All Show And No Go? The 5 Types Of Strength You Need

Don’t Be A Paper Tiger. If You Look Like An Animal, You Better Preform Like One.


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You’ve seen those guys. Complete mirror hogs, who do endless sets of bicep curls, not once taking part in any functional movement. They don’t touch a weight heavier than a 20 and have trouble breathing after a flight of stairs. Sure, they might be stronger than you if the event were max reps on the cable curl machine, but for the sake of real world strength, they are essentially sedentary.

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DO NOT BE THIS GUY. Be the guy who looks like he can kill, and does so! What is the point of having muscle if it doesn’t work for you? Everyone’s goal should be to look like a bodybuilder but perform like an athlete. In order to do so, one must focus on developing all aspects of their strength. Generally speaking, there are five main types of strength: agility, endurance, explosive strength, maximum strength and relative strength.

1. Agility

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There is more to strength than simply maximum strength. You need to be able to use your strength both quickly and accurately. Agility is the ability to maintain balance while moving with speed and power. Without agility, one would simply fall over when attempting any sort of athletic movement, as your ability to control your strength would be lacking (aka your agility).

Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews reacts after sacking Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

To improve agility, you must train your coordination and your central nervous system to operate at a higher level. Drills with cones or agility ladders are perfect for increasing agility, as they force you to change directions quickly and stick to a set pattern of movement. Throw agility training into your schedule twice a week, focusing on quality of movement and increasing speed. Keep the distances short, and pay attention to coordination.

2. Endurance

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How long does your strength last? Your ability to use your strength for any duration of time is endurance. Imagine a boxer in a fight; he has to have the endurance to keep punching for all twelve rounds. It doesn’t matter how hard your punches are if you can only deliver one punch before you run out of gas.


Endurance training is very simple; to improve endurance, train with both intensity and duration. For example, your first endurance workout of the week should be low intensity, but long duration. The second should be high intensity, but very short duration. Alternating workout types helps cover all your bases and prepares your cardiovascular system for any challenge.

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3. Explosive Strength

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Think jumping, sprinting, and punching. Explosive strength is your ability to demonstrate your strength explosively. This type of strength depends on how many muscle fibers you can contract, and the speed at which you can contract them. If someone is faster than you at sprinting, for example, it is because they are able contract more muscle fibers at a faster rate.


In order to increase the number of muscle fibers you can contract, you must train your central nervous system to recruit more fibers. This is done through explosive movements such as box jumps, broad jumps, and medicine ball throws and slams. Training in an explosive manner forces your body to recruit more fibers, allowing you to call them into action in the future.

4. Maximum Strength

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Maximum strength is very similar to explosive strength as it relies on your ability to recruit muscle fibers. Your maximum strength is essentially the same thing, as the only difference being that you are lifting weight along with your body. The difference between a jump squat and a squat is that one is done with a loaded barbell.


To improve maximum strength, train your central nervous system to use more muscle fibers. The best way to do this is with a combination of heavy weight lifting and explosive strength training. Strength training and explosive training tend to feed off each other as they both rely on muscle fiber recruitment. Becoming stronger will tend to boost all aspects of your athletic ability because almost every movement and exercise will become easier if you are able to recruit more muscle fibers.

5. Relative Strength

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How many pull-ups can you do? Not many? This means your strength, relative to your body weight, is weak. If you can do, say 25 pull-ups, then the reverse is true. You have a high relative strength. Relative strength is enormously important for sports performance. For example, if you increase your relative strength, your ability to sprint, jump and push off from the ground will be vastly improved.

April 14, 2013: Petera Wilson at the Nike Football Training Camp in Memphis, TN. Photo by Tom Hauck.

In general, the leaner you are, the higher your relative strength will be. Fat is dead weight on your body, and the reason your pull-up number is dismal is because you have too much of it. The best way to increase your relative strength is to lean out while increasing your maximal strength. Make sure to lean out slowly, however, as a drastic reduction in calories will reduce maximal strength, sabotaging your efforts.

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