7 Influences On Maximum Strength Development

Whether you're a seasoned powerlifter or a complete newbie to the world of lifting, understanding these 7 influences on the development of maximum muscle strength can help you understand the mechanisms at play that underpin maximum strength.

1. Motor Unit Recruitment

The potential strength of a muscle is largely determined by how many motor units it can activate. Motor units are the individual units of muscle fibres and the nerves that control them. The more motor units you can recruit, the stronger the muscle contraction. This recruitment follows Henneman’s size principle, which dictates that smaller motor units are activated first. These smaller units are linked to type I muscle fibres, known for slower fatigue. Larger units, associated with faster-fatiguing type II fibres, are recruited as the demand on the muscle increases.

2. Motor Unit Firing Frequency

Increasing the frequency of motor unit activation, also known as rate coding, is another method to enhance muscle strength. By increasing the rate at which motor units are activated, muscles not only become stronger but can also achieve strength gains more quickly. This rapid signalling aids in faster muscle contractions, crucial for quick movements.

3. Motor Unit Synchronisation

Muscle strength can also be influenced by the synchronisation of motor units. When performing light, precise tasks, motor units operate more independently to ensure smooth and controlled movements. However, during intense contractions, such as those in powerlifting, synchronised motor unit activity can greatly enhance force output. This coordination is akin to a team effort where simultaneous effort yields stronger results.

4. Neuromuscular Inhibition

Our bodies have built-in mechanisms to prevent injury, known as neuromuscular inhibition. This can occur consciously—if we perceive a weight as too heavy—or reflexively through signals from muscle and joint sensors, like the Golgi tendon organ, which prompts the body to reduce force to avoid damage. Regular training can decrease these inhibitory signals, allowing greater strength utilisation.

5. Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC)

The SSC is a dynamic muscle action that involves an initial muscle stretch followed by a rapid contraction. This action is critical in movements requiring power and speed, such as jumping. Strengthening both phases of the SSC through targeted exercises can enhance overall muscular performance and force development.

6. Muscle Fibre Type

The composition of muscle fibres plays a significant role in an athlete's strength capabilities. Type II fibres are suited for rapid, high-force actions, while type I fibres support endurance activities. The proportion and conditioning of these fibres can significantly influence strength and performance in various sports.

7. Muscle Hypertrophy

Finally, muscle hypertrophy, or the increase in muscle size through resistance training, fundamentally enhances strength. Early gains in strength training are often due to increased muscle size, with significant contributions from the enlargement of type II fibres. Over time, an improved balance between type II and type I fibres can lead to substantial increases in force production.

By having a more in depth understanding on these seven key areas, coaches can begin to develop a more tailored approach to training athletes who’s goals are to maximise strength and ultimately improve their powerlifting total.