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Muscle: Fact & Fiction (Part 3) By Mike Gillette

Posted on 8/22/2019
When it comes to athletic performance, one attribute trumps all others; strength. Take two hypothetical athletes of equal skill and pit one against the other, the stronger one wins. The stronger athlete is faster, performs their skills with greater precision and is more injury-resistant than their less-strong counterpart.

Anecdotal example: sprinters. Sprinters are the fastest athletes on the planet. They also spend a considerable amount of their training time on strength-development. Why? It goes back to our hypothetical example. If two sprinters possess equal technical skill, the stronger one wins. This is because greater force production equals greater speed.

The dominance of strength as a performance variable is often down-played in a number of sports. There seems to be two primary reasons for this. The first of which is that strength-training tends to be misunderstood.

The commercial gym industry can be blamed for some of these misconceptions. Each year, new equipment and new jargon is introduced into the marketplace fostering the impression that strength-training is either overly complex or dependent on elaborate equipment. (It is neither).

Strength-training can also be downplayed because it can seem like an inelegant pursuit. Cultivating technical excellence in a tennis player or golfer is far more interesting to most coaches than pushing that same athlete through a strength-training session. Please note that I am not suggesting that athletic development is an either/or proposition. Athletes absolutely need their skills. But those technical skills are optimally launched from the strongest possible platform.   

When it comes to building strength, a lot of things work “pretty well” but very few things work “extremely well”. So, for those who are interested in how to structure a sophisticated strength program that works extremely well, I will introduce the “4-Dimensional Strength Protocol”.

This is not a program in and of itself. Rather, it is a template around which your strength-training program can be designed for the greatest possible effect.

The 4-Dimensional Strength Protocol, (and yes, I know that there aren’t actually four strength ‘dimensions’, it is merely a name) can be distilled down to the idea of “training in the direction of movement”. In the very simplest of terms, the body pushes, it pulls and it raises and lowers itself by squatting up and down. We can then expand on these movements a bit by breaking them out further. These expanded categories could look like this:     
  • Horizontal Pushing
  • Vertical Pushing
  • Horizontal Pulling
  • Vertical Pulling
  • Squatting
  • Trunk Flexion
  • Trunk Extension
Can we break these down movements even further? Absolutely. But the idea is not to create further complexity but to establish an intuitive, functional framework around which to build our training. So, let’s look specifically at the 4-D Strength Protocol, starting with its mission-statement:

The 4-Dimensional Strength Protocol Optimizes Strength in Multiple Movement and Postural Dimensions

Dimension One – Linear Strength
The first of these four strength dimensions is what I refer to as linear strength. Linear strength is what the majority of mainstream athletes are currently building in the gym. Common exercises like push-ups and pull-ups are linear movements.

Most of the exercises that are performed on any type of weight machine also tend to follow a linear path. I characterize linear movements as “primary movement patterns” due to their prevalence in both athletics as well as daily life. These primary movements include vertical pushing, vertical pulling, horizontal pushing, horizontal pulling and squatting.

Dimension Two – Helical Strength
The second strength dimension is helical strength. This refers to strength which is expressed through helix-based movements. This is a category of movements which proceed along an arcing rather than a linear path. For example, a kettlebell swing occurs completely on an arc.

Arcing movements are made possible three different ways. The first is by the body’s ability to hinge at the hips. Again, think of the kettlebell swing as a clear illustration of this movement path. The second is when the body rotates around the vertical axis of the spine. Many medicine ball drills are performed along this path with the intent of developing rotary power. And thirdly, through circular movements of the limbs. An example of this would be drills performed with Indian Clubs.  These very old but very useful tools cultivate suppleness and strength in the shoulder girdle through the performance of varied circular patterns using the arms.

Dimension Three – Dynamic Strength
Dynamic strength is expressed through velocity-based movements. Think of any exercise where speed-generation is integral to the execution of that exercise and you’ll understand what a velocity-based movement is. Anytime an athlete is jumping, throwing or swinging a load at speed, they are expressing dynamic strength.

Dynamic strength is akin to the ‘Holy Grail’ of athletic performance as the attribute of “explosiveness” is a universally-sought capability. But it is also the riskiest quality to train for. It is essential that a coach truly understands proper exercise technique as well as the injury potential of speed-based movements so they can be implemented safely.

Dimension Four – Positional Strength
Positional strength is postural in nature rather than movement oriented. It manifests through either suspended or gravity-based positions. Perhaps the most visual example of positional strength is the “Iron Cross” of men’s gymnastics. In this position the gymnast holds himself up between a set of rings with his body and arms perpendicular to each other.

Despite the fact that there is no motion associated with this position, there is a considerable amount of strength required to maintain it. Other positional strength examples can be found within gymnastics as well as in martial arts stances, yoga postures and even isometric exercises.

Categorizing your strength-training using the four strength dimensions allows you to organize and optimize your strength program. It also ensures that you don’t leave anything out. By incorporating exercises from each of these dimensional categories you can be assured that you will develop athletes who possess equal parts structural integrity, speed and injury-resistance. It is the perfect marriage of safety and performance.