Introduction: Minimum Strength and Conditioning?
I dislike minimum guidelines. The whole idea is antithetical to my existence. I am in the business of maximum health, maximum performance, maximum strength, maximum speed, maximum conditioning,1 rep maximums – maximum, Maximum, MAXIMUM, ad nauseum.
When I work with clients, we are in pursuit of an ideal. Strength and conditioning are the most important factors in these regards. Along with nutrition and recovery, proper strength and conditioning are what make washboard abs and champion-level athletes. More is always the goal; less is never acceptable. Today, I will change my thinking just a little…
Reality-Based Defense is Not Maximum Sports Performance. In reality-based defense, staying alive is the goal. There are no medals for first, second, and third place.
As such, strength and conditioning are not the most important factors. In the hierarchy of factors important to survival, strength and conditioning fall behind the following:
- Length of startle response
- Ability to react efficiently
- Willingness to strike effectively
Only after the appropriate skills acquisition has taken place, i.e. shortening of the startle response, instruction in evasion or defense and attack, etc., do strength and conditioning become important factors. Essentially, if you do not have the skills to survive the initial attack, your strength and conditioning levels are of little consequence, especially if the assailant has a weapon and is of comparable or greater size. Given these facts, there are some basic assumptions that must be understood.
Assumptions / Definitions
Armed Forces / Law Enforcement Strength Norms
The strength norms used by the armed forces – army, navy, air force, and marines, as well as the various law enforcement agencies – SWAT, state police, etc., are not good indicators to use for reality-based fighting.
These organizations place a dual emphasis on overall health as well as combat readiness. All of these organizations rely heavily on equipment, i.e. weapons, other than the human body, to achieve their ends. I don’t know about you, but I don’t carry an M-16, a .45 mm, or a gunship in my back pocket.
The combat training for the armed and law enforcement services is typically geared to prolonged offensive or defensive actions. In reality-based fighting, the encounter is frequently over in less than 3 seconds. As such, strength endurance is of little consequence – you either win or lose – quickly.
Height / Weight Charts as Predictors for Strength
Height and weight charts have little to no significance in the determination of strength norms for reality-based fighting.
This statement may be a little misleading, since larger people tend to have a greater maximal strength, and thus a greater mechanical advantage, over smaller people. Still, in reality-based fighting, your attacker is your attacker, whether they conveniently weigh 98 lbs, or are a very inconvenient 250. Since you never know what size package you are going to be confronted with, we will dispense with height and weight charts.
Sex as a Basis for Predicting Strength Norms
Sex should not be a distinguishing factor in determining strength norms for reality based fighting.
Equal rights do not apply to street fighting. A 180 / 150 / 210 lb man snatches a 90 / 110 / 140 lb women’s purse. Or assaults her, or rapes her. Men tend to be larger than their female victims, but this is not always the case. As a result, our strength norms should not be based on an assailant’s theoretical mass, but on our own. This kind of strength is called relative strength.
Relative Strength / Maximal Strength
Relative strength is strength in comparison to one’s own bodyweight.
Maximal strength is an individual’s ability to lift a maximal weight one time.
In many attacks, especially in those against women by men, the assailant has a distinct size, weight, or strength advantage over his victim. As such, relative strength, or the ratio of strength to one’s bodyweight, becomes critical.
Example: Suppose you have two people, one weighing 110 lbs, and one weighing 180lbs. If the 110 lb individual can bench press 110 lbs, they have a relative strength ratio of 110:110, or 1, for that lift.
If the 180 lb person can bench press 170 lbs, even though they’re maximum strength is higher for that particular lift (because they lifted a higher maximum) their relative strength ratio is only 170:180 or .94, for that lift.
In the case of this example, who will be able to work with their respective bodyweight more effectively? Obviously, the 110 lb individual. As such, the 110 lb individual has greater relative strength.
There are three energy systems, or ways to convert energy in the human body. One of them involves the use of oxygen, and two do not.
The energy system that uses the addition of oxygen to create energy in the form of ATP (adenine tri phosphate) in the human body is called the aerobic energy system. It has a high ability to create ATP, or energy, but it needs time to do so. Peak aerobic energy production begins after 120 seconds.
Two minutes is about the amount of time you need to get cold-cocked with a bottle, stabbed, and beaten, with about 90 or more seconds for your assailant to give your broken remains a few kicks for good measure, run to the end of the block, and get a beer. Aerobic training, where street fighting is concerned, is a waste of time.
There are two anaerobic energy systems – the ATP-CP energy system, and the glycolitic energy system. The particulars of the two energy systems do not really matter for the purposes of this article; just understand that both systems peak in their energy output in less than 10 seconds and less than 50 seconds, respectively.
**The ATP-CP energy system is the only system that matters in reality-based fighting**
If you survive that long, then, and only then, does the glycolitic energy pathway become important.
Energy System Power / Energy System Capacity
The power of an energy system is its ability to produce at peak output. The capacity of the system is its ability to sustain any level of function. The table below sums up these terms and their relevance:
Energy System Type Power Capacity
ATP-CP Anaerobic 2-3 seconds (s) 10s
Glycolitic Anaerobic 10-20s 50-70s
Aerobic Aerobic 75s 120s +
Putting It All Together
So, given that your ability to run 3 miles and do 35 pushups doesn’t mean that much when it comes to fighting in the street, what does?
Strength Tests for Realfighting: What to Test
What follows is a list of appropriate strength tests and their minimum norms. Keep in mind that this is only a list, and does not provide instruction in the proper lifting technique, which will be covered in part II of this article.
The equipment necessary to perform these exercises is found in almost every gym of any consequence in the free world today. You will require an Olympic barbell set, a bench press, dumbbells, and a squat rack.
You should not, under any circumstances, require a weightlifting belt, knee wraps, etc. These lifts should be performed completely under your own power.
Regardless of age, sex, or weight, I recommend that if you are interested in maximizing your survival from an attack, you be able to produce the following minimum results in these strength tests:
Day 1: Upper Body
Flat Barbell Close Grip Bench Press: a one-repetition maximum (1RM) equal to or greater than 75% of your body weight.
Standing Mid Pronated Grip Straight Bar Curl: a one-repetition maximum (1RM) equal to 30% of your 1RM in the bench press.
Seated DB (dumbbell) External Rotation: 1 set of 8 repetitions on each side with a weight that is 9% of your 1RM in the bench press.
45° Incline DB Trap 3 Lift: 1 set of 8 repetitions on each side with a weight that is 10% of your 1RM in the bench press.
At the conclusion of these tests, you should call it a day, and return the next day for a second round of testing.
Day 2: Lower Body
The lower body tests vary depending on skill level. Assuming you can perform a back squat perfectly, and have no knee, hip, or back problems:
Back Squat: a 1RM equivalent to 160% of your flat bench press.
If you do not possess the skill to perform this lift safely, then perform the following two lifts:
Barbell Petersen Step Up: 1 set of 8 repetitions on each leg with a weight that is 74% of your 1RM in the bench press.
Barbell Split Squat: 1 set of 8 repetitions on each side with a weight that is 66% of your 1RM in the bench press.
By performing both of these lifts, you will get a clear determination of your leg strength at the beginning and the end of knee and hip extension. FYI, most people will fail to meet the lower body requirement, due to weakness in the hip extensor / knee extensor areas.
Day 3: Glycolitic Capacity
If you have performed these tests and come out with satisfactory numbers, then the following test is for you. If your numbers were lacking in any of the areas, then this last test is a waste of time. It bears repeating a second time:
If you do not possess the strength to meet the above criteria, you are better off investing your time and energy in strength training, rather than trying to meet this last criteria.
Quarter mile sprint on the track: after appropriate warm up, sprint one lap around the track. Less than 90 seconds with your lungs still intact (even if they don’t feel like it) earns you a passing grade.
THE REALFIGHTING MINIMUM FOR STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING, part II: TESTING THE ONE REP MAX (1RM)
Introduction / Recap
In part I of The Realfighting Minimum for Strength & Conditioning, I introduced several concepts. The overarching theme is that relative strength and maximal strength are the only factors truly important to test to predict one’s ability to survive or prevail during a real attack.
I then went on to define the terms relative strength and maximal strength, anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, and the difference between the power and the capacity of an energy system.
Finally, I laid forth a number of exercises for the upper and lower body that, tested together, would give a decent general indication of fight-readiness. The minimum satisfactory results were posted as well. For a further recap of any of these points, please refer to Part I of this article.
At this point, we will discuss the testing procedures in detail.
1RM (One Repetition Maximum) Testing
The one rep max test is an excellent test to determine relative strength and maximal strength. After a suitable warm-up, the subject performs the given lift in successively heavier single efforts until they find the heaviest weight that they can lift with proper technique.
You can theoretically perform 1RM testing on any lift, but in general, you should stick to lifts that fit the following requirements:
- The success or failure of the lift is easy to ascertain.
- The exercise technique can be standardized enough so that individual differences in anatomy are minimized.
- The exercises tested should have a high degree of transfer to the activity in question.
The first exercise in any 1RM test is called the reference lift. As the name implies, it is the exercise, or lift, that all the other movements will be based on. You can pair the reference lift with another exercise, as long as the second movement works antagonistic muscle groups. For the purposes of the Realfighting strength test, I chose the two upper body exercises that most closely simulate abilities called for in fighting – punching/striking/pushing (bench press), and choking/grappling (reverse curl).
1RM Testing Procedures for the Principle Lifts – Day 1: Upper Body
To illustrate how to correctly perform the 1RM test, review the following chart. After setting up your exercise stations for bench press and standing reverse curl, perform successive sets in the following manner:
Set 1: Approximately 40% of your 1RM x 4 reps on a 4010 tempo
Set 2: Approximately 50% of your 1RM x 4 reps on a 4010 tempo
Set 3: Approximately 60% of your 1RM x 2 reps on a 4010 tempo, rest 90 seconds
Set 4: Approximately 70% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 5: Approximately 75% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 6: Approximately 80% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 7: Approximately 85% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 8: Approximately 90% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 9: Approximately 95% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 10: Approximately 97 ½ % of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s
Set 11: Approximately 100% of 1RM x 1 rep on a 40X0 tempo; rest 120s.
Assuming that your initial guess of your 1RM is pretty accurate, you may not need all eight single attempts to find your maximum ability for that day unless your central nervous system is really advanced. If you have never trained before in your life, or have not trained recently, you can assume that your central nervous system will not be very advanced.
Accessory Lift Testing
Two minutes after your last single attempt on your primary lifts, pull out your trusty calculator, and perform some basic math. Calculate 10% of your 1RM in the bench press, and then perform the 45° Incline DB Trap 3 Lift for 8 reps with that weight.
This test is a pass or fail test for structural integrity of the shoulder girdle, specifically the area of the trapezius 3 fibers. If you can do the 8 reps on both arms, good for you; you pass. How badly you fail is a function of how many reps you do not get, or how out of balance you are from left to right sides.
Two minutes after this effort, follow the same procedure, using 9% of your bench press, for Seated DB External Rotation. Again, 8 reps passes, less than that fails.
Tempo – What It Means
The tempo is the speed at which you perform an exercise. It is another variable, just like number of sets, number of repetitions, rest period, etc., that can change the difficulty level of an exercise.
To translate a given tempo, such as 4010, remember the following:
- The first number of the tempo is the speed of the descent given in seconds,
- The second number is the length of the pause at the bottom of the movement,
- The third number is the speed of the ascent, or lift,
- The fourth number is the length of the pause at the top.
When you have an exercise – such as the bench press – whose first movement requires you to lower the weight, follow the tempo just as it is written. First you lower the weight to the chest in 4 seconds, then you press the weight to the top in one second. You literally follow the tempo in order: 4 seconds lowering, no pause at the bottom, 1 second lifting, no pause at the top.
If you have an exercise where you must lift the weight first, although the tempo will still be written as 4010, you must start at the 3rd number, or the lifting speed, to begin the movement.
This is the case in the standing reverse curl. In this instance, you start at the “1” – lift in 1 second, no pause at the top, lower the weight in 4 seconds, no pause at the bottom.
Technical failure for a lift occurs when you cannot lift the weight, or cannot maintain the eccentric (lowering speed) tempo. So, if you are performing the bench press and are using your chest as a trampoline for the bar to get the lift, you have reached technical failure.
Rules of Testing
When performing maximal strength tests, follow these rules:
- A spotter should be used for all 1RM testing. Failure to use a spotter is negligent on your part. Always test 1RM’s with a spotter.
- Adhere to technique.
- Adhere to tempo.
- Rest periods in between sets are as important as the sets themselves – they must be followed.
- Do not test what you do not know. If you do not have proficiency in weight training, a formal instructional period is recommended. Consider hiring a qualified coach in your area. [link” Consider hiring a qualified coach in your area” to http://www.physiqology.com/Contact.html]
- Do not test more often than twice per year. One rep max testing is taxing to the central nervous system. You need to give your body adequate recovery.
- Never test more than two major lifts per day. As such, you should test the upper body and lower body on separate days.
1RM Testing Procedures for the Principle Lifts – Day 2: Lower Body Back Squat
The lower body tests vary depending on skill level. Assuming you can perform a back squat perfectly, and have no knee, hip, or back problems, then use the same 1RM protocol listed above for testing the squat. Keep in mind that the squat tested is very specific in nature. If you can’t do it correctly, do not test it.
If you elect not to test the Back Squat, you will need to test the two accessory leg movements – the Barbell Petersen Step up, and the Barbell Back Split Squat. Use the following methodology:
Barbell Petersen Step Up
Determine your test weight: 74% of your 1RM in the bench press.
Warm up with your own body weight for 6 reps.
Increase the weight to 50% of your test weight; perform 4 reps.
Increase the weight to 75% of your test weight; perform 2 reps.
Increase the weight to 90% of test weight; perform another 2 reps. Rest 90s.
Load the bar to 74% of your 1RM in the bench press. Perform 8 reps with each leg. Rest 120s.
Barbell Back Split Squat
Determine your test weight: 74% of your 1RM in the bench press.
Follow the same protocol as for the Barbell Petersen Step up.
In part III, we will discuss exercise performance.
For more information on 1RM testing and other training information, visit us at PHYSIQOLOGY – The Science of Personal Training – www.physiqology.com