Professor Jaime here with the ultimate history lesson for any fitness enthusiast. I think it is important to know where the history of strength training came from to truly appreciate where we are now and the impact it had along the way.

The first step along the road of strength training was Strongman competitions. You can probably argue that feats of strength have been going on as long as men have had testosterone, but it became more organized in the 1800’s as travelling shows would feature men that were incredibly strong, lifting or carrying massive objects around. Continue into the late 20th century and you will find many variations of actual competitions where athletes are expected to move odd objects around. Tasks can be scored on both the amount of weight moved or a distance covered.

Strongman movements are an amazing way to condition the body to be resilient under heavy loads (ie. Kurzy moving a zamboni, or a car, or a yoke full of loonies…) and they can be a fun way to get some conditioning in without running for miles if that’s not your thing. Next time you’re bored at the gym, try out some tires flips or farmers carries or take the sleds or the yoke for a walk!

The next strength sport to make it’s official mark on the world was Olympic Weightlifting, also referred to as simply weightlifting. This is a competition where you try to get as much weight overhead as possible. They utilize two movements: the snatch and the clean and jerk, and try to max out each one in 3 attempts. The strength, power, and coordination of these athletes is unlike any other sport.

The movements used in these competitions are also used in training for many sports as they are a great way to develop strength, power, and speed all in one set of exercises. They are usually kept to a small amount of reps (1-3) with challenging weights. This is the only true strength sport currently in the Olympics.

As Weightlifting was making its way to the Olympic stage, body building was the next big thing sweeping the nation. Bodybuilding, as a sport, is focused on making the muscles of the body as big and symmetrical as possible while lowering body fat to show off said muscles. The Mr. Olympia contest and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the most recognized names in the bodybuilding industry.

The movements used in this kind of training are also great for beginners to build a base of strength or someone rehabbing an injury. They are high repetitions (10+ reps) of low weights so overall weight lifted here is less than maximal- this is how you make muscles grow (hypertrophy).

As body building started taking over the big commercial gyms, the sport of Powerlifting continues to grow around its own community. Powerlifting is similar to Weightlifting as it tests your maximal strength, this time with 3 different lifts: the back squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Though not as quick or technical of a sport as weightlifting, a powerlifter moves much bigger weights around the platform when they compete.

Powerlifting movements here are the best way for anyone to get purely strong. Whether you have the inclination to deadlift hundreds of pounds or you just don’t want to hurt your back moving furniture, these lifts are the way to go. They are usually trained using higher weight and a moderate amount of reps (4-8).

As important as cardiovascular health is, a great strength training program is just as important for health and longevity for everyone. A truly well rounded program will apply principles from each of these disciplines. Your body needs a mix of all of them to be at its best. 

Try something new from the history of strength training in your next workout!


-Jaime

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