Pritchard: Are you building strength, or testing it? (column) |

Pritchard: Are you building strength, or testing it? (column)

Jimmy Pritchard
Better Version of You

It is no mystery that in order to successfully gain strength, one must follow a properly periodized program, consistently.

Effort and execution predominately determine the outcome of training, however, too many individuals attempt to test their strength rather than build it session to session.

Attempting to lift the heaviest weight possible day in and day out, week after week becomes detrimental rather quickly. It is a common myth that every time you step into the gym, you must lift heavier in order to get stronger. If that were the case, strength training wouldn’t need any science.

Multiple forms of progressive overload can yield positive strength gains (lifting heavier weights still being one of them when appropriately used), with the intention to build strength over time. Once you’ve surpassed the “beginner” stage of your first 3-6 months of training, you will not see strength day by day, nor week by week in most cases. You will have to put in work, accumulate fatigue, rest, and super compensate to see gains.

How heavy?

One of the founding fathers in strength and conditioning, Tudor Bompa, wrote multiple books about training athletes for strength, power, speed and endurance. In his book “Periodization of Training for Sports,” he mentions that the majority of “performance enhancing neuromuscular adaptations of strength training occur without concentric failure.” This means that most training cycles occur when athletes are using loads in a range of 70 to 90 percent of their single rep max.

These gymgoers typically use a “buffer” and lift with weights they may be able to execute one or two more reps within a given range and load used. The reason for this is that concentric failure and the use of loads 90-100% of too often can lead to decreased testosterone levels, high levels of fatigue, and increase risk of injury.

There is a time and place for these intensity levels, but they must be used sparingly. In the case of the common gym goer mentioned previously, testing to see how heavy one can go week in and week out will stall strength gains.

Testing one’s strength level should only be done at the completion of a planned mesocycle, approximately every 4 weeks or so, and maximal strength phases using loads in the 90-100% single rep max range should last no longer than 2 to 3 weeks.

Other benefits

Other than the fact that such high intensity levels of training (90-100% single rep max) can cause hormonal, neuromuscular, and fatigue issues, using submaximal (70-90% single rep max) loads allow trainees to maintain good form and grease the movement pattern.

Training for strength is as much coordination of the neuromuscular system as it is peripheral, if not more. Training for qualities such as hypertrophy and endurance require less overall coordination and greater accumulation of peripheral muscle fatigue. This is why it is important to allow the body to learn proper movement and execute under load that is manageable, because failure to complete reps will never allow the body to build its movement competency.

Jimmy Pritchard has a BSc in exercise science from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the director of strength & conditioning at Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or Check out his website

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