Maximal Strength versus Relative Strength

The chase for a higher max weight lift is one of the main motivators for many (especially men) when they enter the gym for the first time. Getting the big plates on the barbell for a Bench Press for the first time is a big deal.

It feels good, like your part of an exclusive club. Look over at the weaklings and chuckle to yourself as they struggle with peasant weight. You are strong(er), they are weak(er). 

This cycle will rinse and repeat until oblivion... working up to new 1-Rep Max's over time, as the increases get incrementally smaller. You'll find new methods from the likes of Louis Simmons, Fred Hatfield, etc. The chase continues.

This approach isn't wrong - Powerlifters, Olympic Weightlifters, and gym rats chasing a heavy deadlift (or whatever lift) are all impressive beasts who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of maximal strength, or the total amount of force an athlete can produce, regardless of bodyweight or size.

Watching Julius Bjornsson (The Mountain from Game of Thrones) set the world record deadlift at 472kg (1,041 lbs) is for lack a better term, fucking nuts.

 

However...

Here at LOD Athlete, I don't care about your maximal strength

The metric I prefer when assessing an athlete who walks into the gym is relative strength, or strength in comparison to bodyweight. A 150 lbs. athlete who can deadlift 300 lbs has a stronger relative strength base than a 250 lbs. athlete who can deadlift 400 lbs.

The 150lbs athlete can likely run/jump/change direction disproportionately better than the 250 lbs. athlete. He also is likely more resilient against injury and has a better aerobic base. 

To put it simply, a good level of relative strength lends itself to performance and health, while maximal strength generally just means you can lift heavier things than everyone else. 

This comes with a few caveats:

  • Is the athlete at a healthy weight for their pursuit and/or health?

This applies if the athlete is significantly overweight or underweight. Those who are overweight need to focus on bringing weight levels down first (nutrition adjustment) and those who are underweight need to bring it up (nutrition adjustment). For these folks, relative strength is a secondary concern. 

  • What is the main driver for walking into the gym?

Some folks want to pursue maximal strength. That's great - it's a hard, long road that requires dedication, lots of eating, and a good coach. That being said, I'm not a Powerlifting or Oly Weightlifting coach. I'd recommend you go elsewhere for someone who specializes in it and wish you luck!

  • How do they move?

If an athlete has good relative strength on paper, but their movement patterns suck, we need to reset. Tuck away your pride and work on the mechanics of the lifts. You're selling yourself short with partial range of motion reps and janky back squats. Do it right, get stronger, and profit.

We want to create better all-around athletes here who are stronger, faster, and better looking naked. This is a 360-degree approach to strength and conditioning, not a specialization. For me, relative strength is a superior method of working towards those goals.

Numbers don't matter, performance does. Keep this is mind next time you're tempted to add that extra 10lbs on max day when your back already looks like a dead accordian.