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The Spectrum of Strength: Understanding Strength ll

Updated: Apr 23

A warrior before the strength spectrum

In a previous article, I defined Strength as the ability to produce Force.  I defined Absolute Strength as the highest amount of Force a body can produce voluntarily and Maximal Strength as the highest amount of Force a body can produce involuntarily (in a fight-or-flight scenario or under electrostimulation).  I also listed the structural and functional factors affecting strength.

In that article, I mentioned that Strength has various modalities. In this article, I will detail those modalities. These modalities are all voluntary abilities, so we will start from the basis of Absolute Strength. I will describe the relationship between strength training Intensity and Force, the relationship between both and reps per training set, and how this relationship defines the nature of each modality.

In a previous article on Movement, I defined the different categories and classes of movement.  The Regional Acyclic regime is the category in which a lifter manifests and trains Absolute Strength.  The primary movements of this designation are barbell presses, squats, and deadlifts.  These are the foundational means of strength training as they are movements in which the body can develop maximal force.  This article essentially deals with them. I will deal with other movement designations in more detail in future works.

Defining the Modalities of Strength

The modalities of strength are best understood as different physiological abilities.  The different abilities lie on a spectrum that is defined by three interdependent factors-

  • The Velocity of the action

  • The Force produced in the Action

  • The number of Repetitions performed 

The spectrum is divided into two continuums: one related to movement-based abilities and one related to structural and vegetative adaptations.

The first is the Velocity-Power-Force Continuum.  This continuum contains the abilities that are related to POWER.

  • Reactive Ability

  • Speed Strength

  • Strength Speed

  • Absolute Strength

Training the abilities of this continuum primarily develops the functional factors of Strength and Power.

The second is the Force-Structure-Vegetative Continuum.  

  • Absolute Strength

  • Hypertrophy

  • Muscular Stamina

Training the abilities of this continuum primarily develops the structural factors of Strength.

Here are the definitions of the modalities of Strength/abilities-

The definitions of Strength

Force and Intensity

A direct positive relationship exists between the lift's Intensity and the barbell's force. Your one-rep maximum (1RM) is your Force maximum for the specific lift. This is your maximum intensity for the lift, representing your Absolute Strength for the lift.

The term maximum maximorum refers a maximum of maximums; it is a Latin term meaning the "greatest of the greats."

Your Bench Press 1RM is the Force maximum maximorum for the muscles of your upper body; the weight you can lift for a 1RM in this lift is the heaviest weight your upper body can overcome.

The Back Squat is the same for the lower body.

The deadlift represents the Force Maximum Maximorum for your entire body; this is the position/movement in which your body displays its full force capacity.

These lifts are then your body's purest expressions of Absolute Strength; this is the reason they became the events of the sport of Powerlifting.

Absolute Strength is the fulcrum ability of the spectrum between the two continuums, and all other abilities depend more on it or less (besides reactive ability). All abilities are developed using a specific intensity range. Since absolute strength represents your 100%, all other abilities’ intensities are percentages of it. To a large extent, Absolute Strength is a rising tide of water that raises all ships (the other abilities), so Absolute Strength is important in the training program of any athlete/client.

Since Absolute Strength manifests only with the big barbell lifts, these lifts are also the most potent means of developing other abilities on the spectrum.

The Intensity-Reps Matrix

The following matrix shows the relationship between intensity and the number of reps performed in a set and where each ability lands accordingly. The table assumes that the lifter is moving the barbell with full volitional momentum (moving as fast as possible), and all tables and graphics in the article take the same preclusion.

Strength Training Intensity - Reps Matrix

The Force-Structure-Vegetative Continuum

Your development of the abilities of the F-S-V continuum is dependent on performing a significant amount of Work in a set of reps.

Work = Force x Distance

Work is the force of the bar (its weight) multiplied by the distance you moved it against gravity.  Here, we are concerned with the total summed distance of all the reps in a set.

We develop muscular stamina with Low to Moderate intensity and extensive reps per set (As Many Reps As Possible or near to it). This type of work develops pain tolerance and causes a high level of (the “burn”) in the working muscles- training your muscles’ ability to metabolize lactate for sustained energy. This ability is essential for endurance athletes like rowers, distance runners, swimmers, and cyclists.

Marathon Runners

Muscular Hypertrophy requires a certain critical level of intensity.  If the weight is too light, it will not cause muscular protein degradation, which is necessary for muscle fibers to grow bigger and stronger during recovery post-training.  The muscular protein degradation-rebuilding process also requires significant Work, so sets with sub-maximal and maximal intensities in which <5 reps are possible do not demand enough work for optimal hypertrophy-specific training. Optimal Hypertrophy training is performed with Moderately-High to HIgh intensity for extensive reps per set.

Performing extended sets to develop Hypertrophy or Muscular Stamina is known as the Repetition Method.

Performing a set with Maximal Intensity (>97%) to Develop Absolute Strength is known as the Max Effort Method.

BOdybuilder in the gym

The following image shows where the abilities of the F-S-V continuum fall on the Force-Reps curve.

The Force-Structure-Vegetative Continuum

The Velocity-Power-Force Continuum

The abilities of the V-P-F continuum are expressions of Power.

Power = Work / Time

Speed-Strength and Strength-Speed are the physiological abilities of Power.

Power is the Work performed in a rep divided by the time is took to complete it.  Power is higher when the weight is moved with greater Velocity.

Velocity = Distance / Time

Speed is the physiological manifestation of Velocity  Your Speed is determined by your Reactive Ability- the ability to realize an unloaded movement quickly.  Sports examples of Reactive ABility are a quick jab in Boxing or a prick in Fencing.

Boxer throwing a jab

collegiate fencing

Force is very low in Reactive Ability actions, so we don’t train it with weights. We train Reactive Ability (Acyclic Speed) using visual or audial signals to trigger an athlete's performance of quick unloaded action.

Fatigue has a negative effect on velocity.  For this reason, reps per set must be low (<=5) to develop the abilities of Power; this is known as the Dynamic Effort Method.

In a Speed-Strength set, the Velocity is higher than the Force. Speed-strength manifestations in sports include jumps in basketball, power punches in Boxing, or kicks in Muay Thai.

College basketball

In a Strength-Speed set, the Force is higher than the Velocity.  Sports examples are a football lineman blocking or a sumo wrestler colliding with an opponent.

High school football

Movements like throws in Judo, Greco-Roman, or Free-style wrestling are sorts of hybrid displays of Speed Strength - Strength Speed Power.

Collegiate Wrestling

Most bat-and-ball and combat sports athletes require versatile power- the adaptation to both Speed Strength and Strength Speed training. 

The following graphic shows where the abilities of the V-P-F continuum lie on the Velocity-Force curve.

The Velocity-Power-Force Curve

Reps-Per-Set and the Spectrum

The following table gives a complete vision of the relationship between intensity and reps per set and the spectrum ability their combinations develop.  It also shows the designation of each combination according to the legendary Weightlifting Coach A.S. Prilepin and his foundational intensity-reps chart (“Prilepin’s Chart) and the standard Rating of Perceived Effort (RPE) designation, which is very popular in the world of competitive Powerlifting.  

lifting Reps per set table

This table is useful for a coach or trainer designing a barbell program to develop specific abilities in an athlete or client.

This table shows why the major barbell lifts are so useful; we can use them to develop every modality of strength according to the specific performance requirements of an athlete/client.

The lifter can perform the Explosive Strength Deficit test and the results should be used to direct training toward either Dynamic Effort or Repetition Methods depending on whether they need to develop their Explosiveness (functional) or build more muscle mass (structural).


I set out in this article to give the reader a comprehensive view of the basic modalities of strength and to provide the understanding that these are physiological abilities.  I believe if you are reading this conclusion you now have that knowledge.  The information in this article, combined with the previous installments of Strength and Movement, gives those interested in developing fitness a solid footing to start organizing training and understanding performance.  In the future, I will go into the integrality of the ability spectrum for holistic fitness development, the elemental strengths from which these main abilities of the spectrum arise, and periodizing the development of abilities according to specific training purposes and goals.  Strength is Life, and Life is Strength, so stay tuned.

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