The strength continuum refers to the four (4) core pillars of strength, and how absolute strength, strength speed, speed strength and absolute speed, interrelate to build each other.
As fitness professionals we need to understand how to effectively utilise all four pillars of the continuum in order to push our clients to reach their potential and achieve their desired goals.
To begin we must first understand what each of the four pillars of strength represent using examples.
Absolute strength sits at one end of the continuum and represents heavy lifting or more specifically, a low speed of lifting with a large amount of load. The best example of this would be a powerlifter completing a one rep max lift, heavy weight lifted slowly.
The next pillar is strength speed. As the addition of the word “speed” suggests, an increase in velocity is introduced although the load is still at a relatively high percentage of a one rep max. The perfect example of strength speed in motion would be an Olympic lifter completing a snatch or clean and jerk movement. The load remains relatively heavy so as to illicit a training response, but in order to complete the movements efficiently, the velocity of the weight needs to increase significantly.
Speed strength travels further into the realm of agility and speed and moves away from the heavier loads. Examples of speed strength training include plyometrics, weighted vest movements and ultimately fast paced movements with a smaller load. Speed strength training is generally utilised best in the “off-season” of training, the best example of strength speed work would be a football player completing parachute sprints or a basketball player incorporating low weighted jump squats to improve vertical jump height.
At the opposite end of the continuum sits absolute speed. This pillar no longer uses any additional loads and the focus is shifted to pure velocity and speed. The obvious example of this would be a sprinter completing sprint drills to work on increased top end speed or agility ladder drills for a soccer player.
Now that each pillar of the continuum has been defined, it is easy enough to create a program for a client, right? If you have a client that comes to you with the goal of becoming a better soccer player all you have to do is work on absolute speed to get them lean and fast, maybe throw in some speed strength work in the off season to work on power for kicks….Done! Unfortunately it’s not that easy! To truly reach the full potential of a program, both ends of the continuum need to be explored and utilised.
The inevitable part of training and an expanding training age is at some point a ceiling will be reached. This means to further develop as an athlete, a stimulus needs to change to keep improving and progressing. There will come a point where running everyday will no longer make a person any better at running, or playing basketball will no longer increase a players vertical jump height. Before this point is reached, so as to not stagnate training progression, it is time to expand the scope of performance.
Spend some time in the off season of soccer to work on absolute strength, put on some muscle in the legs to make them more powerful at a time when additional weight will not be a burden to performance. This will raise the ceiling for absolute speed in the next season as the power output is now capable of producing more force therefore increasing velocity. In a similar fashion, for a powerlifter who has reached a plateau in absolute strength, spend some time in absolute domains to increase the density of fast twitch muscle fibres allowing for future strength gains.
A common trap for an experienced trainer or a client is to fall into specialising to the point of stagnation. The body is an amazing and resilient machine, it learns to adapt and it becomes resistant to change. Constantly overloading one pillar of the strength continuum or focussing on only sports specific strength attributes, is a sure fire way to limit client potential, and in turn promote injury.
To optimise your potential, shake up your routine and uncover optimal results by applying the principles of the strength continuum to reap the benefits!