When we think of great strength , we think of the ability to pick up heavy weights. But there is more to strength than just this. Strength can be loosely defined as the ability to apply musculoskeletal force. For a more precise definition, we must first consider the various types of strength expression available to athletes:
- Limit Strength. The amount of musculoskeletal force you can generate for one all-out effort. Limit strength is your athletic "foundation." Limit strength can only be demonstrated or tested in the weight room during the performance of a maximal lift. While only power lifters need to maximize and demonstrate this type of strength, martial artists need to develop high levels of limit strength in every muscle group.
- Absolute Strength. Absolute strength is the same as limit strength with one important distinction. Limit strength is achieved while "under the influence" of some work producing aid (supplements, hypnosis, therapeutic techniques, etc.), while absolute strength is achieved through training alone.
- Relative Strength. Whereas absolute strength refers to strength irrespective of bodyweight, relative strength is a term used to denote an athlete's strength per unit of bodyweight. Thus if two athletes of different bodyweights can squat 300 pounds, they have equal absolute strength for that lift, but the lighter athlete has greater relative strength.
All sports that have weight classes are dependent on relative strength, as do sports where the athlete must overcome his or her bodyweight to accomplish a motor task, such as Taekwondo, long jump, sprinting, etc. Some sports that have aesthetic requirements, such as figure skating, gymnastics, etc. rely upon the development of strength without a commensurate gain in bodyweight.
Strength may be developed through two very different means: (1) by applying stress to the muscle cells themselves or (2) by targeting the nervous system. The first method uses bodybuilding methods (6-12 reps) to increase strength by increasing muscle size. The second method still uses weightlifting but with a higher intensity (1-4 reps) to increase strength as a result of the body's improved ability to use more of its existing motor unit pool.
Athletes who need absolute strength, such as shot putters, football linemen, etc., use both methods extensively. First, bodybuilding methods are used, followed by nervous system training. The result is an increase in bodyweight and absolute strength. However, as the athlete becomes larger, relative strength decreases. For martial artists and other athletes who depend upon relative strength, bodybuilding methods should be used sparingly, unless a higher weight class is desired. Most strength training is characterized by high intensity, low repetition sets, which improve strength through neural adaptations rather than increases in muscle size.