The P360 4 Classifications of Strength…And Why You Need Them All

Strength is broadly defined as “the ability of a given muscle group to generate muscular force under specific conditions.” For the general public, they think of strength as someone picking up four hundred pounds every workout or one of those old time strongman guys in Family Guy doing lateral raises with Acme anvils.

Strength is many expressions and many things to many different people. We don’t care to pound-the-table debate it, only to advocate for how we train it at P360. We use four categorizations of strength in our PSC program design and we train strength in some capacity every single day.

Absolute Strength
This goes by many names depending on one’s training circle, including maximal strength and limit strength, and it’s what it sounds like in all three versions of the name. You’re moving weight. This is a one-rep deadlift max, the low rep back squat or bench press set, and to be clear it is the foundation for which all other strength has the potential to develop. While you can get really strong in all of the other classifications, if becoming a very strong person is your goal you will always be limited without focus and attention on the absolute portion of your strength development.

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The benefit of training our absolute strength is vast but can be summarized with two key areas of development.

  1. Central Nervous System (CNS) – We get stronger neurologically, which is to say that our body learns how to move more challenging weight by getting more efficient at recruiting muscles and motor units. This makes us stronger in all that we do, not just specific to the lifts we are performing. This is why it’s quite common to PR your pull-ups after a back squat cycle. It’s not magic, just global usage of your learned CNS.
  2. Dense Muscle Fibers – In low reap, heavy load settings we develop muscle across the sarcomere that leads to an increase in muscle fiber density.

This of course does not mean you need to constantly be lifting heavy singles. Not at all. In fact, please don’t. Anything in the 1-5R range two times per week will work towards the purposed of absolute strength development. We have absolute strength opportunities every single Monday and Wednesday, across all cycles.

How to check this box
Hit a major lift 1-2x per week in lower rep ranges.

Relative Strength
This refers to our strength relative to our total bodyweight and is typically (but not always) expressed as output of one’s bodyweight strength in movements like a push-up, pull-up, plank, etc. Relative strength is also developed across higher rep lifts in the 6-12 rep range (such as Friday BUILD), but for the purposes of compartmentalizing it we like to narrow in on the development of it through our bodyweight abilities. Typically, the stronger the absolute strength the stronger the relative strength which is why you usually see people with big squats and deadlifts able to do a lot of pull-ups relative to their bodyweight.

Relative strength is a great tool to take your joints through a true, full range of motion that is rarely achieved through heavier loads, leading to stronger tendons and connective tissues as well as strength abilities trained in end ranges otherwise not achieved. End ranges matter. Think, a pull-up where your chest meets the bar (not your chin barely reaching over it with a loaded pull-up).

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The key to effective relative strength development is all in the execution of technique, however. Sloppy reps don’t do shit. So make sure that throughout your reps you are making the mind muscle connection, thinking about the muscles you are targeting and move with intention and control. While that may sound silly, the act of thinking about your lats while doing pull-ups will lead you to using them more than your biceps.

How to check this box
Train push-ups and pull-ups with an emphasis on your eccentrics (lowering), make sure that if you regularly train absolute strength in the low rep ranges that you break it up with higher rep days as well.

Explosive Strength
This is also called strength-speed or speed-strength when it’s really broken down into specifics, but ultimately, it’s about increasing our ability to produce power. Power, like strength is quite poorly defined, but for our purposes we like to think of power as the ability to generate force very quickly. You can train power in one of three ways.

  • Producing movement at the same weight with more speed. 
  • Producing movement with the same speed at more weight.
  • Producing movement with more speed and more weight.

Options include plyometric and ballistic movements, like explosive jumps, press and pull patterns, throws, as well as partial Olympic lifts that emphasize the power component over the technical side. This is why we prefer to emphasize partial positioning like hangs and powers. Kettlebell swings, DB snatch, and med ball slams would fall into this category due to the explosive nature, as well as plyo push-ups, bounding over boxes, and of course box and broad jumps.

Why P360 Works

Explosive strength is effective because it is essentially hyper targeting your type-II muscle fibers which are those responsible for fast twitch, athletic movement typically associated with maximal strength. This is why training explosive strength absolutely has transfer to your “strength lifts.”

We can even turn an absolute strength lift like the back squat and make it explosive if we focus on lower reps at maximum velocities (not for beginners).

How to check this box
Take pride in your plyometric work, be explosive on swings, don’t overload your Olympic lifts so much and turn them into a slow grind. Always prioritize speed over load.

Functional Strength
There is no more bastardized term in the training world than “functional fitness.” Go ahead, tell us what it means. By nature, you can’t because it is designed to have open ended application to whatever ‘function’ you are pursuing. In the world of competitive athletics, this would be a soccer or baseball player getting stronger for their specific sport need. Rotational power for hitting a ball over a fence. Forward speed to outrun a defender. This could also be the powerlifter applying specialization towards the big three with a level the general public would never need to do. The strength developed is to provide a specific competitive advantage function. Aka, “functional.”

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In our world at P360, our ‘function’ is living. Since most of us aren’t athletes, functional strength in our world simply refers to preparing us to be stronger in life’s daily activities: carrying groceries, walking up stairs, picking up our kids, playing pick-up sports, going snowboarding, hopping into a triathlon on short notice, doing yard work, and I’m not joking when I say this…not dying. This is why we categorize the development of ‘functional muscle’ in this category, as well. Movements that focus on functional strength are carries, single arm or single leg patterns (unilateral), rotational movements and anything that mirrors how you move in your day to day. Folks, a 3R barbell back squat is not functional. Effective? Oh yeah. Resembling anything at all in your day to day? No. Not really.

This is by far the most beautiful form of strength, because the magic is that we can always train this and always improve functional strength relative to our age. This is the strength classification that never ever ends.

How to check this box
Heavy carries, unilateral work, 8-10R lift options for muscle

It’s important to grasp the idea that like most things in fitness, these categories rarely exist in silos. For example, what is a one rep clean? Is that absolute or explosive strength? Is a heavy DB snatch functional or explosive? They’re both, of course. And the same goes for many things we might train in a given week. The key is understanding the broad scope of our goals for you and how we implement that work.

So in closing, we’ll ask you. How is your development across all four categorizations?