In my post, The Components of Physical Fitness, I divided physical fitness into it’s component parts and provided a brief introduction of each part.

Since then, I have written in more detail about Structural Balance and Energy System FitnessToday I will try to explain the concept of Muscular Strength and how it applies to overall physical fitness.

Intro to Muscular Strength

This component of physical fitness deals specifically with the performance of the body’s skeletal muscles.

  • Your skeletal muscles contract and stretch in order to produce movement. Simple.
  • How they produce that movement is less simple.

Your body’s muscles are highly adaptable. They will react to the stresses that you place upon them.

  • Sit on the couch and they will atrophy.
  • Try and run fast and they adapt to produce faster contractions.
  • Lift heavy objects and they will increase their ability to produce maximum strength.

What is Strength?

Muscular Strength can and has been categorized/defined in a variety of different ways. I am choosing to divide Muscular Strength into four categories, based primarily on Newton’s Second Law –  \vec F = m \vec a (force is equal to the product of mass and acceleration.)

  • Mass relates to how much weight/mass a muscle or muscle group can move.
  • Acceleration relates to how fast that weight/mass is moved.

Note: You don’t need to know all this science stuff, but it can really help your strength training if you do 🙂

There are 4 Categories of Muscular Strength

  1. Maximum Muscular Strength
  2. Maximum Muscular Power
  3. Maximum Muscular Speed
  4. Maximum Muscular Endurance

Each of these categories has different characteristics with regard to mass and acceleration

1.  Maximum muscular strength

Maximum Muscular Strength is an extreme form of muscular strength.

In relation to newton’s Second Law it completely favors mass over acceleration. It is a measure of the maximum mass that a muscle, or muscle group can move, regardless of time.

  • Think immovable object v.s irresistible force.
  • Pushing your ‘out of gas’ car up a hill to the gas station at the crest of the hill.
  • Your maximum squat at the gym.

Got it?

The importance of maximum muscular strength?

While this is a point of debate amongst both academics, coaches and athletes, I believe that maximum muscular strength is the most important component of overall muscular strength.

Looking at the force-velocity curve, we see a relationship between force/mass and velocity / acceleration. 

  • Maximum Muscular Strength would be represented by the point on the curve in the upper left corner.
  • Muscular Speed would be represented by the point on the lower right.
  • Power is the combination of strength and speed.

  • If you were to increase your maximum strength, you would shift the force-velocity curve and your muscular power upwards.
  • Conversely, if you could increase your speed of movement, you would shift the curve to the right, also increasing your power.
  • Increasing both strength and speed would push the curve both up and to the right, resulting in even greater increases in power.

For most athletes, that is a welcome goal.

How do you develop maximum muscular strength?

Maximum Muscular Strength is developed using different forms and methods of resistance training. Generally speaking, heavy weights for low repetitions are used to develop max strength.

As this is a very complicated subject, I will be discussing this topic in detail in future posts.

Maximum muscular speed

As mentioned above, Maximum muscular speed is the ability to produce a low force muscular movement very quickly. As seen in the force-velocity curve, muscular speed is both a relative and absolute term.

Relative, because your mass (along with a bunch of other “stuff”) impacts the speed that you can achieve. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the animal kingdom.

A cheetah, while incredibly fast – 60+ miles per hour is no match for the peregrine falcon, which can dive at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.

In the world of athletics, speed is also relative. The world’s fastest sumo wrestler may be fast against his peers, but against an Olympic 100m champion???

And when we’re comparing apples to apples, Maximum Muscular Speed is often the determining factor in an athletic competition.

For example, superior hand speed often makes the difference in a boxing match between two men in the same weight category.

How do you develop maximum muscular speed?

Like Maximum Muscular Strength, speed can be developed using resistance training techniques. However, Max Speed training most often involves body weight training that attempt to maximize both the condition of the muscles and the performance of the neuro-muscular system as a whole.

I will also be covering this topic in more detail in future posts.

Maximum muscular endurance

Maximum muscular endurance is the ability to produce a smaller amount of force, but do it for a long time. A marathon runner is a great example of muscular endurance. His body weight requires less force to move than your car, in neutral, going uphill; but he is able to move that weight for 2+ hours non-stop.

Why do you need maximum muscular endurance?

Maximum muscular endurance is the least sexy of the 4 categories of Muscular Strength. However, it is the most vital when it comes to general health and longevity. While not being taken to extremes, the training to improve muscular endurance has a beneficial effect on your cardio-vascular health.

How do you develop maximum muscular endurance?

Maximum Muscular Endurance is generally trained with body-weight exercises. While there may be a need for injury prevention resistance training exercises, most endurance athletes focus their training on their sport of choice.

I will also cover the training methodologies of endurance athletes in a future post.

Maximum Muscular power

Muscular power is the combination of maximum strength and speed.

An Olympic weightlifter is a great example of power.

How do you develop Maximum Muscular Power?

As Maximum Muscular Power is a combination of Max Strength and Max Speed, the development of power involves a combination of training methodologies.

I look to cover this topic in my next post.

Muscular Strength

I hope this introductory post was helpful in helping you understand Muscular strength training and how it impacts athletic performance and general physical fitness.

In future posts, I will go into a more detailed explanation of each of the 4 categories. I will also provide same training programs for each category of Muscular Strength.