How Strong Is Strong Enough?

Overemphasizing strength often leads us to miss the forest for the trees, limiting the real-world applicability of our training.

How strong do you need to be? I don’t mean to rain on anybody’s parade, but it’s a worthwhile question to consider. How strong is strong enough? Unless strength is your sport, there are myriad other elements of your training that could enhance your quality of life more than strength training.

Your Purpose In Training

So what are you training for? We all have our reasons:

  • For aesthetics
  • For health
  • For performance
  • Just because (my personal favorite)

Strength training can certainly move you toward your goals, but at a certain point you reach the point of diminishing returns. At a certain point, getting stronger won’t actually help you do more in life. By all means get to that point, but then it’s time to shift your emphasis elsewhere.

Consider a jiu jitsu athlete. A baseline of sport-specific strength is critical, but beyond that they’d be best served by emphasizing technique and stress management. Or how about the busy dad weekend warrior? Strength training can help him be more capable and more resilient, but beyond a certain threshold he’ll likely want to prioritize mobility and playtime with his kids.

How much strength do you need? You need to be strong enough to live the life you want with a bit of extra buffer for those “oh, shit” moments in life.

Take a moment to reflect. What are you actually training for? Many of us cruise on autopilot and don’t give this question the thought it deserves. Spend a few minutes jotting down a stream-of-consciousness answer, then keep on reading.

The Vacuum

Here’s the elephant in the room that many strength enthusiasts seem to miss. You don’t live in a vacuum. Absolute strength in a crisp, controlled gym setting might not actually prepare you for the real world. I’ll admit that front squats and muscle ups are super satisfying on their own, but I’ve yet to find a barbell or ring-shaped object lying around outside the gym.

Consider the tasks you need to accomplish on a daily basis. You’ll spend a fair amount of time getting from point to point on two legs, so it might behoove you to give balance a bit more emphasis. You’ll have to carry the occasional unwieldy object up a flight of steps, so coordination and odd-object training might come in handy. You’ll be fighting to stay upright in the ever-present field of gravity, so prioritizing mobility and dynamic alignment will reap huge rewards. We can zoom out a bit further and bet that you’ll be interacting with other people frequently, so dive into some partner practice. Roughhousing, contact improv, or cooperative games all teach us how to better relate to the people in our lives.

The point is this: strength training can help you live the life you want, but for most of us it serves only as a means to an end. Overemphasizing strength often leads us to miss the forest for the trees, limiting the real-world applicability of our training. Be your own yardstick. Get clear on what you really want from training, and don’t let other people’s goals and standards define your practice.

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