Editor's Note: Today's article is from Francis Nitsch, SFG1. Learn his story as he tells you why no matter what your goal – fat loss, gaining mass, or sport – you should train for strength before anything else. – Chris
This past November, I went through the rigorous StrongFirst Kettlebell certification.
It was one the most difficult three days of my life.
Reflecting on this weekend I gained an appreciation for why you need to be strong first.
StrongFirst is a pretty sweet name for an organization – it also sums up their philosophy in just two words.
You’ve got to be strong first.
Want to be good at a sport? Want to pick up heavy things? Want to build lots of muscle? Want to burn fat efficiently? Awesome.
Be Strong First
Strength is the master quality. It lets you to train harder and provides “can't get nowhere else” benefits – whether you’re looking to improve sport performance, a weekend warrior who wants to show off at beer league hockey, or just looking to shed a couple of extra pounds of body fat.
How being Strong First lets you do everything better… and shed fat faster
There's 3 energy systems we can develop when we train:
1) The anaerobic system, which deals with explosive, short duration, high output movements (like a 100m sprint or a one rep max squat),
2) The glycolitic system, which deals with moderate output, sustained effort that is slightly more endurance oriented (think of an 800m sprint or a hockey player’s shift on the ice)
3) The aerobic system which deals with longer, lighter sustained efforts from about 5 minutes up to 3-4 hours (think long distance running).
They're all important, but when it comes to performance, the anaerobic system (which relates most to strength) sits at the top of that pyramid.
Being strong carries over to glycolitic and aerobic performance, but not so much the other way around. A runner who increases his squat max will find every stride easier because of his higher ceiling of strength. But a squatter who decreases his 5k run time, won't notice much increase to his one rep max squat.
So while all qualities are important, strength takes the cake in the novice trainee. It benefits all the other energy systems. It gives you the most bang for your buck.
To the weekend warriors and sedentary people who are just looking to shed some fat: If you're weak, your body has a very limited capacity for the amount of work it can do. The fastest way to increase that capacity is to increase your strength. When you increase your strength, you’re able to handle heavier loads and work harder for longer which helps tremendously with fat burning.
Another reason that you've got to get strong first is because it generally takes a lot of time to acquire. Top athletes in powerlifting and olympic weight-lifting start training young and don’t hit their prime until their 30s.
I had first-hand experience with this when I was preparing for the StrongFirst certification. I've spent at least 5 years developing an appreciable amount of strength. Up until the certification, aerobic work had always taken a back seat to strength work for me.
I knew that I could meet all the strength requirements. But did I have the aerobic capacity to get through the most challenging weekend of my life and perform the 5 minute snatch test on the last day?
I started my specific preparation only seven weeks out and by the end, my aerobic capacity went from awful to awesome. Seven weeks is a reasonable time to build a high level of aerobic capacity but you won’t catch anyone saying they can do the same with strength – unless they’re trying to sell you something that probably won't work.
Get Strong: the steps
So, now you’re thinking “Hey this strength stuff sounds pretty fantastic! How can I get some of that?”
Lucky for you, the answer is dead simple. You get Strong First through the perfect practice of good movement and the progressive overload of that movement.
Do it often and make sure your movement is pristine.
Once you’ve mastered a weight on that movement, add some weight, add another rep, or decrease your rest time.
Be patient with your progress and slowly but surely reap the benefits of the master quality of strength.
Where you a cardio junkie before and switched to strength? Let us know your story.
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Francis is a strength coach at Toronto’s Bang Fitness. As a coach and competitive powerlifter, he has developed a profound appreciation for barbell, kettlebell, and bodyweight training. He has learned from some of the best in the industry including Geoff Girvitz, Mark Rippetoe, and Jon Engum. He believes strongly in the empowerment that strength training brings and enjoys helping people at any level achieve things they did not think were possible. Read more of his stuff at www.francisnitsch.com