Definitions are important when discussing anything as abstract as movement or training. It allows everyone to have a consistent set of terms so that the most possible amount of clarity can be achieved. Yet, in the fitness, rehabilitation, and musculoskeletal healing worlds, definitions are often poorly utilized. Competent athletes with well thought out training programs often loosely and incorrectly use words like “strength,” “power,” and “endurance,” which all have clear, mathematical definitions . These words get tossed around casually with little regard for what they actually define and describe. Each of these definitions include the amount of load used (force), how often it is moved (volume), how quickly it is moved (power), and how often to rest in between attempts (time).
I like to use the idea of someone doing 100 pushups as a good example. If you and I both do 100 pushups, have we completed the same workout? “Maybe” is the only answer that works unless we add some clear parameters. If I complete 100 pushups in a day and you complete 100 pushups in 10 minutes, are they still the same workout? Clearly they are not. Even when the volume of work is the same, the time taken to complete the task drastically changes what that work means. This is where most articles and rehab programs derail – poor use of definitions. Unless all parameters are reasonably accounted for, we are not speaking the same language.
A SHOCKING NUMBER OF MOVEMENT PRACTITIONERS AND RESEARCHERS DO NOT USE GOOD DEFINITIONS. While I was in school, it was frustrating to be instructed on rehab protocols to “increase strength” when the program called for “8 – 20 repetitions for 3 sets.” This is, at best, a protocol for adding mass, not increasing strength (keep an eye out for my upcoming article on this illusion that adding strength requires adding mass. Spoiler alert, they are totally different).
Let’s look at a typical program I would use for increasing strength in a deadlift.
85% of 1 Rep Max. 4 sets of 4 reps. 3-4 minutes rest between sets. Non-Pause reps.
Here I have defined how much weight is used based on the individual’s personal best. I clearly define the volume of training, limited to 16 total repetitions. I defined the rest time to dictate the pace of the workout (as well as the energy system trained). I defined the cadence of the movement – non-pause reps, meaning that the weight is not held at the top or left to rest of the ground for any significant time. In short, there is really only one way for a person to complete this workout. I have left little room for misinterpretation. Let’s compare that to the same movement used to gain mass.
70% of 1 Rep Max. 4 sets of 10. 1 minute rest. 4 seconds down, 1-2 seconds up.
Totally different, right? Clearly, the weight used is different, but it’s still relative to the individual. The volume is now 40 total reps. Rest is dramatically decreased (and the energy system trained is subsequently changed), and the cadence now calls for a slower descent from the top of the deadlift, with a relatively smooth lift from the ground.
The genius here is how simple it can all really be. The programming now efficiently controls for which energy system is used, what the result of the program will be, and it’s infinitely scalable to ANYONE. The weight chosen is simply based on the best a person can do, whether that’s 45 lbs or 800 lbs, the programming does not change.
So why is this important to you? It’s all about efficient use of time. As a clinician, if I need a muscle to be stronger, then I am going to choose programming that creates those results in a repeatable and efficient manner. Often times, people are not applying enough load to create significant physiological change. They have not established their own personal “best,” and planned accordingly. Unless you are measuring and calculating what you are doing, the only thing you are doing when you workout or complete your rehab is burning calories. You are not creating lasting physiological change, which is the whole point of working out in the first place, right?
Below is a beautiful article from Gym Jones that clearly defines many terms. Instead of rewriting them here, I”ll just recommend that you go read the article. You may need to sign up for a free access account, but those guys are great and it’s well worth it.