Seriously, Why Get Strong Though?

A Pain-Free Functional Training Model You Will Be Able to Break Down and Implement TOMORROW!




Why is this the rallying cry of so many successful trainers and coaches in the fitness industry?

Why is this the common theme of the trainers who educate other trainers (vs the popular IG fitspo trainers who dance with weights)?

Why is strength training the most important aspect for delivering results to your clients?

And most importantly, why is strength training so often placed on a pedestal above “cardio”, “flexibility / mobility”, and “HIIT” training?


Let’s take a look at why strength training is the champ when compared to other qualities. And in the spirit of completeness, let’s also look at what we might be missing out on if other qualities are not trained in the same program. Here’s the three principle areas of consideration:

1) Return on Time Investment
2) Secondary and Tertiary Benefits
3) Opportunities for Continued Progress

But, before we even get into that, let’s try the seemingly impossible task of defining what strength training is. I say impossible simply because invariably people get caught up arguing what is “true” strength vs speed strength, endurance, power, etc etc etc which is all probably fine to discuss at the highest levels of paid competition, but is much less useful when talking about training our everyday clients (that pay our bills).

Strength training seeks to increase the amount of load that can be moved over a varied number of repetitions, in a variety of positions, through a variety of ranges, with a variety of loading implements, and with a variety of tempos.

So, that is the definition of strength that we are operating on: that “getting stronger” is not defined by a 1RM, a 5RM, your deadlift, “how much you bench bro?”, or any other singular measurement.

Now, let’s get back to the original target of this post: why does strength get the title belt? We’ll compare it to other popular fitness qualities/training styles.


This is probably the strongest argument for why you would pick only strength if you ever had to only pick one thing to focus on. And while only having to pick one thing may seem like an argument that doesn’t have real world considerations, it actually does. Peoples’ time is VERY limited. And that is why the answer of “just do all four” doesn’t work for many people. You could of course follow up a statement of “not having enough time” with your own condescending statement of “well how much time did you spend on IG?” and sound like an asshole, or we could just go ahead and move forward with the understanding that people do indeed have limited time available for a multitude of reasons.

With that limited time, we want to do the thing that gives the most benefits. Here is a simple table that shows why that’s strength training:



When you strength train the goal is to improve strength. Lifting weights is also, without question, the best way to add muscle. In addition to looking awesome, muscle mass has a lot of health benefits: it helps manage blood sugar, builds strength & stamina, and supports joints. Building muscle also helps you build bone as growth hormone acts on both types of tissue. Additionally, muscle helps you manage/use carbohydrates more effectively and this helps control body fat.

Strength training should encourage exercises which move with control through as large a range of motion as possible. “Loaded stretching” is proven to be a great technique for improving flexibility. Strength training also delivers good cardio-respiratory benefits for trainees, especially when utilizing supersets or smaller rest periods.

So, when you strength train, you are able to improve multiple aspects of fitness directly. Indirectly you also get the benefits of decreased injury risk, making cardio easier because you are generally stronger so your reps of cardio exercises represent a smaller percentage of your total strength meaning it’s easier, and you also get better at being able to move heavy stuff in life.

If you were to only perform cardio, which is what many people do, you would improve your cardio-respiratory fitness. That’s about it for direct benefit (in fact you would likely lose muscle mass over time, potentially become stiffer due to lack of moving through different ranges, and as a result of those two you would get weaker).

Indirectly you would improve your health: markers of heart health, mitochondrial health, blood pressure and mental health via stress management and the overall benefits of post-workout endorphins. You could also potentially experience better sleep, and you would recover better between anaerobic and strength sets if your program included strength or HIIT training.

If you were to only perform flexibility exercises, (like only going to yoga *we know there are various levels of yoga!*, or stretch classes) then you would of course improve your flexibility. But you would not really improve your strength. This could look like better end range strength assuming you were doing more intense stretching methods and not just passive holds.

You could also potentially improve your hypertrophy at the longer positions as there seems to be evidence that hypertrophy gainz potential can be muscle length specific, but ultimately you wouldn’t be getting near “beast mode” because you’d cap your intensity via load at whatever your bodyweight is. You would not improve your cardio-respiratory fitness much at all (certainly not beyond low to moderate aerobic endurance).

Mostly you would get better at being flexible. Indirectly, you would improve recovery from strength training, you may feel generally “looser” at rest, and you might find more efficiency in exercise as you attain positions easier vs actively pulling into them. However, those benefits would only be seen if doing other types of exercise.


Popular Stretches to Improve Flexibility

We have a tendency in the strength & conditioning and even the fitness world to dismiss flexibility training and its benefits. However, that is mostly due to the cost of time needed and how that might come at the expense of other qualities being trained. We have a great article by Dr. Justin that breaks down why.

Check out that article here

Of note however, is one particularly interesting reason why passive (aka somewhat relaxed) longer duration static holds may be of benefit to include in your training program. While strength training does indeed improve your flexibility, it specifically improves your active flexibility, which is often times referred to as your “mobility” or the range that you can actively move into.

But it does not do as much to improve your passive flexibility, that is your “relaxed” flexibility (because we know there is no true passive stretch). Improving your passive flexibility MAY decrease general feelings of tightness and feelings of needing to warm-up if trained over time. Just understand that to improve your “passive” flexibility, you would need to dedicate 15 cumulative minutes per muscle group / position per week that you wish to improve passively.

Broken up over multiple days, with 3-minutes being spent on a position the minimum time that would be advised to improve that position per session, this could be doable. The adaptations to flexibility training are not too dissimilar to strength training in this way: we know that in the first 4-8 weeks in strength training the majority of strength adaptations that take place are neurological, and that once those improve we can then start to experience more of the structural adaptations like bigger muscles and more robust connective tissue.

There seems to be evidence for the same in flexibility training, the first 4-8 weeks will in fact largely be neurological benefits that allow for deeper ranges, and only after that will the physical structural adaptations start taking place. It is somewhat pot-calling-the-kettle-black when we reference that stretch benefits are neurological and then go on to not say that the same is true of strength training ESPECIALLY at the beginning of a new program.

Additionally, there is a habit to say that “if you don’t keep stretching then you lose it” and saying that as though it’s a uniquely negative thing that applies to flexibility when in fact, if you don’t strength train you lose your strength, and if you don’t train your cardiovascular system you lose that fitness as well. Why we act like this is surprising and unique to flexibility is pretty weird. Related, once you spend the time to increase your flexibility, it takes less time to maintain it (just like strength training).

Wrapped up: there are indeed benefits to doing flexibility specific training in addition to strength training through ranges of motion if you have the time. Side bar to the side bar: if you identify as a strength coach you probably say strengthening through length, and if you identify as a “flexibility coach” you probably say loaded stretching. THEY’RE THE SAME THING, you’re just trying to control load through a larger range of motion.

The Ultimate Boot Camp Workout

If you were to only train HIIT (which we will define effectively as bootcamp style workouts where it is shorter rest time, circuits, and done at relatively high intensity vs “true” HIIT definition from studies in labs). HIIT provides exceptional strength and muscle and even cardio-respiratory benefits quickly, but then unfortunately plateaus.

And once people plateau they generally just try to double down on time or effort put into more HIITing, and ultimately end up burning out and hurt. There are certainly benefits to be had by implementing some higher intensity workouts 1-2 days per week in a complete training program, but as a standalone it could be argued that it would over time likely simply be a liability to your orthopedic or general health.

Simply put, strength training delivers more total benefits extending into other qualities than those other qualities benefit strength training. The optimal, of course, is to include them all.



Fun With Kettlebells, Clifton Harski, Dr. BG, and Big Meat

When we look at how much time it takes to keep progress coming, strength training just cannot be beat. This one is not even close.

This simply builds on the above: when you choose only strength training you will develop other qualities at the same time. When you only choose the other types of training, you don’t develop other qualities at the same time.

If we were to apply a 30-min training cap to each of the types of training, strength training would shine even further simply because:

• With HIIT, as we stated above you simply would not be able to keep progressing as you would only be able to increase reps, or decrease rest, for so long until the repetitive HIITing left you injured or burnt out.

• With “cardio”, if you have limited time you could keep progressing by aiming to perform more work (distance usually or some other output metric) in the same time and at certain heart rate zones, but ultimately if you want to increase your more pure aerobic fitness levels you simply must go for longer periods of time.

• With flexibility, if you had this time dedicated per day you should be able to keep improving that flexibility but other markers of fitness would fall over time.

• With strength training, due to its ability to improve other qualities we can make 30-minutes effective continually just by tweaking the emphasis in different training blocks.



This is the last reason that strength training is such a boss. Because we can get stronger in so many different ways, it means we can always shift our focus for a time and make new gainz.

With cardio the opportunity for continued progress and benefits start to wane after a certain amount of time. You just keep going longer. Or if you’re smart, you try to be able to do more work at the same level of exertion which is just you getting more efficient. Ultimately either of those things are great as performance goals, but it is pretty limited.

You could of course try and get better at multiple types of cardio endeavors (swim, bike, run, row, ski, ruck, hike, etc) but the reality is that it may lack enough novelty to really capture the interest of many people. And, at a certain level of engagement, those sports can have a really big price tag and require a really big garage.

With HIIT it should be clear by now that our opinion is that there simply is not really opportunity for continued progress if that is your only or even primary mode of training. It is not sustainable, and in fact eventually becomes detrimental over time.

With flexibility training there comes a point where you are just chasing flexibility performance for the sake of flexibility, and not just for the sake of feeling better while you are moving. And if you have the goals of performing the splits…cool.

But being able to perform the splits or other near circus levels of flexibility displays do not seem to carry any additional benefit with regard to injury prevention or performance than simply having modest flexibility levels. Certainly when compared to improving levels of strength.

With strength training, we effectively have endless possibilities for progression.



Top 7 Pain-Free Hacks For A Stronger Safer Deadlift |

Strength training seeks to increase the amount of load that can be moved over a varied number of repetitions, in a variety of positions, through a variety of ranges, with a variety of loading implements, and with a variety of tempos.

Pretty broad huh?

Definitely it is. But it is more specific than the classical definition of “the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to produce force.”

That broadness is why there can be so many further breakouts to get more granular such as:

Max Strength: Clif notes: a 1 rep max.
Strength Endurance: Clif notes: lots of reps. Over 20 imo.
Power (Speed): Clif notes: Moving loads faster.
Mobility Strength: Clif notes: Stronger in longer positions
Specific Strength: Clif notes: everything we do has a unique and specific way to do it

Some list even more, but past these five and it starts to get extremely nuanced.

Others: acceleration, deceleration, isometric, strength-speed vs speed-strength, starting strength (no stretch reflex), power-strength-endurance, and other made up specific variations


The reason we are even listing these above is because the differences between these strength types is often the thing that gets argued about for what is the “most important” aspect of strength training. The reality is boring: they’re all important. The importance of one specific type of strength training only is boosted to match the specific goals of the client.

That just means, as someone trains anything they will start to run into a point of diminishing returns. Gainz will come slower and slower, and in order to progress that singular quality, the opportunity cost will be to strip away time from other qualities to specialize on that single quality.

If you do this for too long, then the potential negatives of avoiding those other qualities will potentially outweigh the small increases that are made on the singular focused target quality.

*Now, if you get your motivation and excitement from chasing one thing, please don’t let us or anyone else tell you it’s wrong. Just understand there are concessions being made with the completeness of your training when you have to strip away elements. This is why there are great efforts in the industry to try and find the magic exercises which seem to have more general carryover to other qualities, and are not as specific.

Unfortunately everything is specific to a degree.*

So back to the continued progress discussion: with strength training we can move from specific type of strength to another specific type of strength or prioritize a specific equipment or tool and just keep the gainz train rolling endlessly as over time we more completely develop many types of strength for a very robust and well developed physical capability set.

The added bonus is this makes it relatively easy for most people to stay mentally engaged for long periods of time as the amount of purposeful variety is pretty much endless.


Just get stronger. Always and forever, in positions you aren’t strong in and with tools you aren’t strong with. Improve your physical literacy and gain physical confidence.

Ultimately the absolute best training program will include everything from above, but the reality is we as people (and more specifically, you as a trainer) will have time limitations when planning a program, and when that is the case we have to make concessions with what we choose to program. When we have to prioritize something, strength always wins for general benefits.



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