Developing a client’s absolute strength is critical to their long-term physical development in relation to their overall goals. This is regardless of whether that goal lies in competition or general health and wellness. Absolute strength training establishes the foundation for the entire Strength Continuum. It enables competitive athletes to efficiently switch between different aspects of the Strength Continuum (strength speed, speed strength, absolute speed). For general fitness clients, it helps them live better and healthier lives by increasing longevity and helping build muscle which can protect them from normal wear and tear in daily life. So what is absolute strength training and how can we define it in a way that can aid functional fitness coaches?
(Note: If you are looking to build your client’s absolute strength, our free guide Programming for Absolute Strength walks you through the essentials of the Strength Continuum and includes a 5-week sample program.)
In order to understand what absolute strength is, coaches need to understand what it is not. Absolute strength is not a measure of how much weight a client can lift, relative to their bodyweight. Rather, absolute strength is a measure of how much weight a client can ‘absolutely’ lift, regardless of bodyweight (raw scores).
Improvements in absolute strength are a result of improved motor coordination and nervous system adaptations through resistance training. Essentially, resistance training is the method by which you improve absolute strength. That being said, absolute strength can be improved by simply increasing the training volume and giving clients more experience in a loaded movement which in turn increases motor coordination and nervous system adaptations.
A client’s ‘function,’ or goals, in regards to fitness changes how and why absolute strength training is applied. The movements selected by a fitness professional for an individual’s absolute strength development are largely based upon the goals of the client and the physical assessment of that client. The OPEX CCP course provides the most comprehensive assessment model through a focused analysis of the client’s basic motor patterns.
After completing a thorough assessment, a professional coach will classify their client into one of three different categories: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.
Beginners are in a phase where motor learning and coordinating patterns are developing. To give a concrete example, when a beginner does a bicep curl with a dumbbell, they’ll likely be contracting their tricep and pec muscles as well, even though those muscles don’t need to be contracted during the movement. The nervous system has to learn how to properly sequence and fire the correct muscles for a given movement. This development takes time and exposure. As a result, beginner training programs will include many repeated touches on absolute strength work. The reason for this is that their nervous system hasn’t yet developed to the point where it can induce enough fatigue to warrant more time between repeated patterns of movement.
Intermediate individuals are now improving their nervous system’s ability to coordinate muscle action and firing. As a result, they will need more rest between repeated patterns than a beginner. Their programs may have 2-3 days between absolute strength touches on similar movement patterns.
Advanced individuals have more variables to consider when programming for absolute strength. As an individual’s training age increases, their nervous system’s ability to sequence motor contractions improves, allowing the individual to induce greater fatigue on their system. As a result, advanced individual training may require greater time between absolute strength based pieces due to the recovery required for the nervous system.
An effective absolute strength program can only be created when the coach compiles information about the client’s goals and capabilities as determined by the assessment. Curious to learn more about how absolute strength training can benefit your clients as well as examples of programming? Download our free guide Programming for Absolute Strength now!