Strength Training Is Overrated How strong do you really need to be?

Over the last few years it seems that the whole weightlifting movement has shifted to some sort of powerlifting/powerbuilding phase, and most people are trying hard to improve their numbers on the squat, bench press and deadlift.

Of course, on the Internet everybody is 185-240 lbs with “about 15%-17% body fat” and deadlifts with ease 50 lbs less than the world record.

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I used to be one of those guys. I remember being at the gym and attempting a PR bench press. I asked some random guy to spot me. He said that my grip was too narrow and in order to hit my pecs better I need to spread my hands apart. I said: “Narrow grips saves my shoulders.”


He then asked me why I was doing so little reps, and I replied: “Cause I am training for strength.” {+ a silent addition of “fuck you moron” in my head}

His response was: “What do you need that strength for?”

This is my exact question to the guys who are killing themselves chasing some arbitrary numbers in an attempt to please the fitness gurus.

How strong do you need to be, really?

Unlike many others, I don’t believe strength fixes everything. The sports that are actually strength depending are very few. The majority of popular sports do not require exceptional amount of strength, at least not in all parts of the body.

There is a point beyond which developing more strength does not help you. Who is the better swimmer? The one with a 225 lbs bench press or the one with a 315 lbs bench press? Neither. Both can be taken down by a guy with a 135 lbs bench press.  Strength training is not panacea – not even close.

In fact, I would go as far as saying that besides lifting the best athletes are rarely the strongest ones.

A good example is found in highly technical sports such as skateboarding. In case you don’t know skateboarders are some of the weakest humans on Earth. Most are super skinny and have sunken chests and 19 inch legs. Why? Because the sport is all about technique, skill development and mental strength. Strength requirements are pretty low. Of course, strength can help you, but being stronger will do nothing for your skills. You have to practice, practice, break something and practice again.

You can squat, bench press and deadlift all you want – without specific practice you are not getting anywhere. Besides, anybody who’s ever done any skateboarding knows that your legs are shut down hard after practice, which makes devoting your time to squatting even harder. It’s still possible to program in strength training, but you won’t be able to do it three times a week unless you want to sacrifice actual skill practice time.

Barbell strength is not always transferable 

The fact that you are strong in a barbell exercises does not mean that your strength will always translate well to your actual sport. The strength that you need to develop for your sport will probably be extremely specific, which means that not all exercises will transfer well. For example, if you are a swimmer building a strong biceps curl may be beneficial to your swimming but only indirectly or as an injury prevention method. On the other hand, biceps curls are the bread and butter of many arm wrestlers.

If we go back to the skateboarding example, I would add that classic squats are not exactly the most essential assistance exercise since you are not using your legs the same way. Usually, the rear leg is pushing down while the front leg is flipping the board.

Thus, unilateral exercises have to be included. To this day I have a bad right knee with damaged cartilage while my other knee is fine. That’s because in a regular stance most of the power and strength work is done by the right knee. Almost all skateboarding tricks require your legs to work explosively. You simply can’t jump slow. It’s not possible. I don’t think heavy ass barbell squats are a guarantee to make you a better skater.

Strength sports are boring.

One of the reasons why many people get so caught into that “How much do you lift?” mindset is that strength training is actually quite boring, The only way to make it more interesting is to add more weight to the bar. Once you can do the exercises, your skill work is essentially done. You don’t get to experience the joy of developing newer skills. What compensates for that is adding more biscuits to the bar. This is the reason why most people get obsessed because only by lifting heavier you get to experience a “high”.

“Oh, look! That’s a very stylish bench press style. Props.” – said no one ever.

“But, Mark Rippetoe says strength training fixes everything. Squat or die, pussy!”

Strength training does not fix everything, the same way flexibility does not fix everything.

Will you become a better arm wrestler by improving your squat numbers? No.

Will you be a better boxer by improving your bench press numbers? Most boxers don’t even bench press.

Will you become a better acrobat by improving your deadlift? It can help, but you certainly don’t have to deadlift.

Most sports don’t require you to have exceptional barbell strength. It’s all made up. The top dogs are certainly not losing sleep over their barbell numbers.

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