Muscular strength is a key component of sport science, and it underpins a wide range of other fitness qualities. In this article we’ll be looking at…
What is muscular strength?
Within sports science, the definition of muscular strength is the maximum amount of force that a muscle can produce.
Muscular strength is distinct from muscular endurance (the ability to produce and sustain muscle force over a certain period of time) and muscular power (the ability to produce a given amount of force quickly)
A good practical example of muscular strength would be your 1 repetition maximum squat or bench press, whereas an example of muscular endurance might be a 20 rep squat or a plank hold for as long as you can hold it with correct technique.
Muscular strength relies heavily on your type II (fast twitch) muscle fibres, and if you’re really interested in the underpinning physiology of muscle fibres and movement types, we’ve written a great piece that you might want to check out.
Muscle-strengthening exercise recommendations
How often should you train for strength?
For most people, 2-3 strength training sessions per week is perfect. For more advanced or competitive strength athletes, this might increase to 4 or 5 times per week.
What weights should I use for muscular strength?
For muscular strength, you should use moderate to heavy weights. On a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the heaviest weight you can possibly lift, most of your strength training should be done at around 7 or 8.
How many sets and reps for strength?
The range of acceptable sets and reps is actually quite wide. Anything from 1-6 sets of 1 to 10 reps can be effective at building strength.
However, for the majority of people, 3-5 sets of 4-6 reps is likely the best, and this is where I would recommend most people start.
Muscle strength recommendations for children and adolescents
There tends to be a mainstream public concern that strength training could be damaging or limit growth in children. This is 100% untrue. Research has conclusively shown that strength training is safe and effective for children and adolescents.
From a personal perspective, I have also coached hundreds of youth athletes across various sports, and we actually use strength training to reduce injury risk.
A great place to start can be with bodyweight exercises, squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups etc, gradually adding load and weight over time as good technique is developed.
*These are good starting points. If you want to learn more, I’ve created an in-depth lecture series on strength training for beginners, intermediates and advanced lifters.
Benefits of Muscular Strength
Muscular strength has an absolute tonne of benefits that cover a huge range of groups or people.
For athletes and sports people, strength training…
- Contributes to increased speed and power
- Helps prevent various sporting injuries
- Plus creates a more favourable body composition
For recreational lifters and people looking to lose weight, strength training…
- Increases lean body mass
- Helps to decrease fat mass
- Improves thinking and cognition
- Boosts mental health and wellbeing
For Older adults and people with illnesses, strength training has been shown to…
- Reduce pain
- Help prevent and reduce the impact of type II diabetes
- Offset osteoporosis by increasing bone density
- Prevent fall risk by improving balance and coordination
How to Measure Muscular Strength
There are loads of different ways to measure muscular strength.
The most reliable and accurate is in a lab, using force plates and performing a movement like an isometric mid-thigh pull. This allows us to get an exact force measurement in newtons.
However, for most people this isn’t an option, so we have to use a proxy measurement such as a 1 rep max squat, bench press or deadlift. These are still pretty reliable indicators of strength, and since they directly measure the things that most strength trainees are trying to improve, they’re very specific.
Practically, since 1 rep max testing can be demanding both technically and mentally, it can sometimes be a good idea to test a 3 or 5 rep max instead, plugging the results into a calculator to get an estimated 1 rep max. This is the approach I use with beginners and youth athletes.
Exercises to Improve Muscular Strength
For muscular strength, focus your training around compound, multi-joint exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Here are some of my suggestions.
With each exercise, focus on good technique and controlled reps. Personally, I would recommend working with a coach for a few sessions to get the best possible start. If that’s not an option for you, make sure to watch a few online guides, and record your technique with a view to improve each session.
Precautions when training for muscular strength
1. Start slowly
As with any new activity, make sure to start slowly and build up over time. That means starting with 2-3 sessions per week and using weights that are comfortable as you develop good technique. There will be plenty of opportunities to push yourself harder later.
2. Allow recovery time
Strength training sessions put stress on your body. Your muscles, joints and connective tissues need time to repair, recover and rebuild so that you can actually get stronger. If you train too often not only will you limit your progress, you’ll also increase your injury risk. A good rule of thumb for beginners is to train only on non-consecutive days.
What next / where to start
- If you’ve read this article and want to start training for the first time, then the best piece of advice we can give you is to head into the gym and get started. Keep reading and keep educating yourself, but make sure that you’re putting it into practice and learning by doing. This video should help too.
- If you’re learning about sports science and want to cover more topics like this, then why not check out our articles to learn more about muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness and training flexibility.
Or for more on the 5 health-related components of fitness, check out this article.
- Robert. M (2006) – Weight Training in Youth-Growth, Maturation, and Safety: An Evidence-Based Review.
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
Parry, A (2021). Muscular strength: defined, explained & how to train. Available from: https://sportscienceinsider.com/muscular-strength-defined-explained-how-to-train/. [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].
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Alex is the Owner and Head Coach of Character Strength & Conditioning, and specialises in strength & power development for athletes.
He currently works as a Tutor & Educator for British Weightlifting, and has previously delivered S&C support to gymnastics and swimming talent pathways.