- Adam Zickerman, founder of InForm Fitness
- Anissia Hughes, NASM-certified trainer and creator of the Bodyweight Strength with Anissia on the Sweat app
- Jess Cifelli, CPT, master instructor at CycleBar
- Lauren Wilson, CPT, senior master instructor for CycleBar
- Natasha Franco, Miami-based fitness coach and surfer
- Rafique Cabral, CPT, co-founder of Trooper Fitness
Below, fitness trainers break down the different strength training types and their benefits, along with tips on hitting all strength training types for a comprehensive workout plan.
The 7 types of strength training modalities
1. Agile strength
What it is: Agile strength is “the ability to change directions quickly and powerfully,” says Lauren Wilson, CPT, an instructor at CycleBar. It’s typically characterized by quick accelerations in speed, direction, or velocity or carrying heavy weights in multiple directions. You might even be working on your agile strength regularly without realizing it. “Consider the times you’ve had to grab a heavy bag, groceries, or car seat and maneuver around a store, your house, or up the steps,” says CycleBar instructor Jess Cifelli, CPT. “You’re essentially carrying weight through different planes of motion.”
Its benefits: According to Wilson, agile strength exercises help your body to move with ease and fluidity in any direction, which improves your coordination and balance while preventing injuries.
How to improve agile strength: Agile movements involve “multi-directional workouts with low to moderate weight,” says Miami-based fitness coach and surfer Natasha Franco. With this in mind, trainers recommend agile strength exercises like medicine ball lateral shuffles and direction-change sprints. Another recommendation from Wilson? Farmer’s carries. “Try 30 to 60 seconds of farmer’s carriers with a moderate-heavy weight,” she says—and repeat the exercise for three to five rounds, resting for 60 to 90 seconds between sets. (While you’re at it, consider incorporating these trainer-recommended agility exercises into your routine.)
2. Endurance strength
What it is: Endurance strength is all about how long you can go—the opposite of the HIIT movements you might be familiar with.
Its benefits: According to Cifelli, this modality requires your body to use aerobic and anaerobic pathways to stay in motion. This can help you develop postural stabilization for long periods and improve the aerobic capacity of themuscles involved in these movements.
How to improve endurance strength: Cifelli recommends performing a circuit of strength exercises—for instance, 15 squats and 10 push-ups—and repeating for three to five rounds. You can start with bodyweight workouts, and as you build strength, add weight to your movements. “Over time, you will not only get a little stronger, but you will find that you can get back to work quicker and quicker, building your strength endurance,” she says. Or, you can follow along with this endurance running plan:
3. Explosive strength
What it is: This type of strength training involves all-out effort movements during HIIT workouts. Think: Jumping and powerlifting, which are moves that require a lot of energy in short bursts of time.
Its benefits: “Explosive strength allows you to move yourself or an object quickly with a lot of force,” says Cifelli, and Wilson adds, “[it] improves the speed of motor unit recruitment, enhances intramuscular coordination, reduces reaction time, and improves the resiliency of muscle and connective tissue.”
How to improve explosive strength: If you want to incorporate explosive exercises into your workouts, consider movements like box jumps, squats, and cleans. “Medicine ball throws are a great place to start,” says Cifelli. She recommends beginning with five nonstop explosive throws for five rounds, with short rest periods in between. As you move through each round, she suggests throwing the ball harder or taking a few steps back to increase the intensity.
4. Maximum strength
What it is: Your maximum strength is the “maximum force you can carry under a heavy load,” says Rafique Cabral, CPT, co-founder of Trooper Fitness. Think of your “one-rep max” or the weight you hold for a single repetition.
Its benefits: According to Cabral, this type of strength training modality helps develop the fast-twitch muscle fibers capable of generating high levels of force, increases the levels of muscle-building hormones in your body, and improves bone density—the last of which becomes more important the older we get, as bone density, particularly among women, decreases with age.
How to improve maximum strength: Maximum strength movements are oriented towards low repetitions with heavy weights, and examples of these exercises can include squats, hip thrusts, deadlifts, and bench presses. Since these exercises require you to push yourself by progressively increasing the weight, Cifelli recommends following along with professionally designed programs to prevent overtraining injuries.
5. Speed strength
What it is: As its name implies, this modality is about how fast you can go.
Its benefits: This training can enhance performance, minimize reaction times, and reduce the time of the stretch-shorten cycle in your muscles, says Cabral. According to Wilson, “It puts your muscles through a fuller range of motion, improving flexibility, and trains more muscles, leading to better muscle balance.”
How to improve speed strength: The most straightforward method to work your speed? Sprints. Try fast short-distance sprints on your own, or follow along with this coach-led program:
6. Starting strength
What it is: “Starting strength is the first push of movement without any momentum,” says Cifelli. “This can be anything from a runner on a track right before the gunshot starts the race or standing up from your chair—there was nothing that came prior to that first movement from a momentum.”
Its benefits: Working your starting strength can improve the ability of muscle and connective tissue to increase the rate of force production and, in turn, allow you to lift heavier weights, enhance your ability to accelerate in any movement, and improve your transitions from seated to standing positions, says Cabral. Outside fitness training, this type of modality is essential for making your bones, muscles, and joints strong and improving your overall health.
How to improve starting strength: Since starting strength is all about the strength you start a move with, try incorporating exercises that require you to quickly go from zero to 60. Trainers recommend dead-start kettlebell swings, sprinter jumps, and sit-down squats to improve this strength type.
7. Relative strength
What it is: Unlike the others featured on the list, relative strength takes an individual’s body composition into consideration and comes as a result of developing the other six modalities. “Relative strength is a reflection of how strong you are compared to your personal size—it’s based on your personal abilities, size, and gains over time,” says Cifelli. “In this ability to control your own bodyweight through space, it’s often found that smaller individuals have more relative strength. It all comes down to strength-to-weight ratio.”
Its benefits: When you increase your relative strength, you can improve your overall strength and fitness performance.
How to improve relative strength: Since relative strength comes as a result of working all of the other types of strength on this list, there aren’t really any specific exercises that can help you target it. Instead, focus on the different modalities and watch your relative strength improve.
To determine the starting point for your relative strength, write down your maximum number of repetitions for a specific bodyweight exercise—for example, push-ups—and divide it by your bodyweight. Over time, as you get stronger, you should be able to do more repetitions, and that number will increase.
Which strength training type is right for you?
“Collectively, the seven modalities of strength can help you move better, stronger, faster, and with less risk of injury,” says Cabral. “It’s important to focus on each in order to explore and develop your movement potential.” While it’s possible to work all seven in one go, it might prevent you from maximizing the benefits of each and, thus, slow down your progress. If you want the best results, he recommends focusing on one or two types per session. (You make sure you're incorporating some cardio into your routine—with or without weights—too.)
The benefits of a diverse strength training program
Beyond helping you become stronger in the short term, a diverse training program incorporating all the different strength training types has significant benefits for your body over time, too. “Longevity and quality of life are at the forefront when all forms of strength are accounted for because by focusing on each strength, you’ll improve your overall health and well-being,” says Wilson. “It will also help prevent injury, increase mobility, and increase athleticism.” Plus, incorporating different types of movement modalities means a less monotonous and more fun strength training program.
How to start strength training
If you’re wondering how to start strength training, experts recommend using your body weight (or strength training without weights). “Starting out with bodyweight workouts allows the individuals to integrate their way into this new style of training while being able to take things at their own pace and avoid the risk of overtraining,” Anissia Hughes, CPT, CNC, creator of the Bodyweight Strength with Anissia program on the Sweat app, told Well+Good.
Whether you’re a strength-training beginner or intermediate, it’s also essential to practice proper form and complete moves correctly to prevent the risk of injury. Increase the amount of weight you lift slowly—and without sacrificing form—or practice slow-motion strength training, which requires you to slow down so you can focus on your form while helping you to build strength. Adam Zickerman, founder of InForm Fitness, told Well+Good, “With slower lifting, the body’s muscles do all the work without the help from momentum—it’s a more intense experience. The results are usually better due to a greater reduction in a chance for injury.”
The basic principles of strength training
- Overload: Overload or progressive overload involves gradually increasing the weight, repetitions, intensity, timing, and distance to progress into a strength routine as a person becomes stronger.
- Progression: Progression is related to overload in that it underscores the importance of increasing the demand on muscles, just without sacrificing proper form. The NASM recommends that people stay within 10 percent of their current weight, training time, or distance each week to avoid injury.
- Specificity: The principle of specificity advises people to focus on a specific ability during training. For instance, if a person wants to become better at performing push-ups, their training should incorporate the movement.
- Rest and recovery: According to the NASM, rest is as important as training to prevent injuries. The recommendation is to include rest days, active recovery techniques, and workouts in a weekly strength training program. For example, a person could incorporate yoga and strength training into their weekly routine. NASM also emphasizes the importance of adequate sleep, with seven to nine hours of rest per night being ideal for the recovery process.
- Nutrition and hydration: Nutrition and hydration come part and parcel with a well-rounded strength routine. NASM recommends drinking at least 20 ounces of water 60 to 90 minutes before a workout, four to six ounces every 15 minutes during a workout, and 16 to 24 punches after a workout, and eating a snack (ideally with lean protein and complex carbohydrates) 30 minutes before and after a workout.
Frequently asked questions
Are there different types of strength training?
There are seven strength training types, including agile, endurance, explosive, maximum, speed, starting, and relative strength, each of which is essential in maintaining a strong and healthy body.
What’s the best form of strength training?
Each strength training modality has its own benefits, and according to experts, the best option for you is a matter of preference, though typically, incorporating all the different types of strength training can make for a well-rounded strength routine and yield significant benefits for your body in the short term and over time.
What’s the difference between strength training and weight training?
According to Harvard Health Publishing, strength training (or resistance training) are upper- and lower-body workouts involving weight machines, free weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight, whereas weight training is a type of strength training that involves weights for resistance.
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