Inside of each of us lies an untapped giant, capable of superhuman strength and performance.
Consider the following: pound for pound apes have double the strength of a human being.
They can also jump about 30-40% higher than top human jumpers, in addition to their superhuman leg power.
How is this possible given their similar amount of muscle mass?
Aside from longer, denser fibers, our simian friends also have an interesting piece of their brain and spinal cord that allows them stronger muscle contractions: less grey matter.
Having less grey matter (responsible for better motor control in humans, such as the ability to paint a painting or play guitar) allows apes to direct extremely powerful neural signals to their muscles, and thus allows their strength to be expressed.
What this anecdote goes to show is that a muscle is only as powerful as the signal sent to it from the brain.
This means that we are only as powerful as our brains allow us to be.
This goes, not only for squat 1-rep maxes, but also feats of muscular endurance.
In running a race such as a 400m dash, the brain has to organize which muscle fibers will contract, drop out, and contract again through the course of the race to achieve the greatest performance. There is a particular organization of muscle contraction that will allow for the highest performance in a specific event.
Aside from being a cool fact, this is also a really big reason why training endurance in one mode (say using squats, or the Olympic lifts for endurance training) doesn’t transfer that well to the endurance in things like swimming a 200m freestyle, or running a 400m dash. The nervous system has its own distinct program for each type of muscle endurance feat.
The central nervous system can create high-powered, and yet skillful movements in athletes, but it will only do so as long as it considers the movement safe. When the brain senses damage, or injury may occur to the body, it will down-regulate power to the muscle. What things will shut down the rapid wiring of power to muscles?
- Lack of high intensity contractions in training
- Weak mentality to training and adaptation
Let’s discuss these in more detail.
Instability in joints due to lack of proper muscle firing patterns is a red flag for the nervous system to produce force. Why would the body send full power to any joint when that joint is unstable?
This is a guaranteed recipe for injury, and the body will never allow it. Common areas for instability are the spine, and (especially for many athletes who do a lot of weightlifting) the feet. Instability of the spine will hurt things like lifting and throwing, and instability of the feet will hurt jumping and sprinting.
Lack of overloading high intensity muscle contractions makes it difficult for the body to “learn” how to produce massive forces. The only way to get fast and powerful is to specifically, and maximally practice those movements you wish to be better in.
By doing tons of excess conditioning, featuring less forceful strength and power movements, you’ll find it difficult to create power when you truly need it. If you are looking to lift heavy weights, at some point you must subject yourself to either very heavy, or very fast loads, and preferably a combination of both (more on this in a bit).