The Alliance Functional Fitness Training System has three main components:
I have been placing a big emphasis on movement as of late. It has become the number one priority in our training system. This has not always been the case. For several years, I would have to say that strength was the first priority and the cornerstone of our physical training program. So, to make movement the number one priority is not meant to underscore the importance of strength. To quote Mark Rippetoe, “Stronger people are harder to kill and generally more useful.” Strength is still essential, but I now look at it from a different perspective.
The Importance of Strength
Let us first look at the importance of strength from a health and longevity perspective. Once we reach the age of 25, our metabolism slows about 2-4% per decade. We also lose about five pounds of muscle per decade. Much of this decrease can be attributed to the decrease in lean muscle mass. The handgrip strength test has been used as a general indicator of strength and is considered by some to be a better indicator of overall health than cardiovascular condition. Fortunately, we can reverse or delay the effect of aging with good old high-intensity exercise. Notice I said high-intensity exercise. Low-intensity exercise does little in the way of maintaining or increasing lean body mass.
My perspective on what I consider high-intensity exercise to gain strength and muscle has changed over time. I used to think primarily in terms of more or less conventional resistance training as the primary tool for stimulating these strength and muscle gains. Heck, I still remember my first day of lifting weights in an organized training program. I was a very skinny kid in the 7th grade, and my football coach encouraged me to start lifting weights. My first trip to the weight room involved a circuit on an old Univeral machine. The very next day, upon seeing my coach, he asked me how much I bench pressed. I guess that stuck because I have used the basic lifts such as the squat, bench, and deadlift as the main tools to build and test strength over the years. Although these exercises are very effective for building strength and muscle, they are not the only way. They are also useful tools for measuring individual improvement in strength but are certainly not the best way to compare strength from one person to the next.
Athletes who compete and excel in strength sports such as powerlifting, strongman, Olympic lifting, etc., are very strong. However, if you look at these athletes, you will notice that very few of them will be good at all of those sports. The reason is that when it comes to measuring strength from one individual to another, things such as leverage play a vital role. Now, if you take athletes who compete in sports that don’t require strength but don’t test for strength in that sport, then you will not always be able to judge that athlete’s strength in the sport. For example, in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu, you can feel if someone is strong or not, yet the weight room may not be a good indicator of strength. I am reminded of Jim, one of my old training partners from Atlanta, who was one of the strongest guys I have ever felt on the mat. We started talking about training with kettlebells one day, and he told me how much he liked them. It turns out the kettlebells he trained with were like 12 kgs.
One of the things I have fallen in love with lately is the strongman style lifts. This includes sled work, sandbags, farmers walks, etc. It is not necessarily as easy to measure gains in these lifts as with conventional methods, but when it comes to improving functional strength, I believe they may be as good or better. For some people, I believe they are better. For most of these exercises, there is less stress on the spine, less eccentric loading, and very low skill. In a nutshell, this means you can train with more intensity while being safer and less sore. We have seen significant gains across the board using these tools. Everybody, from our young Parisi athletes getting stronger and putting on muscle to our OG class getting stronger, have made gains using these tools.
To summarize my observations on strength:
- Strength is important for longer health and functional ability.
- Strength is individual (find a way to build it that resonates with you and do it).