Strength Is a Skill


Like a lot of coaches, I have a handful of “pet” phrases, cues, and quotes that I tend to bring out.  When I’m talking to my clients or having a conversation there are a few that seem to come up pretty regularly.  Usually I don’t notice it or think it’s that obvious until a client starts mimicking one back at me (this is right before I they end up doing extra push-ups).  It’s not that I can’t think of something original to say, trust me, it’s that these cues work.

One of my favorite lines that you’ll never hear me apologize for using is “Strength is a skill”.  I use it a lot, tag most of my emails with it, and firmly believe it.  I’d like to claim that I originated the quote, but I know that I heard it from someone back in the day, but I honestly can’t remember who coined the phrase (if anyone knows then shoot me a line).  Regardless of its root, I think this quote best sums up my training and life philosophy in one succinct message.

Everyone is pretty familiar with the idea that in order to gain strength you need to practice and challenge yourself to get stronger.  This is the point behind lifting weights to build muscle.  Common knowledge, right?  Well, there’s a little more to it than that.  You see, strength comes from two areas.  First, when you lift weights the body recovers from the damage caused by building more muscle fibers which results in an increase in the cross-sectional size of the muscle.  This is what most people think about when it comes to getting strong.  All else being equal, a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle.

However, that’s not the real root of muscular strength.  The vast majority of muscular strength gains come from refined neurological recruitment.  In other words, teaching your body to contract more muscle fibers and contract them in the right order.  With improved neurological recruitment the same muscle becomes more efficient and the muscle can gain strength without gaining appreciable size.  This is how small powerlifters and fighters can be much stronger than larger bodybuilders.

Ok, so how do you increase the neurological efficiency of your muscles?  Frequent training under heavy loads results in superior neurological function.  That’s right, lifting weights REALLY IS A SKILL and frequent training is PRACTICE.

To me “Strength is a skill” is not just about being able to pick up a heavier weight, though.  To me it applies to mental and spiritual strength as well.  Just like not everyone is born big and physically powerful being strong of mind and character are not simply innate abilities.  Sure, some people are born at different points on the mental toughness spectrum, just like we all know the guy that walked into the gym with a 315 deadlift and the guy that couldn’t even lift the bar.  However, after a year of hard training the talented guy was better and the weak kid was now a strong kid.

Improving your strength of character and mental focus takes concentrated effort and work.  At first you might have a hard time finding success.  I’ll bet your first attempts at shooting a basketball or front squatting were clumsy, awkward, and made you question whether you should even continue this endeavor.  So can your attempts to break free from your shell and display confidence seem much harder initially than they should be.  However, with more and more practice and a no-quitting stance you’ll find it easier and easier to demonstrate your strength and improve until you’ve reached the level of success that you set out to.  With practice you’ll be able to improve your work skills, your body, your mental focus and toughness, your relationships, and everything else in your life.

Stop looking at mental strength as a have or have not thing.  Instead focus on one thing you want to improve at a time and put that nose to the grindstone to make it happen.  What is the one challenge you’re facing right now that you’ll be working to overcome?  Drop a note below to tell me how YOU are going to put in that work and make it happen!

Pings on Strength Is a Skill

February 24, 2012

Comments on Strength Is a Skill Leave a Comment

August 2, 2011

Trevor Lea-Smith @ 10:29 am #

Build my business:

Table and Demonstration at NATO Family day BBQ
Flyer the town (not the best, but it works)
Stuff local mailboxes (again…not the best)
Hound local teams until I get in
Work with the American Football team in town
Build a strong referral system
Give much more than people are paying for

Success is a skill.

August 3, 2011

MOM @ 6:40 pm #

I will set aside a special time every day to devote to building my relationship more closely with GOD. This, I believe, will strengthen me in a multitude of ways : make my path in life more visible, enjoyable, and exciting. I like good surprises!. LOVE< MOM.

Isaac @ 7:33 pm #

Trev: Awesome stuff, man. Keep up the grinding, especially your last two points. You’ve hit it with “Success is a skill” in that it builds and once you “get it” then it becomes much, much easier.

Mom: I agree, and thanks for writing in! So much that I know I learned from you! Use that time to seek guidance and clarity.

August 11, 2011

Anna @ 9:26 pm #

I must admit, i jumped from the breakfast video to this because “dating and women” seems like an exciting category. Thanks for giving a more precise explainations for why strength training works better for some people. I’ve thought of it as a habit that you get used to and start craving if you stop. Neurological recruitment sounds a little less like bragging. I will try to find an online yoga program I like and stretch several times a week.

August 14, 2011

Isaac @ 6:16 pm #

Hey girl!

There are a variety of physiological and neurological changes that occur with regular training that will have you “craving” it if you miss a few workouts, so you’re not far off there. Recruitment is a different adaptation, but both occur.

Bragging isn’t good, but being proud your accomplishments (which, having seen them, you should be) is!

Good luck with finding a Yoga program!


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