I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be "strong." There are as many kinds of strength as there are kinds of exercises; it really all depends on how you think about things and categorize them. A very popular model that a lot of people smarter than me will tell you about is the "speed-strength continuum." This is a pretty cool way to think about a lot of kinds of strength and goes a long way to explaining why powerlifting and sprinting seem so different. Crossfit guys will tell you that there are "10 fitness domains: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy." This is a handy model too, and you'll see some overlap with mobility and conditioning in there as well which is helpful in explaining why a strong strongman is different than being a strong olympic weightlifter or a strong gymnast. But like the speed-strength continuum, this model seems incomplete and based on a particular worldview (the founder of Crossfit was a gymnast). So based on my thinking, I'd like to throw another conceptual model of strength into the fray. This model is the same as other models in that it is completely arbitrary, but superior in every other way because it's mine. I therefore call it: Coach Stevo's Real World Model for Strength
- Picking Up Heavy Stuff: Heavy stuff is lazy and gravity is a bitch. Heavy stuff isn't gonna get up and walk over to where you want it to be. You're gonna have to hinge over, grab hold of it and pull it off the damn ground. You might even have to put it over your head if you want to get it into your truck or over your fence. Sometimes heavy stuff is really low and you have to squat down to pick it up. And sometimes you can only get one hand on it. You never know where or in what condition you'll find heavy stuff, but heavy stuff is always gonna need to be somewhere else and it's you that's gonna have to get it there.
- Moving Heavy Stuff: Sometimes stuff is too heavy to pick up but you still need it to be somewhere else. But heavy stuff, that bitch gravity, her sister interia, and her sister's no-good-boyfriend friction are gonna conspire to keep that heavy stuff firmly planted in place. You're gonna have to push it, drag it, pull it, rock it, twist it, yank it, and heave it in order to break it loose from the Newton family affair of physics that's keeping it in place. You may even need a running head start.
- Carrying Heavy Stuff: After you've picked it up, heavy stuff is cumbersome to hold and always puts up a fight. But you're gonna have to fight back against it, gravity, inertia and fatigue if you want that heavy stuff to be where it belongs. You're gonna have to hold it longer, carry it further, and keep it higher off the ground than you'd like. Your hands are gonna hurt and it's gonna be hard to breathe. But staying upright with heavy stuff is the only way it's gonna move.
- Throwing Heavy Stuff: Sometimes picking up, moving or carrying heavy stuff is too good for it. You're sick of friction, your hands are tired, you just wanna be done with inertia and you'll deal with gravity later. Besides, heavy stuff is usually hard and you're pissed off at it now anyway. So you muster all you've got left in the tank, plant a foot, twist your hips and let that mother fly. Throwing is everyone's favorite thing to do with heavy stuff because dammit, it had it coming.
What Have We Learned?
In the real world, we come across heavy stuff sitting around where we don't want it all the time. Part of life is getting it to be where we want it to be. I don't care if you can bench press three giggling Victoria's Secret models, if you can't help me move my couch or get my car out of a ditch, I don't think you're strong (jerk). "Training" implies that you're trying to do something better, and I'd like to hope that something is going to take place in the real world (where I have couches that need moving). As people who use our bodies as tools, we need to consider the applications of our strength training in the real world and make sure that the movements we select to progressively overload carry over. We need to think in a way that rewards not just bigger kettlebells or more weight on the bar, but improves on what Dan John ingeniously refers to as "Dad Strength." Because for almost everyone reading this, the Real World Model for Strength is our Dad. And even though we may never have seen him do a 3x bodyweight bench, he always seemed to be able to get heavy stuff where it needed to be.