I was reading Survival of the Fittest, not too long ago, and it got me thinking about the different strengths needed for different sports. For example, when I was watching the Strongman competition on TV, I noticed that the strength of those very powerful men was tremendous. Whether it was lifting the back end of a car for reps, throwing kegs, pulling the bus up the incline via a rope, or pressing the log—it is beyond question that the competition demonstrates great feats of strength.
Who is strong? What’s the gauge or the measure of strength? Is it even possible to have a universal description and fit all these strong people from across the sports world landscape into one category?
How do we compare the strength of a gymnast to the strength of a powerlifter? Those strengths won’t necessarily crossover into the other’s playground. Is it fair to compare a swimmer that obviously possesses great cardio-muscle strength and stamina to the marathon runner who just has cardio strength and endurance? Or compare one dude that can bend nails and tear books, to the dude that can’t do either one, but can hang from a pole like a flag? It’s all strength, isn’t it?
What I found from my reading of Survival of the Fittest, is that there are many different types of strengths we can possess.
Trying to figure out which strength is the ultimate strength is equivalent to trying to figure out who is the greatest athlete of all time. Who is the greatest home run hitter, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or the Babe? Is Jordan better than Wilt or Jabbar better than Magic? What about Carl Lewis, Michael Phelps, Bruce Jenner, Tiger, Herschel, Bo Jackson, Ali, Jack LaLanne, Jesse Owens, Dan Gable, or Jim Thorpe? I could go on, but who is the best? I say that they all are.
I can tell you about one athlete that I witnessed in high school back in the 70s that I’d put up against anyone. His name is Larry Kinnebrew. He was the State Champ in heavyweight wrestling, state champ in the discus and shot, won the 100 yard dash in 9.6, ran a leg on the region champ 440 yard dash team, won the area weightlifting meet, and was All State in football as a RB/LB (actually was named both). He could even dunk a basketball, and let me mention he was 6’1″ 245 pounds. (Although that’s standard size for today’s football player, back in the 70’s high school, that was huge.) He played for the Bengals and Bills in the NFL.
He can chef up some mean BBQ too.
Note the size difference:
1. Bodyweight Strength
If it’s not the ultimate genuine physical strength, it probably should be. Watching the gymnasts hang, flip, twist, hold, etc., through all the different contorted body positions, I come away saying, “That’s Strong.” Can a Gymnast bench 500 pounds and squat 700 pounds? Does it even matter if they can’t? They can suspend themselves in midair at arms length holding onto rings in an iron cross.
The body is our “equipment” we use to play in sports. It has to be trained in its own domain without the use of any traditional equipment to be functionally strong. The body is a tool all to itself. The stronger the body becomes by using its own weight, the more prepared the athlete becomes. Let me say this about bodyweight strength-—if you are fighting for your life hanging off a ledge or a cliff, who cares how much you can squat?
2. Functional Movement Strength
I love this one, the movement athletes. It’s what most of us do, the type of athletes we train, and across the board, the strength needed for most sports we play. Most of our idols or heroes play in this arena. My favorite all time athletes are in this group; Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Willie Mays, Bill Walton, Edwin Moses, Jack Lambert, and Fran Tarkenton, to name a few. This is where speed, power, strength, flexibility, and pure athleticism combine to form the functional athlete. These are the athletes that push the limits in their respective sports. They break the records and raise the bar for the next generation. Everything they do bears some attribute of speed, strength, stamina, power, and endurance.
3. Cardio Strength
Cardio endurance is another strength. These long-distance travelers may not look the part, but they still possess cardio strength that the strong guys usually don’t possess. Marathon runners possess strength endurance to climb long, slow inclines and run through city streets. Back in the day, a five-minute mile was excellent. That was the time to crack—then it was four and half minutes—then four minutes. Now the world record is 3:43. That takes a combination of endurance and speed strength.
Speed is a form of strength also. Speed engages the muscular system yet taxes the cardiovascular system also. Long-distance speed is probably the rarest strength, but those that have it, must use it often to maintain it. I heard a saying once, “If you were the slowest gazelle in the pack on the plains you would probably be someone’s lunch that day. If you were the slowest lion in the pack on the plains, you might not get to eat that day. So whether you are a gazelle or a lion, it’s best to be moving fast often.”
4. Powerlifting, Isolation, Strongman Strength
I grouped all these together because they seem to have the same blood-line—brute strength. These guys are mad strong, like my friend Joe Majors who competed world-wide and squatted 903, benched 655, and pulled 760 in Germany. And that was after both triceps were surgically repaired. (Not too shabby for a guy in his 50s!)
Even taking it down to the nail benders, arm wrestlers, and brick busters, brute strength is strongman stuff. I saw a guy curl a hundred pound dumb bell once. Back in the 80s at a charity function, he curled half his body weight of 65 pounds 1,088 times in six hours!
The rule was you could pause for three seconds between reps. What was funny about it was the camera crew filmed only a small portion at first. They left for lunch, came back and he was still going. The crowd really got into it with him around rep 600 to shoot for 1000 reps. He was crying, hands were shredded, but he made it. Was that strength or endurance? Or just crazy?
Strength is wrapped in different packages. All of us possess one or more of these strengths. It really isn’t a cancellation of strength if a gymnast can’t bench 500 pounds or if a powerlifter can’t do pull ups. Both are very strong at their craft.
But there is one strength that is the truth serum. The one strength that defines the elite, the best. The one strength that drives the person to finish, to conquer, and to reach the level of accomplishment. And that is…
5. Mental Strength
I once asked a group of high school athletes what they thought the strongest part of the body was. The answers were typically the back muscles or quads. However, it’s the mind that is the strongest part of the body. Everything begins in the mind.
If it isn’t resting in the five inches between the ears, then more than likely it isn’t going to happen. Mental drive and self-belief is the ultimate strength that is the universal description that we can attach to all these strong people. And it applies, not just to the athlete, it also applies to any and all that use their mental capacity to accomplish their dreams, goals, or ideas.
The refusal to lose is powerful, more powerful than the biceps or pecs. More powerful than the iron cross or picking up the stones and placing them on the top shelf. Without belief and the self-drive, we don’t hear Ali yell, “I’m the Greatest”. We don’t see Bobby Thompson and the “Shot heard around the World”. We don’t know about Wilt’s 100 points, Michael Phelps eight gold medals, The Williams Sisters’ ten Wimbledon Championships between them, or Jack LaLanne pulling a row of boats swimming in handcuffs.
The mind is the ultimate strength. Mental strength is the only comparison between the strongest participants in the different sports categories. And it’s an equal comparison. They are all equally strong, for without their mental strength, there would be no strength at all.
Who is the strongest? The one who thinks he is.
About Russell Andrews, BS, DC, HKC, FMS, SSC: Russell Andrews is a Chiropractor, and is certified in kettlebells, certified in functional movement, certified in strength and conditioning. Russell’s focus is training young Athlete’s in functional movement. He maintains Thunder and Lightning Performance Training in Cartersville Georgia. He is a speaker for the Glazier Clinic speaking on Building the Functional Athlete to Improve Performance, and Functional Training for the High School Athlete. He has over 35 years experience as a lifter and over 25 years as a trainer. He also maintains a private Chiropractic service in Cartersville.
You can find him at: Thunder and Lightning Performance Training