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Listen to almost any announce team during an American football game or a boxing or MMA bout, and you’re bound to hear the terms “strength” and “power” used interchangeably. To most, they seem like the same thing, but that’s because they don’t understand the different types of strength training, and just what they mean. This article will look at a few basic definitions.
If you’re a bodybuilder whose primary focus is on aesthetics, then knowing the difference between various types of strength training probably isn’t overly necessary for you – just keep adding weight to the bar, and you’ll be fine. Also, if you have a dedicated coach or high-level trainer who puts together all your programming, then knowing all the differences may not be overly helpful to you, either.
However, if you’re an athlete, someone who competes in physical activities for recreation (think hobby jiu-jitsu, league basketball, obstacle course races, etc.), or even just do your own workout programming, then a general understanding of the different types of strength training can go a long way toward improving your results.
Also sometimes called “maximal strength”, of all the types of strength training, this is the one most people unknowingly think of when they see or hear the word “strength”. Absolute strength is a measure of the most amount of weight you can lift, regardless of any other factors. According to Zatiorsky in Science and Practice of Strength Training, absolute strength is also vital for improving coordination.
Relative strength is commonly known as strength-to-bodyweight ratio, or a measure of how strong you are for your bodyweight. Relative strength is often most important to athletes, as it can be a better indicator of how much control you can have over your body. Relative strength can be improved by either getting stronger at your same bodyweight or keeping your strength the same while losing weight.
Of all the types of strength training, explosive strength (also known as “power”), is probably the most misunderstood by the general layperson as it’s always confused with what’s actually absolute strength. Explosive strength, considered the “strength ability most characteristic of athletic activities” by Verkoshansky in Fundamentals of Special Strength-Training in Sport is strength with a time element added.
While absolute strength or relative strength are measures of how strong you are, explosive strength measures not only how much strong you are, but how quickly you can apply that strength. If squatting 300lbs is a measure of absolute strength, squatting 300lbs in 1.2 seconds would be a measure of explosive strength.
Explosive strength can be improved by increasing the strength in the same time (squatting 310lbs in 1.2 seconds), keeping strength the same while decreasing the time (squatting 300lbs in .9 seconds), or a combination of the two (squatting 310lbs in .9 seconds). It can be possible to improve explosive strength when both the weight and time increase, but you’d have to plug your numbers into power formulas to be certain.
Second only to “strength” and “power”, strength-speed and speed-strength are a couple of the most confused types of strength training. According to Robert Ansovich Roman in The Training of a Weightlifter, strength-speed is moving a heavy-ish weight (around 60% of your 1RM) as quickly as you can. Conversely, speed-strength is moving as fast as possible with added resistance (around 25-40% of your 1RM).
If strength is on one end of a continuum and speed the other, then strength-speed is obviously more toward the strength end. You would incorporate this into your training if you were fast and had good relative strength, but a lower overall level of absolute strength. On the other hand, if you were pretty strong, but slow, you’d want to focus more on speed-strength where speed is the driving factor.
Hopefully this gives you a little better insight as to the different types of strength training. The question you probably have now is when you should incorporate each of the above into a periodized training program. There’s no one single answer to this, as it would depend on you and what you’re training for. However, starting off by incorporating dedicated work in the area(s) you’re lacking would be your best first step.