How To Measure Progress in Strength Training

The first step in the process of measuring is determining exactly what it is you want. This goes back to the idea of deciding who you want to be from an “Energy” perspective. What is your “Energy” identity and what virtues will support that identity. Once you know this then we can better help you connect your intention for training to where your attention needs to go during training. We can then better determine what to use as measurables to quantify your progress.

In our system of High Intensity Quantified Strength Training we have quarterly assessments that we use to quantify progression in several different areas.

How can I track progress  in strength training?

As the saying goes “If you want to manage something, you need to measure it.” This is a cornerstone of our “Quantified Strength Training” process. One of the most important principles of strength training is “Progressive Overload”. 

We are continuously tracking and measuring to ensure that the training stimulus is providing this overload in a progressive manner. We measure this either through the Strength Portal app or ARX on a workout to workout basis. In these sessions we are looking at variables such as the resistance or load lifted, repetitions completed, and time under load. These are all variables that can show measurable progress. However, the main thing we want to make sure of is that progress is occurring in regards to increases in strength. This is why when possible we utilize ARX as our primary tool for measuring strength gains. 

For our purposes, we are defining strength as the capacity to create force. We believe that the ARX technology empowers us to assess this capacity in a safe and reliable manner. Although conventional strength testing measures may be of use to some, we do not feel that, for the majority of our clients, they are the safest or most reliable means. 

For example, in previous years we have used exercises such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift as a means of measuring strength. These exercises have been used for decades as measurables and the entire sport of powerlifting is based on these fundamental exercises. If you have the ability to perform these exercises safely with good technique, they can be effective tools for measuring improvement. 

However, demonstration of strength is not always an accurate measure of the ability to create force and therefore, by our definition, not as good of a measure of true strength. The above mentioned lifts require skill and Olympic lifts such as the clean, snatch, and jerk require even higher level of skill. 

When you begin any exercise, it is important to note that you will first see improvement in neuromuscular efficiency when practicing a new movement. It is not that this is not beneficial but the more technical the skill the more this plays into the supposed improvement. This is especially true in the beginning of training. So, for instance, if I test how much I can bench press and then practice doing bench press on a consistent basis I should see an improvement from the practice alone. This would be true of ARX as well. 

However, another issue with using conventional exercises such as the bench press is that it is very challenging to create a standard of performance that makes for a “true” measure of strength improvement.  For example, if someone uses a shortened range of motion or moves with a faster speed utilizing more momentum, this can drastically affect the amount of muscular work being done. In the case of an exercise like pushups, the reps may increase without any increase in muscular strength. This is an issue we found with CrossFit. The fact that fitness was measured as “work capacity over time” and this was equated with timed workouts, led to form being sacrificed for more reps. This began to lead to injuries. This is when I began to realize it was also not a very accurate measure at least for true strength. When the focus is put on moving the weight versus working the muscles then we can become more efficient at exercise and our performance or at least numbers increase but our training stimulus may be diminished. In other words, it will require more work to create a stimulus. This goes against our principles of not only making exercise effective but also safe and efficient.

 ARX standardizes both the rep range and movement speed and allows individuals to produce a maximum effort in a safe manner. For our quarterly measurements we have the opportunity to measure:

1. Total force output for a set of five reps

2. Maximum concentric force output over 5 reps

3. Maximum eccentric force output over 5 reps

4. Total and max force output for a 45 second static contraction

In a future post we will look at some measurables for body composition and cardio respiratory efficiency.