In this article, I’m going to be covering a few misconceptions when it comes to “strength” training and in doing so I’ll also be providing some evidence alongside my own personal recommendations as to why most people should train with a variety of rep ranges.
So first, what do people generally mean when they use the term “strength training”?
I think most people would typically give examples of strength training somewhat in comparison to Powerlifting. That being, lifting (huge) maximal weights for 1 repetition. Of course, that is one form of strength. However, strength comes in many forms, as does strength training.
We have; maximal strength, speed strength, strength speed, explosive strength, strength endurance, starting strength and many other forms of strength. Strength (in the general basis of muscular strength) is simply the ability to produce force against external resistance.
People often get caught up in the dogmatic rep ranges that are promoted for certain aspects e.g. do 1-5 reps for strength, 6-12 for hypertrophy (size) and 15+ for endurance. While these rep ranges hold true to some extent, utilizing all rep ranges in your training will only benefit you. Furthermore, you can gain size and strength with any rep range, although to what extent will definitely vary.
So while performing a 300kg squat for 1 rep is definitely strong, hitting a 20 rep set with 180kg is also undoubtedly a feat of strength, is it not? If you bring your 10 rep max on a lift from 100kg to 110kg, then haven’t you gained strength? If you reduce your 100m sprint time then surely you’ll be more explosive and therefore stronger, no? If two guys clean & jerk 140kg for a 1 rep max who’s stronger? By usual standards they’re equal in strength, however, I’d say the person who performed the lift faster was stronger, and this goes for all lifts. If two people squat 200kg for 1 rep but one guy does it 2 seconds faster then he/she is stronger.
Progressing from this we have something known as absolute strength and relative strength. Absolute strength is exactly what it sounds like and could be considered the maximum amount of force one can exert. Relative strength, however, is your strength level in comparison to your overall bodyweight. For example, take two lifters weighing 80kg and 120kg, they both squat 160kg for a single rep. The 80kg lifter, therefore, has greater relative strength as he/she is lifting double their bodyweight whereas the 120kg lifter is lifting 1.5x their bodyweight, but their absolute strength is equal.
There’s an old story floating around which I feel demonstrates differences in strength perfectly, and that is the showdown between Fred Hatfield (also known as Dr. Squat) and Tom Platz who arguably had the best legs of all time in the bodybuilding world. Fred was a powerlifter and Tom, a bodybuilder. They faced off with a 1RM squat and a submaximal squat for reps. Fred won the 1RM squat with 855lbs (roughly 388kg) compared to Toms 765lbs (around 347kg). Tom won the squat for reps, though, as he squatted 525lbs/235kg 23 times, compared to Freds 11 reps. So who is stronger? Neither, shit both! They are both strong as fuck! Fred had a greater maximal strength and Tom had more strength endurance.
Now before I finish off I want to reference Dr. Ken Lestiner, who wrote:
“I am fond of telling doubting trainees that it’s just a matter of always adding weight to the bar, adding another repetition, “If you could get to the point where you’re squatting 400lbs for 20 reps, stiff-legged deadlifting 400 lbs for 15 reps, curling 200lbs for 10 reps, pressing 200lbs for 10 reps, doing 10 dips with 300 lbs around your waist, and chinning with 100 pounds, don’t you think you would be big – I mean awfully big? And strong?” Obviously!
More often than not, strength and size are related, as in you can’t achieve one without the other (especially you drug free guys). There are various exceptions to this, however for the most part as Dr. Lestiner states, it is just a matter of “adding weight to the bar”.
Furthermore, in relation to my field or chosen sport, Strongman, you can’t have any weak links. Competitions vary a great deal so each Strongman/Strongwoman athlete requires speed, explosiveness, strength endurance, maximal strength and so much more, so they must train through a wide variety of rep ranges. Conversely, Powerlifters, StrengthLifters and Olympic Lifters have the luxury of being able focus almost primarily on their competitive lifts. Having said that, no strength athlete solely trains their respective competition lifts by hitting 1 rep maxes every session while neglecting any kind of assistance and/or accessory work. All athletes will periodize their training and they will utilize assistance lifts/movements to help strengthen weak areas and improve their main lifts, as that is the main goal. Everything a Powerlifter does works towards improving their squat, bench and deadlift, whether it be lower rep strength work to higher rep accessory work.
Over the past few years, I’ve become really fond of “rep PRs”, which is exactly how it sounds. You set yourself targets for certain lifts and variations of those lifts (compound lifts, nobody gives a shit about how much you can side raise for 5 reps, that’s just dumb). So you could take the bench press and some of its variations (such as the paused bench, close grip bench, pin press, axle bench etc) and set targets for say a 1,2,3,5,8 and 10 rep maxes. With this, you could use any rep range you want and if your RMs increase then you’ve gotten stronger in some regard. In a sense, this is a form of undulating periodization, of which I’ve seen a fair bit of research on comparing it to linear periodization, with results being very similar. However, in my opinion, undulating periodization is just a lot more fun.
My concluding advice (especially to newbies) is to start light and progress slowly. Don’t get caught up in specific rep ranges, there are many ways to monitor your progress, such as increasing your strength across various rep ranges (obviously) and increasing how fast you perform each lift. Previously I would’ve included doing the same amount of work in less time or improving your workout density however, the more I look into the research behind rest times, the less I seem to care about how long I take in the gym. Furthermore, if you can do the same workout in less time then why wouldn’t you add weight to the bar or increase the number of reps you’re doing?
If you are stuck in a rut and wanna try an easy to follow, solid program then give this bad boy a go!
So as stated, this is a general nonspecific template that I feel most lifters could use effectively.
Lift Strong And Conquer!