Strength Is Internal

In 2020, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research released an interesting study about barbell squat strength and injury risk. (1) They compared collegiate athletes’ ability to perform a one-repetition maximum (1RM) barbell back squat with their injury history. The researchers found that greater barbell squat strength was associated with a lower risk of lower body injuries in collegiate athletes.

Remember, correlation does not equal causation. The researchers know this, which is why they stated, 

“the potential of 1RM back squat relative strength serv[es] as one tool in multi-factor preseason screening for lower extremity (LE) injury risk in these sports.”

Even though squat strength correlates with less injury risk, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the cause. In addition, injury risk is multifactorial, so it can’t be boiled down to one variable.

In any case, most barbell athletes and coaches won’t be surprised by the overall finding. If you’re stronger, you should be less likely to incur injuries, which is why every single training facility in the world emphasizes resistance training in one capacity or another. Does that mean barbell squatting is a catch-all for preventing lower-body injuries? Of course not. Injuries still happen to some of the strongest people on the planet.

So, what does this research actually tell us?

Redefining Strength

Most researchers and coaches define strength as overcoming or countering external resistance (e.g., a barbell) via muscular effort.

In theory, you exemplify strength all the time with every movement you make; you just do so with different effort, intensity, duration, etc. For instance, walking takes strength to overcome gravity or any obstacles you may encounter (e.g., walking up stairs). Thus, strength emerges and will meet (or be impeded) by the stimulus it goes up against, which is how Functional Range Conditioning (FRC) defines it.

However, FRC goes one step further and defines it as,

An emergent behavior of the biological organism that must be trained so it can be expressed (displayed).

You may be thinking, “Why is this important?” and that’s a great question, but FRC answered it with their definition.

We often see strength as a display of effort (e.g., doing a 1RM barbell back squat). However, the mechanisms by which you display it have nothing to do with the actual visual depiction of it.

Strength is internally generated by the nervous system and dispensed into the musculoskeletal system (i.e., connective tissue, muscle) to accomplish specific tasks. So, we should look at what’s going on internally versus externally. This is precisely what we do with the Functional Range Assessment.

The Internal Strength Model

This article isn’t a pitch for Functional Range Conditioning by any means, but I’d be doing them a disservice if I didn’t plug their certification. Most of what I’m saying comes straight from their newest course, The Internal Strength Model. So, if you’re interested in this concept, you should explore their certifications (our whole team is certified for a reason).

The point is strength is not a display movement; it’s what’s going on inside the body that matters most. So, if you want to get strong, you should fundamentally understand how your body organizes and attempts to move from the inside out.

Knowing this, let’s return to the study from 2020.

If the strongest squatters had the lowest chance of injury risk in their lower extremities, does that mean we should train everyone to squat? Or does it mean that the strongest squatters had a much better internal environment to display strength?

We can’t answer that question, and neither can the researchers. But, if we redefine strength, we know where the better answer lies.

How do you go about internally training your body? Well, that’s a whole different discussion.

Brian Murray, FRSC, FRA
Founder of Motive Training

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  1. Barbell Squat Relative Strength as an Identifier for Lower Extremity Injury in Collegiate Athletes

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