


3)SEALS/Airborne/Special Ops: Almost all training officers, without fail, will tell you that the “musclebound” recruit will most likely fail, and they can spot them a mile away. The most likely to succeed? That “Pavel/Bruce Lee” lookin’ guy…smart…fast on his feet…and pound-for-pound a STRONG sum’ bitch!


So. Thoughts and questions:


1)This whole idea of neuromuscular connection, leading to efficiency of motor unit firing (i.e. more motor units firing per nerve impulse or “increased strength”) plays itself out in the real world.


2)There APPEARS to be some “ideal ratio” of body weight to strength that one reaches that is either an impediment OR an asset to a particular activity. (i.e. as a more rhetorical question: if there where weight classes, could someone with an “Agassi” physique win a “Strongman”? IF they had the endurance, could a “Strongman” win an “Ironman”, or does their shear bulk pre-clude it?).


3)Again…bench and squat numbers are okay…but wouldn’t you all agree that with activities outside of lifting, that they are in fact poor measures? And that “strength” is VERY activity specific, as the above have illustrated?


As always…I love you guy’s thoughts on an interesting subject!

You have hit the nail on the head… form follows function. There are all kinds of strength… limit strength, strength endurance of varying lengths, power, power-endurance, etc. Moreover, strength gains at one particular angular speed do not necessarily translate to strength gains at other angular speeds. What this means is that just because you increase muscular force during relatively low-speed strength training (i.e., max lift in an incline bench press) does not mean you will exhibit increased force at high speeds (i.e., throwing a javelin). The more I learn about this stuff, the more I realize there is to learn… bodybuilding is child’s play next to training athletes for various sports IMHO.

This area is absolutely FASINATING, Matt! One can get misled on strength as they quote bench and squat numbers.


Just a question for you and Coach about the Division 1 (and some Division 2) schools. Are the Strength Coaches sports specific? In other words, does each discipline have their own strengh coach? (It seems like they would).

Everytime Ko would hear about someone’s bench pressed this amount, or squated that amount, he would pause, and then ask “yeah, but does he have ‘knockout’ power?”

All that limit strength can be impressive - but if you don't know what to do with it, it's worthless. I would rather have the speed and skill to be able to knock out someone twice my size than bench twice my bodyweight. But that's just me.

Yes, this is certainly an interesting subject. And one that I have always been facsinated by. Which is why I've become involved with different physically demanding activities. Just to see how my body would respond. I don't think I'll ever do a New York marathon or Ironman. But the athletes in these events are ones to certainly be admired. As are tennis players (btw: Andre Agassi is younger than me, around 32), race care drivers, boxers (whom I admire the most), kickboxers (especially K-1 fighters), track and field, speed skaters, etc. The list can go on. And every one of these sports demand a completely different type of training and mindset.

But, I agree with the "form and function" - I've always said that whenever I was training someone. Especially the newbie who was anxious to get strong quickly - "form and function, first - strength will follow..."

Mufasa…I have played baseball at two Division 1 schools (transferred)…at the first school the strength coach didn’t even work with the baseball team, and at my new school there is one head strength coach that basically has a generic circuit training workout that he slightly modifies depending on the team (and that I could have written after my first day of reading T-Mag or any lifting related material)…yes, that’s right, women’s volleyball and men’s football basically follow the same plan under this guy. No periodization, no consideration of carry over to that sport, whether they are in or out of season, whether different athletes have different needs as far as imbalances etc… If only we had Coach Davies…

Excellent post as always, Mufasa!! I couldn’t agree more with your observations. Too many people focus on strength in the gym and not in sport activities. Part of the problem is that not as many people are working out for sports anymore, just want to look good or have impressive lifts. The efficiency of one’s neuromuscular connections is indeed a very important aspect in sports/performance. I myself have often noted that size can be a problem in certain sports, and does not always translate into more power or better performance. Take hockey players for instance. The average hockey player has gotten much bigger, faster and stronger over the last few years. This doesn’t necessarily translate into stronger players with superior performance. Al MacCinnis(sp?) is nowhere near the biggest player in the NHL, but still has one of the hardest slapshots. Scott Stevens is of average size, but is well known as one of the hardest hitters in the league. And players like Mats Sundin and Jaromir Jagr, while not known for their physical play, are incredibly strong with the puck. Many players will tell you they are almost impossible to knock off of the puck once they have possession. My point is that strength and power in relation to sports activities varies greatly from sport to sport, and individual to individual. I agree that a strong bench and squat are impressive, but they do not necessarily translate into increased performance in sports. This is one reason I personally train Westside style in the gym, but also do grappling, bodyweight training, and play a little bit of volleyball in the summer. I do not want to be a gym rat who looks real pretty at the beach, but can’t perform at a level equal to or above what my appearances might suggest.

Please excuse all the typos in my previous post. The Shame

I’m going to address a couple points made. First, you have to remember that the elite of any sport is going to exhibit a fairly narrow range of body types, as they are going to be best suited physically to the demands of a particular sport. In that regard, Mike Tyson will NEVER make an elite Ironman, even if he trains the rest of his life for that pursuit. Conversely, Greg Welch will NEVER make an elite powerlifter. That’s not to say that some one can’t train for a particular sport and do well at it (I was a near pro-level triathlete myself at the Olympic distance, and have gone pretty much full time into weight training, going from 150 to 205+, but I’ll never get to the same level in lifting that I was as a triathlete). “Form follows function” is actually backwards. Function will to a certain degree alter the form towards the ideal of the demands of the activity, but to get to the elite level, the tendencies to the form must be present first.

Just thought I would elaborate on patricias post. It always cracks me up when people ask me “What can I do to increase my puching power”, my response is alway go hit the heavy bag, or work with focus pads, work on your technique. The just look at me like I have no idea what I am talking about. What they do not understand is that punching power is more a product of speed and acceleration, than muscle strength. It is the ability to quickly and efficiently make the transfer of power from the legs, hips torso, to the shoulders and ultimately to the fist. The quicker this happens the stronger your punch. This guy I used to train with had some of the most powerful punches I have ever felt, but his bench was maybe 175- 185 if that. I can probably outlift him by 100 pounds if not more in all the big lifts, but his punches and kicks are much more powerful than mine. The reason is he has flawless technique. Would ou rather get hit by a train going 10 mph or a race car going 200 mph. There are definitely different kinds of strength, are not necessarily related to each other.

I have come to a point where I am torn between training for size or training for functional strength.This topic I hope will give me some light.I am leaning more toward being the functional type.

This relates well with the Tudor Bompa article where he talked about a lack of specificity in training. Now for one of my theories on injury, it seems to me that a large percentage of elite athlete injuries in sports such as Rugby and league over the last 10 years are ligament joint related, IMHO it is due to players getting too big/heavy for their bodytype and the joints and ligaments not being strong enough to support the player at impact. Looking at video from 10 years ago their is a HUGE difference in bodytype. From what I have observed too many spend hours in the gym and are ‘weight fit’ but not game/impact fit. There is a lot of discussion in NZ about the fitness/training of todays players versus those of 40 years ago who never went to gyms but did a lot more manual/farming type work, what we now term functional training. Finally, to Brider, I see you mentioned Greg Welch in your post, what happened re his health? I heard he got really sick a couple of years ago but didn’t catch the outcome.

I apologize for not responding earlier as I did not see the post. Great observation Mufasa. Few coaches at any level understand what “strength” is and what/how manifests better sports performance. Most consider a narrow defination that the focus is weight room dominated. Sadly in the end, more athletes are being trained to test better then to perform on the field of competition better. As noted by SBET, many strength coaches do not necessarily spend time on specificity of sport, which I feel is a horrendus mistake. As he noted with baseball few S&C coaches analysis the impact of training on bat speed and reactive ability (which is imperitive for the training of baseball players). I have been working with one NFL team recently to co-ordinate not only there athletes training but how they approach there skill work within each group to work hand and hand with the S&C group. In many ways it serves to fuse the work of positional coaching and S&C. It is highly position specific within football and fascinating from a coaching perspective. In faith, Coach Davies

As far as I know, Welchie went into coaching. I was aware that he’d had some hemorroid surgery prior to the IM Hawaii a few years ago, but I wasn’t aware he had any other lingering illness. Admittedly, I’ve been out of the loop as far as results and who’s on top of the game recently.

Great post!!! Although I believe that strength is idetified by how much you lift as far as power, speed, agility, and quickness thats another story… I think POWER is more important then “strength”.

By the way I have been busy with clients don’t have to much time to voice my opinion on this forum… So you might not see me for a while… But I’ll check in from time to time…

Did a bit of a search and Greg Welch retired Jan. '00 with a condition called ventricular tachycardia which is an abnormal heart rhythm that can be triggerd by stress, diet all sorts. That was what I had sort of thought because I remember a theory at the time that said it may have been caused by the physical stresses of Ironman racing and training.