Sunday, February 19, 2017


Here I am once again redefining something we all know but don’t quite understand.  I’ve written on many occasions about just how deceptive “strength” can be.  What we interpret to be strength can in many cases be instead a wide variety of other qualities that simply contribute to amount of weight lifted on a movement.  Factors like nutrition, time of day, amount of acquired fatigue, amount of sleep, being psyched up, warmed up, etc etc can all affect how much weight is moved on a movement…but none of these factors ARE “strength”.  Strength is what exists in the absence of all these factors; it’s what is there irrespective of these qualities.  This “baseline strength” is what we need to endeavor to improve, as it’s what fundamentally dictates if we are actually getting stronger in our training.

Image result for nose tork
Although a little of this doesn't hurt too

I’ve written about “bad day strength” before, but baseline strength goes even deeper.  Whereas bad day strength was about setting a baseline in your worst circumstances and striving to improve it, fundamentally bridging the gap between bad days and good, baseline strength is what is there when you are practically dead.  It’s the strength that is there after 2 days of throwing up with food poisoning, after 48 hours of being awake, after living off a water and lettuce diet for a week.  This is the strength that is ever present; it’s the strength that we build UPON with all those other extraneous factors and details.

This is why it’s imperative to focus on building up this baseline, rather than attempting to maximize the other variables.  Yeah, you could perfect your technique, dial in your nutrition, get your optimal amount of sleep, have the excellent supplement stack, etc etc, but none of this actually builds up that baseline; it simply amplifies it.  The baseline strength is built over a long, arduous period of time, through a constant grind, effort and toil.

Image result for conan the barbarian wheel of pain
You didn't realize this movie was actually a documentary 

I already know what most of my regular readers are saying at this point; “You’ve already said this!  You’ve said this many MANY times!”  True!  So allow me to explain this significance of this concept; how to know IF you are building this baseline strength.  “How do I know if I’m getting stronger” is a question that is constantly posed by trainees, and fundamentally the metrics employed to measure strength are flawed because they are incumbent upon the factors EXTERNAL to baseline strength.  A trainee sets a PR on one day, under one set of circumstances, and then attempts to compare a different effort under a different set of circumstances in order to measure “progress” or “strength”.  In turn, trainees interpret an increase between the two attempts as an indication that strength was gained or that the program worked, and a decrease is of course an indication of the opposite, but without consideration of the context, this data is useless.

So how DO we know if we have gained strength?  How do we know if the baseline strength was increased?  We know not by the results, but by the method!  Specifically, the consistent application of the same degree of effort/intensity over a prolonged period of time.  We KNOW we increased our baseline strength if, over the course of this specific phase of training, we consistently busted our ass with limited interruptions.  What other possible alternative would there be?  How could we have gotten weaker if we were truly pushing our bodies to their limits, breaking ourselves down and rebuilding over and over again?  This is simply how strength is built; real, pure, brutish strength.  This is how our BASELINE of strength is built.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
So not like this

Sure, skill can be lost or diminished depending on the method employed.  One may train their upperbody hard over a period of several months only to witness a decrease in their bench press because they deprioritized that specific movement, but strength was not lost.  It was built, and simply needs to be refined for that specific purpose.  The same is true in instances of reduced weight moved due differing nutrition, sleep, time of day, or other variables; the baseline strength increased, it was simply differently amplified than previously.

This is why, in many cases, the solution to “plateaus” is to simply keep on training hard and plugging along.  In most cases, the plateau is unrelated to matters of strength, and instead related to other factors that we are improperly controlling.  Technique may have shifted, small injuries might have manifested, we may have made nutritional changes, etc etc, but those can eventually be addressed and overcome.  Meanwhile, while we continue to grind away day in and day out, we are STILL building strength.  This is WHY, once we overcome whatever issue it was that was holding us back, we tend to witness explosive growth in the movement gain.  We finally pulled our heads out of our butts and now we get to amplify that baseline strength that we spent months and years steadily increasing.  The untapped potential is now getting tapped.

If you are training hard and often, you ARE getting stronger.  Be honest with yourself here.  If you’re dogging it, putting in half-efforts and skipping workouts, then of course you are going to get weaker while you train, and no amount of heavy metal and ammonia is going to fix that.  But if you’re actually putting in the effort, you will get to the point where even at your worse, you’re stronger than you once were at your best.      

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