Should we put a cap on our strength?

Discussion in 'Barbell' started by SuperGirevik, Aug 12, 2019.

  1. SuperGirevik

    SuperGirevik More than 300 posts

    I've had this debate in my mind for some time. When strength training, do we as humans reach a point where trying to get stronger will lead to smaller gains while the risk of injury increases significantly? For example, I could do a strength program like PTTP or SS and take my deadlift to 500-550lbs. That's definitely impressive and I think we can all agree that a person that can lift +500lbs is strong. But would trying to reach +600lbs be advisable for someone who does not compete?

    In other words, should we limit our strength in order to increase injury prevention? I realize that getting strong is a form of injury... but how strong is strong enough?
    Billy59 likes this.
  2. kiwipete

    kiwipete Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    I guess it would depend on the type of injury you wanted to prevent... I think in life being co-ordinated and having good balance probably takes care of most issues?
    SuperGirevik likes this.
  3. Alan Mackey

    Alan Mackey Triple-Digit Post Count

    I've pulled from the floor 500+ lbs. and it didn't help my performance on the mat. In fact, it was the opposite: the time and effort invested had a cost and my grappling game suffered quite a bit.

    Through a lengthy process of trial and error, I found that anything beyond 150% of bodyweight for a bunch of reps in some key exercises is way too much for me.

    Those exercises are: front squat, Romanian deadlift, power clean, push press, pull ups, dips, rows and incline press (not necessarily training all of them at the same time; it's just an array).
    J Petersen, godjira1 and SuperGirevik like this.
  4. Bauer

    Bauer More than 500 posts

    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  5. Anna C

    Anna C More than 5000 posts Certified Instructor

    Programming becomes more important as absolute strength increases. I'm fairly convinced (hat tip to Barbell Medicine) that most lifting injuries are due to poor programming and fatigue management, and not due to absolute weight or even poor form... although those can certainly factor in.

    There's certainly some validity to the argument of finding the cost of adaptation and deciding there is a "strong enough" point (as @Alan Mackey has, since he's actually been to "strong" and decided to back off a bit to build other attributes), but I think most people are far short of it. It can become an easy excuse for people who don't know how or won't work hard enough to actually get strong.
    bencrush, Kozushi, J Petersen and 2 others like this.
  6. Glen

    Glen Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    I think there's definitely a point where time and risk involved in getting stronger makes someone question the point of getting stronger.

    I think it depends on each person though and cannot be some arbitrary number or ratio. For instance I was pulling well over 2x bodyweight at the age of eighteen for reps. If I had stopped or maintained at that point I would have missed out on do many lessons and enjoyment.

    The question often is when do we know we are strong enough? Is there a point when performance doesn't seem to improve with added strength and the risk doesn't seem worth it, but had we pushed beyond that point all of a sudden we find a new level of strength has a profound effect on performance?

    It's easy to say something after the fact. Personally I would rather keep doing what I enjoy (the strength is a bonus, its the process I love)
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
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  7. North Coast Miller

    North Coast Miller More than 2500 posts

    Its individual, and I honestly believe a good part of it depends on things like skeletal structure, height to weight, lever arms.

    Resistance training for health, injuries are unacceptable beyond anything but the most superficial of twangs. That said I wouldn't bother with a pre-determined stop point.
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  8. SuperGirevik

    SuperGirevik More than 300 posts

    So it seems that it's safe to conclude that with proper programming and recovery, an individual can pursue a path towards maximal strength. Obviously, it's impossible to actual reach 100% of one's true potential but we can definitely stay on the path.

    After meditating on this, I think the key is to listen to one's body and not force a specific strength goal on our body. For example, one could do PTTP and allow one's self to progressively get stronger. But when setting a specific strength goal, like pulling a 900lb deadlift, we could be putting ourselves on a path towards injury. I say this because at that moment our focus is no longer on being healthy and strong but rather on reaching a number.

    I'm not saying goals are bad. On the contrary, goals provide us with motivation and direction. But those goals, especially if unrealistic, could affect our good judgement and poor judgement usually leads to injury.

    Thanks everyone for your comments. This has been an interesting discussion.

    On a side note, speaking about the deadlift in particular, is there ever a time when the weight of the lift requires a belt in order to prevent injury? Is it realistic for me to continue lifting barefoot and beltless well passed the 500lb mark?
  9. Alan Mackey

    Alan Mackey Triple-Digit Post Count

    Lifting belts are a good idea. Even more so when you are aiming to increase your maximal strength.

    That being said...

    I've never used a lifting belt on a regular basis. And that's on purpose, as a form of auto-regulation. In fact, these days I don't even use the Valsalva maneouver: if the load is so high that requires a belt or a Valsalva, I deem it too high and will use lower weights.

    But keep in mind my goals are very particular and you would probably be better off using both the belt and the Valsalva maneouver.
    SuperGirevik likes this.
  10. wespom9

    wespom9 More than 500 posts Certified Instructor

    Came here to post this.

    Strong enough is whatever strength allows you to get through life doing what you want. To be free of barriers preventing activity. This is different for everybody. My mom doesn't care about playing sports. She just wants to go up and down the stairs pain free.
    Strength benchmarks are fun, and I used to have stronger feelings about reaching them. But now, I have to admit I don't really care. Am I glad I did the SFL and SFB? 100% - it taught me about persistence, consistency, patience, hard work. Did it make my life "easier" or "better" from my strength levels before training for those? I don't know.

    I play tennis, baseball, and I golf. I think I was "strong enough" before those tests to still have fun and do well in all those activities. Granted, I was pretty close to all those benchmarks (minus the OAPU, that took a ton of training), but the cost of going moreso than that doesn't seem worth it to me. Even as I plan to - finally - do my SFG sometime in 2020, I honestly can't say if training for the snatch test will make my life *better* in any conceivable way. Other than it being a personal goal to get all 3 certifications, I would be hard pressed to find a health/fitness reason to train for the snatch test.

    Little bit of verbal diarrhea above, but greater max strength does not necessarily equal resilience or anti-fragility. It's absolutely part of the process, but not the whole part.
    J Petersen likes this.
  11. SuperGirevik

    SuperGirevik More than 300 posts

    I feel that a better question to the one I asked originally is: When does chasing strength become dangerous? (If it ever does)
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
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  12. North Coast Miller

    North Coast Miller More than 2500 posts

    When you attempt a PR and honestly don't know if you can get it. Training for health, this should never happen though.

    I have done this myself a bunch of times but that was many years ago. Usually when I up weights I know I can hit it, is just a question of how many.

    Injuries normally only happen when form fails for whatever reason, or you have a pre-existing injury in your past.

    The next question is at what point the heavier loads are setting you up for problems 10-20 years down the road, how much of it is random luck.
  13. LukeV

    LukeV More than 300 posts

    I have injured myself due to all of the above but poor programming and fatigue management leading to overuse injuries have certainly been my biggest problem. Brittle shoulders and elbows are the consequence of years of training to failure, leaving the gym hardly able to walk and feeling that a rest day was a wasted day.

    However I'm not an elite athlete (my max potential has been and still is like viewing the top of Mount Everest from sea level) and I wonder if their danger zone is that moment when the personal best, qualification or medal comes into view and they have to try something they've never tried before.

    I did read a study once that for elite athletes injury rates are higher in competition than training although most injuries occur while training simply because athletes spend much more time training than they do competing.

    I guess my hypothesis supports supergirevik's original post in that the closer you get to your maximum potential the more likely you are to be injured at each stage of progression.
    North Coast Miller likes this.
  14. Grimace1

    Grimace1 Still New to StrongFirst Forum

    I think a 2x bw deadlift would have been beneficial to my competitive wrestling. Years later when i was coaching and deadlifting I found that I could pull n a single when a guy sprawled hard on me.
  15. WhatWouldHulkDo

    WhatWouldHulkDo Quadruple-Digit Post Count

    Yes, everyone else should put a limit on their strength. Then I will be the strongest...

    But seriously... I think the answer lies in asking yourself why you train strength at all. All strength training is potentially hazardous to your health - in my mind, the entire concept of strength training is based on doing some level of damage that your body has to repair. Smart training minimizes the damage, but it's still part of the equation. And obviously, for most folks, the potential upsides outweigh the risks.

    I suspect that for most people, the crossover point of risk vs reward has more to do with the rate of attempted increase, rather than absolute level of strength. It's when you outpace the rate of recovery that you get in trouble. So, unless your rate of strength loss is greater than your rate of recovery, you can always do something to improve strength without draining the batteries.
  16. Pavel Macek

    Pavel Macek More than 2500 posts Master Instructor

    Yes - there is certainly a point of diminishing return. My approach is to meet "not-so-weak standards" (such as our SFG/SFL/SFB strength tests), maintain them, and possibly drive them a bit higher - just a bit.
  17. jef

    jef I am a student of strength. Certified Instructor

    I think the question might be formulated differently. I don't feel it is possible to define when someone is strong enough, in absolute terms.
    The first question, as usual, is: what is your goal?
    If you want to improve at a sport, being stronger is always better. The problem is what you need to do to get stronger...
    There is a point of diminishing return, where getting stronger distracts your available energy from the practice of your sport.

    Now, what if your sport is simply life ?
    There is a point when driving an adaptation requires so much training that the balance with recovery is very hard to find. This is where injury are the most likely. The problem is that this point is different for everybody. So it is vain to look for a limit that applies to all.
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  18. Alan Mackey

    Alan Mackey Triple-Digit Post Count

    Training for health is the simplest thing: lift moderately once or twice per week, hitting all the fundamental movements in a slow circuit fashion. Forget about load, rest times and all that. Do not get too attached to any single lift, try all the variations. Do some kind of slow cardio almost daily (walking is fine). Stretch what's tight. Eat like an adult.

    That's it.

    Once you aim to improve your PRs, things get complicated, messy and, potentially, dangerous.
  19. SuperGirevik

    SuperGirevik More than 300 posts

    I would lean more towards the moment a person tries to find their "true" 1RM. When testing my 1RM, I like to use this method by Pavel (link):
  20. SuperGirevik

    SuperGirevik More than 300 posts

    I've learned some key points in this discussion. After reading all the comments, here are some of the things that could turn a healthy practice into a dangerous session...
    1. Poor programming
    2. Chasing PRs
    3. Overtraining/Poor recovery
    This is what I personally believe as well based on the articles I've read and from podcasts I've heard.

    For example, a competitor will sacrifice whatever to gain that extra 5lbs on her lift because he wants to win. Injuries and safety are no longer her main concern... she is chasing numbers for the win.

    @jef - I agree, I don't think we should or even can set a limit for everyone. I was just curious as to how people train. Some people train with the mentality of getting stronger, no matter what. They eat like a horse, sleep like a baby and train like a beast. So I was curious if this mentality is safe and practical for the average person.
    LukeV likes this.

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