The aim of this article will be to express a philosophy of what strength is. To be more specific functional strength, which is the ability to produce force through the human body in a gravitational field. We will be using the analogy of sound and music created through an orchestra to demonstrate this philosophy. The quality of the sound produced by the symphony of instruments will equate to the ability to generate force in a gravitational field.
So what is with the gravitational field thing?
"Gravity" arguably one of the most influential forces in our lives and it is totally invisible to us. Gravity is such an integral part to our daily lives we don't even give it a second thought. It is because of gravity though that we require our strength. It is our need to overcome this invisible force that evolution has given us the ability to adapt are bodies. Allowing us to increase strength in particular areas. I strongly believe that training a body with its intended uses at the for front of our minds will ultimately reap the greatest results. Anyone who has been involved with strength sports will have heard the argument between free weights and machines. Free weights require gravity, machines strap you in and localise forces to a very specific area. Barbell bicep curls require you to lift the barbell from the floor and require you to stabilise through your entire body. A preacher machine straps you in and requires only power from your bicep in isolation, not really how your body has evolved over the millennia to work.
What do we mean by functional strength?
Functional strength is the ability to perform any given task in gravity. The stronger you are the easier the task. This can be anything from undoing nuts and bolts, stacking boxes, pushing and pulling objects or throwing something. I believe compound exercises with free weights mimic this the best but ultimately gym equipment is ergonomically designed to be easy to lift. Once you start to make objects unbalanced or odd in shape moving them requires the recruitment of more muscles to stabailise. This can be as simple as swapping your Olympic bar with a thick bar, makes a big difference. Then if you didn't balance either end and gave the weights odd shapes you will soon realise you have to drop weight and recruit so much more of your body to stabilise. All this is lost when strapped to machines and is why you would never see a leg press machine at world strongest man which is all about functional strength. Functional strength requires you to be free from restraint anchoring you to an artificial world devoid of gravity. Just for some more clarity there are some other expression which describe what I mean like farm boy strong or old man strength.
Training the Individual to Perfection or the Group as a whole
So what we are going to suggest here is each individual musician can practice and practice to absolute perfection, without fault. However, unless they train with the rest of their orchestra, when asked to perform together they will sound terrible. The orchestra who consistently practice together even if they individually are not perfect will ultimately sound better. This leads us to the debate of compound over isolation exercises. The more you functionally apply your strength in a gravitational filed using the whole body the stronger you will ultimately be in the mired of positions a body can find its self in.
I am not saying that training in isolation is bad, it definitely has its place but ultimately needs to come secondary to achieve optimal functional strength.
From isolation to compound
So isolation movements and compound movements are common words used when strength training but I feel this is too simplistic, to black and white, there is a lot of gray in between. We will attempt a quick sliding scale starting with extreme isolation. Machine preacher bicep curls or any similar equipment which straps you in and focuses on one muscle in one plane of motion. Followed by exercises like bench press on a smith machine which is multi joint but still one plane of motion. Next would be free weight exercises like bicep curls or shoulder press followed by the big 3 bench, squat and dead lift. Arm wrestling would probably squeeze in next. Finally, in the extreme far right would be Atlas stones, truck pull/push, throwing objects and moving heavy things from one place to another. This final group require the whole body and not just single or what would be called multi joint exercises.
I am of the opinion that training under the pretence that we have lots of different muscles is a poor way of looking at things. I realise that I may lose some people with this next statement and will explain it further in future articles. We should train under the pretence that we have only one muscle. With this philosophy we come to the conclusion that yes there are lots of different parts but when used in symphony produce a single sound, the sound of strength and when applied in the infinite number of ways that it can be, will create a symphony, the symphony of strength.