Friday, January 24, 2020

What Is Strength? - By Jim Duggan

This is the title of an article that appeared in the July 1946 edition of "Strength and Health" magazine. It is also a question that has been asked - and debated- countless times over the years. Just about everyone who has ever "hoisted the steel" has asked themselves the same question. Yet, no matter how many times the question has been asked, there has never been a simple, standard answer. And, over seventy years after Bob Hoffman first posed the question of what is strength, we are still searching for an answer.

Let's start with the dictionary definition of strength: " The quality or state of being physically strong." Of course there are other words that are synonymous with strength. Power, vigor, brawn, are a few that come to mind. Many words to express the same idea. But for someone who lifts weights, there are definite opinions on what is considered strength.

In the original article, Bob Hoffman raises some valid questions in regards to the ultimate definition of strength. He mentions famous heavyweight boxers of that era, as well as prominent track and field athletes as examples of men who possess great Strength. He also mentions performing Strongmen of that time. Harness lifting was a popular way of demonstrating or displaying strength back then. But is moving a heavy weight a couple of inches off the ground a true barometer of Strength? Probably not. Nor is pulling a vehicle with one's teeth, or hair, which, apparently, were popular in many strongman performances.

It should come as no surprise that the "Father of World Weightlifting" believed that the best demonstration of strength is the ability to lift heavy weights. More specifically, the Olympic lifts were the best way to decide who is strong. Naturally, since Mr. Hoffman was a long-time coach of the US Weightlifting team, and produced and sold barbells, his opinion on the matter was a bit biased. But was he necessarily wrong in his statement?

While discussing the merits of Olympic Weightlifting, Mr. Hoffman admits that there are other factors that contribute to weightlifting success, besides brute strength. Leverage, whether it be favorable or unfavorable, will always play a role in a how much weight an athlete can lift overhead. Along with skill, speed, coordination and balance. This was true in 1946, and it is still true today. Simply put, the gold medal will not always go to the person with the most strength. Nevertheless, Mr. Hoffman still made the claim that the Clean and Jerk is the "greatest exhibition of strength and ability." He went on to make the additional statement "until we find a better way, the strongest man is the one who lifts the greatest weight overhead." But, in the seven decades after the article appeared, haven't we found a better way?

In the years since 1946, I think a better way has most certainly been found. The sport of Powerlifting became popular in the Sixties and Seventies. Naturally, as Powerlifting grew in popularity, the question arose: Who were the strongest athletes, Weightlifters or Powerlifters? I remember hearing that debate when I first began to lift weights back in the 1970s. I remember watching the 1976 Summer Olympics, and I'll never forget the super-heavyweight lifters being touted as the strongest men in the world. Later that year, the super-heavyweight Powerlifting champion was given the same unofficial title after the world championships. To make matters even more confusing, a year later there was a contest called the "World's Strongest Man," which was broadcast on television in the Fall of that year. This contest drew athletes from the sports of weightlifting, powerlifting, track and field, pro football, and even professional wrestling. Over the years, the sport of Strongman has evolved to the point where we now have a new class of strength athlete: competitive strongmen. Athletes who train for - and compete in- various strongman contests, which feature a variety of events.

I don't think that Mr. Hoffman, in his wildest dreams, could have imagined how the sport of strength has developed over the years. When I began lifting weights as a teenager, the popular question in the weight room was " How much can you Press?" Within a few years that question became "What do you Bench?" Now, many training facilities have an assortment of Stones, Logs, Yokes, and other training modalities. I don't believe that strength can be accurately tested, or demonstrated, with just one or two lifts. And, of course, back in 1946, Mr. Hoffman could not have predicted the proliferation of steroids, lifting suits, bench shirts, wraps, and all the other so-called advances which have cheapened the sport, and made a mockery of the idea of building - and measuring- strength the right way.

There is another interesting point that was made in the 1946 article. He goes on to say that while he admired lifting strength, he would not measure a man's strength only by his ability to lift heavy weights overhead. Mr. Hoffman believed that "Strength should be measured by the ability to do things. Many things." He made a point about the importance of endurance. "The ability to extend oneself to the limit when necessary and to keep going at the heavy work is my idea of real strength." Strength is of little avail if it cannot serve you in the many and diverse manners in which it can be used. Naturally, he was addressing these words to the working man. The man who worked in a physically demanding job. Back in the 1940s, this made up a big part of the workforce, and a large part of the "Strength and Health" readership. I don't think a steroid-bloated powerlifter in a double denim, triple-ply bench shirt would satisfy his idea of strength.

Lifting weights will benefit you in many ways. The way you feel, the way you look, and the things you can do with your strength you get from lifting. A variety of exercises is necessary to become stronger. Muscle, tendons, and ligaments need to be strengthened. Poundage progression is required to get stronger. Training consistently, and progressively will make you stronger. No matter what your profession, regardless of what sport you train for, lifting weights will build Strength. And Health.
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