It’s a funny truism that I am about to tell you that I myself only really saw in the past couple of years. It’s about how some people perceive strength training and what trainers do in the gym and indeed, this perception even drives common beliefs amongst many would-be clients of well intended trainers.
Mention strength training in a conversation and you’ll probably get one of these responses:
- “Ah yeah, like Crossfit?”
- “Ah, like bodybuilding”, whilst striking a bicep pose.
- “Ooh, be careful you don’t hurt yourself with heaving all those big weights!”
- “Ugh, I don’t like barbells!”
Okay, you might get some other feedback based on individual experiences but in most cases, people think of the equipment, a popular gym or building bulging muscles like a bodybuilder.
But what about the system of getting stronger? People rarely consider what it is to be stronger, how it may apply to them, what’s involved, the benefits beyond an image and the smart systems used to help people get stronger.
So let’s jump into defining these as I promote them, starting with the health benefits.
Strength and Health
For most exercisers, hitting the gym is their weapon to kill calories and for others it’s their tool to carve out a physique. However, the connections between strength training and health grow stronger (no pun intended) with the expanding findings of research. Strength training health benefits include prevention or control of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain, depression and obesity. In addition, strength training aids in the prevention or slowing down of osteoarthritis, sarcopenia (age related loss of muscle mass) and osteopenia (loss of bone). None of us want to retire from our working years frail and weak so it should make sense to get stronger.
What does ‘strong’ mean?
Freedom is a common definition of strength that I just love. Consider the opposite – weakness. It comes with frailty, inability, fear, lack of confidence, loneliness, misery – I could go on but you get the picture. Physical freedom is the strength and independence to carry out a full life with autonomy. You may be excused for thinking initially that strength training is the domain of athletes, strongmen and muscly olympic lifters snatching big barbells overhead. Yes, they are strong and it’s expressed in a very specific manner. So too is strength expressed by the farmer who tends to her cattle and sheep, heaving bales of hay onto the back of the truck or the nurse who successfully assists patients in and out of bed along with a myriad of other day-to-day physical roles. I wrote ‘successfully’, suggesting they have the strength to endure this daily demand. A weaker associate will not be so successful. Strength is the freedom to do whatever you need to do, will have to do and want to do, successfully.
Strength and You
How does strength fit into a weekly schedule? “What do I need to do?”
Every human is wonderfully made to perform the same categories of movements with strength. We are perfectly suited to perform the following categories of strength:
- Picking things up
- Bracing our torsos
- Carrying things
Let’s back up that strength to-do list with these essentials:
- Get down to the floor and back up effortlessly
- Roll and rotate – confused? Here’s a video
- Move often
The specifics as to how these relate to you personally will vary now and in the future. But essentially this short list of activities are how we live in the gym. I spend time with people to help them figure out the appropriate variations they need and then we practice them with appropriate levels of exertion. It isn’t just flat out in 5th gear!
I mentioned earlier how people often equate strength with barbells etc, however strength training always starts with moving first. Learning good form and technique is vital for obvious safety concerns but as a baseline, how we perform movements without external loading gives us a benchmark to compare to once load is added. Adding load can be as simple as holding a medicine ball, lifting a kettlebell, a barbell or a rock (it’s a thing, seriously). We add load once unloaded becomes easy, safer, better performed.
How to get stronger
How did you learn how to walk? You crawled, scrambled over furniture and traversed around the kitchen until you could walk unaided. It didn’t happen over-night and took lots of practice. Practice is where the magic happens with every single skill. I very much see strength as a skill that takes practice. In my daughters school there’s a poster in one of the class rooms that reads –
Practice Makes Progress.
‘Practice makes progress’ concerns performing a task with good form until it becomes better and betterer but the timely immersion also allows the body time to adapt to the stresses involved with the new skill practice.
We progress to get stronger in the gym by carrying sub-maximum intensity repetitions. We don’t strain, struggle or stress and in fact aim to avoid failing any repetitions. We want good, clean, repeatable and moderate efforts. There are heaps of workable protocols for carrying out such programs that I’m not going to get into here.
Winding it up…
My goal here in this short piece was to outline how being strong and the process of becoming stronger is achievable by all and cannot and should not be stereotyped by some initial conceptions. Our wee family run gym is frequented by all sorts of people between their mid 20s to early 70s and we all practice and progress in our strength training to add to our health and everyone observes this in their everyday life. Whether it’s just the feeling of increased wellbeing, moving better without groaning or carrying in the shopping with 5 bags hanging off each arm; everyone demonstrates their strength as their life requires.
If you’ve been pondering working on your strength, health and fitness for a while, hopefully this short post will offer you some insight into what is required from your time. If you do require any assistance I’d love the opportunity to help you, whether that’s in person or online – yep, I do train online too – don’t you love technology sometimes?
Your in Strength & Wellness,