A Best Way to Improve Functional Strength?

By Ryan Halvorson
Aug 18, 2016

A popular goal among weightlifters and exercise enthusiasts is to improve functional strength training—that is, to produce higher-quality movements with less effort. A new study from Loughborough University in England may have determined a best practice for doing just that.

The very small study included 43 young men, who were divided into three groups. Two groups followed a 12-week knee extension training protocol, and the third acted as a control group. The first exercise group performed explosive contractions (ECT) lasting no more than 1 second. The second performed sustained contractions (SCT) lasting 3 seconds. Both training groups completed 40 repetitions of the exercise three times per week. The purpose of the investigation was to determine the effect of each protocol on strength improvements, muscle contraction, muscle growth and neural output.

From their postintervention analysis, the researchers reported the following results:

  • SCT yielded greater improvements in maximum voluntary torque than ECT.
  • Both protocols produced similar improvements in neural drive.
  • Quadriceps muscle volume growth was greater with SCT than with ECT.
  • With ECT, explosive torque improved at all points of contraction; SCT produced only late-phase explosive-torque improvements.

“These results showed training-specific functional changes that appeared to be due to distinct neural and hypertrophic adaptations,” explained the authors. “ECT produced a wider range of functional adaptations than SCT, and given the lesser demands of ECT, this type of training provides a highly efficient means of increasing function.”

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (2016; 120 [11], 1364–73).

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Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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