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People who have difficulty articulating their fitness goals may begin a workout program with the hope that it will simply "build strength". Also, workout programs are not uncommonly recommended solely on this same merit, that any such program will "build strength".

Evaluating a program based on the progress it allows in performing its specific movements does not evaluate the program in terms of strength in general.

Deciding a formal definition of strength would allow objective evaluation, but it would also require tools which do this evaluation using a movement that avoids simply measuring one's ability to perform that specific movement. Such tools would likely not be readily available to non-professionals.

For the desired result of building strength, how does the layperson measure a workout program's effectiveness in achieving that goal?

For a program already in place, what measurements are to be compared between the present and the point before starting the program?

For a proposed program, what are the measurements that one needs to clarify that the program is presumed to improve?

Note:

  • This question is not asking for possible properties or components of such a program (this is covered by answers to other existing questions). A measurably effective program may not necessarily hold the same properties as other similarly effective programs.
  • It is acknowledged that clearly defining fitness goals allows a program's effectiveness to be more easily measured; this question is asking about cases where a program is being used or recommended without a more specific goal than presented above.
  • I think what you're looking for is this (though, be aware that it was written under the constraints of that question, which were "minimal equipment") – Dave Liepmann Sep 4 '15 at 6:17
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    I'm a bit unclear, are you asking how the typical person evaluates a program before he starts? Or after he has being doing it a while? – JohnP Sep 4 '15 at 21:07
  • @JohnP Thank you for noticing that ambiguity. I intended to ask about both cases; I've attempted to edit the question to make this clearer. – cheaterpushups Sep 6 '15 at 14:41
  • @DaveLiepmann Thank you for the reference. I'm disinclined to accept it as an indirect answer here because it seems at odds with this question's premise that specific exercises such as those listed in the reference cannot be used as a standard against which all exercises can be evaluated (in terms of strength). I'd like to leave the question for others who may be able to offer an answer that conforms to this premise, but as I assume you would disagree with the premise, please feel free to close or downvote if you feel this question is loaded or otherwise inappropriate as is. – cheaterpushups Sep 6 '15 at 14:55
  • @cheaterpushups Part of the reason I posted that answer is because I'm unclear on what you're asking here. Any standard can optimized for. If you're testing strength and want to avoid optimizing for the test then A) don't tailor your programming to the task and B) use multiple overlapping movements as test, e.g. a deadlift and a stone lift. Other people who try to answer this question move far away from pure strength—e.g. Olympic lifting (also measures explosiveness), CrossFit (also measures endurance & CF-specific skills), Strongman (also measure strength endurance, power, etc). – Dave Liepmann Sep 6 '15 at 17:17
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The program that allows your strength level to advance your 1RM the quickest, over a sustained period of time, and generates the least injuries.

Strength level (untrained, novice, intermediate, etc) needs to be factored in because a novice program will have faster increases in absolute strength but only for trainees in that bracket (novices). An intermediate lifter would be unable to recover from the stress, and likewise a novice lifter can handle faster increases than an intermediate because they are so much further away than their genetic potential.

Looking at something like the Bill Star 5x5 intermediate program, you are increasing your strength by 2.0% per week. You can bump it up or down a little, and there are subtlties that affect different people (people come from different backgrounds, identical people will have different sleep and eating patterns, etc).

So let's say that you have two programs, A & B.

  • Program A is a compound barbell training program that will let me increase my weekly strength by 2.0%.
  • Program B is a compound barbell training program that will let me increase my weekly strength by 3.5%.

It's pretty obvious, controlling for the lifts themselves and how long you can stay on the program, that the one that allows you have sustained day-over-day (novice), week-over-week (intermediate), or month-over-month (advanced/elite) gains is the one to pick.

Taking it further, I asked a question myself a few months back about why progressive overload programs don't allow you to make linear progress forever. Beefing up my answer a bit, I would add that the program must have a proven track record of safety.

In the real world, injuries (bs small time overuse all the way to fractures) are going to make a much bigger difference than the 2.0% vs 3.5% above.

Personally (37 years old, 187lbs, 5RM squat 360), I've found that I'll do a progressive overload program for 8 weeks, twice a year (or so). The linear programs work fine for maintenance mode, just stop with the weekly increases.

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    Although I think this answer has the same issue as the suggested reference from Dave Liepmann in the comments above, this answer did articulate the line of thinking and helped my understanding of a number of points about attempting to define strength, so I'm accepting this answer for the sake of closing out the question. – cheaterpushups Sep 8 '15 at 11:42
  • The progressive strength training discussion is quite mind-blowing; thank you for that link. – cheaterpushups Sep 9 '15 at 1:25
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If you are doing 1-7 repetitions and you are eating 100-500 calories more than you burn, you are building strength. The same applies for 8-15 repetitions, except in that case you will be building size. If your workout consists of more than 15 repetitions, you are likely preparing to enter endurance training, or something along those lines. In order to build strength, I would suggest checking out madcow 5x5, this plan: http://stronglifts.com/madcow-5x5-training-programs/

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  • So if I do 7 reps then I get stronger but not bigger, but if I do one more rep suddenly I don't get stronger but I get bigger? And being bigger has no effect on being strong? – Dave Liepmann Sep 6 '15 at 6:48
  • @Dave Liepmann Not exactly, 7 reps are just directed more toward strength and 8 reps are just directed more toward size, in general. – Rob Sterach Sep 6 '15 at 12:57

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