May the Force be with You

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Today’s workout:

ME Box Squats

GHD (glute-ham developer)/step ups on high box. 8/10. 2-3 sets

Combo Catch o’ the Day: Rumi.

1 sandbag of moderate weight

side deadlifts (aka ’suitcase deadlifts’) 7 per side
shouldered squats (alternate sandbag from one shoulder to the other by pressing it up over the head after each squat) 7 per side
get ups (sandbag on shoulder) 7 per side
burpee/clean/press 7

4 rounds for time (or 2 rounds with a much heavier sandbag).


It isn’t so complicated. Exercise is the art of force development. The only reason to bring in discussion of muscle fiber types or metabolic pathways is to confuse the general public. We don’t isolate fiber types and we shouldn’t be focusing on individual metabolic pathways unless we’re specializing, and then the point is redundant, since, by specializing, we already would be focusing on individual metabolic pathways.

Exercise has to do with force development. Even the big equations we often throw around (work = force x displacement, [mechanical] power = force x velocity/time or [physics] power = work [force x displacement, remember)/ time) usually have Force as a key factor somewhere within them.

Exercise is the art of force development, plain and simple. Even books and websites define strength as “the ability to generate force.” Training is teaching the body when and how to generate force. Mobility? How to move through ranges of motion by reducing forces in some areas and increasing it in others for the sole purpose of generating force safely during other movements. Speed? Force applied quickly. Endurance? Efficient, low level (or staggered-level) Force generation over a long period of time.

See? All force development. So why make it any more difficult to explain than that? Once again, I introduce the Spectrum of Strength:


Since strength is defined as “the ability to generate force,” then it wouldn’t be incorrect to call this the Spectrum of Force Development. The phrase ‘strength and conditioning’ might be considered a bit redundant, since, again, it is ALL the ability to generate force, hence, it is ALL strength. If you train across the spectrum, then there is no need to worry what ‘muscle fiber type’ or ‘metabolic pathway’ you’re dealing with, since neither concept works in a vacuum. The physical culture doesn’t focus on isolating body parts, so why should we get caught up in fibers and energy systems?

“Put the bar on the ground and pick it up a bunch of different ways.” Dan John’s 9th Commandment of Lifting, which I’ve quoted perhaps too many times before, can be a recipe for freedom against gravity’s dogma for more than just exercise selection. ‘Pick it up a bunch of different ways’ means more than just multiple exercises. It means pick it up fast, heavy, for many reps, for time, for a given duration or carry it a certain distance. Create force a bunch of different ways. Simple. Not easy, but simple.


Recent media silliness

The Sacramento Bee was kind enough to print my reply to a gawd-awful article they ran a couple of weeks ago. The original article was first seen in the Chicago Tribune, quoting a figure competitor who, in one of her pictures, actually is holding little pink dumbbells. I thank Sam McManis for making them run my retort. It seems every time we make a small stride towards educating the public, someone like Kristal Richardson sets us back a decade or so.


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Showing 8 comments
  • Jack

    Great piece of writing! Love this website.


  • saulj

    “Exercise is the art of force development”

    I think you left something out here. An athlete’s body reacts to training in a very predictable, scientific way. I would agree that connecting an athlete to their body and the physical universe through exercise is an art. How their body adapts to that exercise in definitely not art. For instance, you aren’t going to generate as much force on a bar by dead lifting with in appropriate hip elevation/position. There is no art in that, it is purely physics (i.e. science). The art is in getting the lifter to find the appropriate hip position on their own (i.e. in the “real” world or on the platform).

    “If you train across the spectrum, then there is no need to worry what ‘muscle fiber type’ or ‘metabolic pathway’ you’re dealing with, since neither concept works in a vacuum. The physical culture doesn’t focus on isolating body parts, so why should we get caught up in fibers and energy systems?”

    The physical culture shouldn’t get caught up in fibers because muscle fibers are the way your body adapts to the movements you need to do. The physical culture doesn’t train for muscle types, i.e. the adaptations your body makes, they train for specific outcomes i.e. the results those adaptations will produce. However, the physical culture should be aware that exercise is really a dialog between the system of the external world (a subset of which are the forces you describe) and internal world of the body. It is very important for the mind, the organizer of the external world, to understand the language of the body, i.e. the energy systems. I agree that we don’t need to get “caught up” in the actual adaptations the body makes (e.g. fiber types), but we do need to understand why the body adapts a certain way so that we can communicate (train) with it to make it perform in the way that we want it to. Simply put, if a person in the physical culture has to perform a task that takes between 2 and 4 minutes they should know the adaptations the body counts on to make that happen, otherwise they really can’t train to meet that objective.


    P.S. The more serious strength professionals link to these inane articles, the more that we validate them.

  • chip

    So my posts have now become inane?

    Your metabolic pathways don’t, as I mention, work in a vacuum. Your 2-4 minute example will differ per activity depending on the intensity, therefore training across the strength/force development spectrum can prepare a body for the different intensities (which can utilize more than one metabolic pathway). Learning about them is never a bad thing, but not seeing them as simply the energy sources for force development is giving them too much power (and often confusing the matter). Once again, look at your equations. Force is almost always included somewhere within the major equations we utilize in exercise science. It is the common denominator of exercise.

    In other words, how do you train an energy system? Develop force that the energy system is dedicated to create. Bingo.

    As for art and science, they need to coexist equally, which is exactly what you’re saying (I assume). I’m just sick of writing ‘art and science’ since it has become so cliche. Even within art, there is a science, as most art teachers and serious students will tell you.

  • saulj

    Your posts are not inane 🙂 The article from the Chicago Tribune was what I was referring to, should have been more clear. They, the Chicago Tribune, are under Chapter 11 now, go figure.

    Got your book Monday, working my way though it at lunches.

  • chip

    Coincidentally, the Sacramento Bee, who ran that article locally, is suffering financial hardships as well. Hmmmm.

  • Andy

    More exercises to avoid:

    1) Lifting from the floor
    Deadlifting isn’t the only fast track to paralysis. Any lifting of objects heavier than three pounds from the floor may result in shortness of breath, split pants, spinal injury or death. Try using a dolly next time you drop your infant on the floor. Your back will thank you for it.

    Yes, walking is an effective and affordable mode of transportation. It is also quite dangerous, and can lead to tripping, slips and falls, and possibly death from overexertion. There are a number of electric wheelchairs and scooters on the market these days. Try one of these out…you’ll stay safe and zoom past your skinny counterparts as you head to the mini mart for Twinkies and 40’s.

    3) Sexual intercourse
    Most of us are familiar with the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. But did you know that sexual injuries account for 70 percent of all hospitalizations in the nation? Masturbation is a safer alternative, but be careful not to overdo it–excessive self-relief can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure, spontaneous combustion, death, flood, famine and sticky sheets.

  • chip

    Does the safety of masturbation cancel out if it is on an electric wheelchair?

  • Bryan

    Hey Chip, hows the DVD going? I have read your book and read your blogs accasionally, and like you philisophies on training.

    I agree that the general public does not need to know anything about muscle fiber types or metabolic pathways; they just need to move more period. As coaches and trainers we need to understand how different muscle fibers work and how our bodies rely on different types of energy. I wouldn’t train a football player the same way I would train a long distance runner. I would still train all levels of strength across the spectrum, but I would emphasis different areas for individual athletes. Understanding the sport an athlete plays allows you to put more emphasis on the type of strength that will make that athlete perform better.

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