On January 7th, I wrote an article that discussed training for a specific event. This article is a follow-up to the sledge hammer experiment I undertook from the date of writing that article.
The Rationale Behind Improving Your Strength
Let's recap what we discussed in the event training article. Strength is not a function of muscle size. Your strength on one particular exercise also does not indicate how strong you are in another, completely foreign movement. There are a number of reasons for this, including:
- Exercise technique; as the way in which you execute the movement indicates how efficiently force is generated, or your strength
- Muscle conditioning; if your muscles have been trained specifically for strength and power, they will be able to produce a greater amount of force in a shorter period of time
- Brain conditioning; your brain determines what muscles are recruited, how/when they are stimulated and in what proportions. Effective power generation is therefore a result of finding the optimal balance of muscle groups being recruited.
The combination of these three factors will aid greatly in strength and power generation. Here are some other important factors that will play an important role include:
- Mindset; your mood, confidence and general mental state will affect your performance.
- Hormonal levels; an imbalance in hormonal levels may affect power output.
- Nutrition; good nutrition will ensure that muscles are well recovered and have readily available nutrients for optimal results. Nutritional supplements can also aid in performance.
- Flexibility; being extremely inflexible may inhibit good technique, whereas being too flexible could encourage energy loss throughout the motion.
- Sleep; being well rested will aid in force potential.
- Health; your general health will impact the amount of force you can produce.
- Recovery; if you are well recovered, your muscles will be able to generate force effectively.
- Temperature; an excessively hot or cold day will hinder performance.
- Hydration; being poorly hydrated will inhibit strength and power output
So to obtain an optimal power and strength output, all of the above factors must be taken into consideration.
The Test-of-Strength Experiment Results
On January 7th, I declared myself a guinea pig as I set out to improve a previously dismal score on the "Test-of-Strength" amusement park game. This is the machine that you have to hit with a sledge hammer. As you may recall from the training for a specific event article, my previous best score was 83 (out of a possible 150). This score was not high enough to warrant even the smallest prize (a slinky).
Although I initially set out to train for only a few weeks, there were a few obstacles in the way (rain causing the game to be closed and a weekend trip away). So my training period was extended to be seven weeks. During this seven week period, I implemented various strategies including:
- Practising hitting technique/aim by using a sledge hammer and a boxing bag (laying down). The sledge hammer was wrapped in towels as to not pierce the boxing bag surface.
- Training specifically for strength with my resistance training programme.
- Implementing specific exercises into my weights programme that mimicked various aspects to the sledge hammer movement.
- Supplementing with creatine.
- Implementing various recovery techniques (nutritionally and physically) prior to the second attempt.
The cumulative effect of all my training resulted in a final score of 131. This was an improvement of 48 points, or a 58% strength increase in just 7 weeks of training. I was quite happy to have won the second biggest prize (a stuffed toy!). Actually, let me rephrase that; my girlfriend was very happy to have won a blue pony!
This is a very dramatic improvement in a short period of time, especially considering my training history. Untrained persons can expect far more profound strength improvements because their muscles have not been conditioned for strength/power output previously.
I can say with certainty that this score of 131 was not the highest possible score that I could have accomplished on this day. The reason is because I had been practising with a boxing bag on the ground, so I had trained myself to hit a target at approximately half the height of the target at this amusement park game. Further, the sledge hammer was substantially lighter and shorter than what I had been practising with. These factors alone meant that my training wasn't as specific as what it could have been. Force output could have been enhanced had I considered these factors, or had multiple practice shots to "re-calibrate" my brain for the adjusted conditions.
Having said that, I am very pleased with the results that I obtained and would rate this experiment as a complete success. I will now have no hesitation in attempting this test-of-strength game next time I visit Luna Park (but just for fun next time!).