Why A Skinny Teenager Can Lift More Than You

Yesterday, I watched one of our high school athletes deadlift 215 for a fast set of 4. The kid is 6' 2" and only weighs around 160-ish. Now I know that 205 isn't a terribly high number given his bodyweight (in the grand scheme of the strength world), but this kid has only been deadlifting with a barbell for 2 months, coming 1x/week (so 8 total sessions). From that perspective, it's decently impressive. (We, of course, did not let him start deadlifting right away- we worked on his movements for 3 months leading up to allowing him near a barbell.) 

Back to my point- this kid moves 205 like it's nothing and yet looks like a bean pole. How is this possible you ask? By this li'l equation:

F = ma

Force = mass x acceleration

Let's back up a bit. What is force, first of all? (sadly, not THE Force...) Force is the capacity to do work or cause physical change- typically in the form of exerting strength or power upon an object.

Well, what is strength? Strength- for our purposes here- is defined as: a muscle's ability to generate force against physical objects (i.e. weights, the ground, their own bodyweight, other people.) The obvious example is in a weight room: how much weight is on the bar. A less obvious example: vertical jump height is based on how much force a person applies to the ground. 

Strength can also be expressed in the form of the speed of movement: how fast someone can run is dependent on how much force is applied to the ground at each step. (Also at play in all these examples, the rate of force development- how quickly someone can produce high force- is key. I wrote about it HERE and don't forget Part 2.) This is precisely why we focus on making our athletes stronger!  

Strength, the ability to produce (high) force, is the foundation for all other athletic attributes. 

The goal of strength training is to get stronger, or put another way, to increase force output. The more force an athlete can produce in competition will increase his/her speed, explosiveness, ability to knock the stuffing out of the opponent...

Which brings me back to the equation; force output can be influenced by both the mass of the object being moved and the speed with which is moves. In training, we can foster increases in force output by one of three ways: increasing the mass of the object, increasing the speed with which is it moved, or both. 

Back to the initial question: how can our 160lb athlete move that 205 so effortlessly? The "a" part of the F=ma equation- acceleration- for him is incredibly high. If you read the rate of force development post (shame on you if you haven't, don't you want to be smarter today?), you would infer that he can produce enough force fast enough to hoist that barbell. Our 160lb athlete, by the way, is a decathlete (and a pretty darn good one) and doesn't know the meaning of "slow"... or "medium" for that matter.  

This kid lives for speed. His ability to recruit high-threshhold motor units- the ones responsible for explosive power- is stellar. If you're finding your weights have stalled, try taking a few weeks to work on increasing the speed of your lifts (that rate of force development post will come in handy...).

My goal as his strength coach is to train him on the absolute strength part of the continuum, more on that next week. That's called a teaser.