It’s no joke. The morning and evening news run a story on it every couple of weeks. Time Magazine, Newsweek, The New York Times, along with countless other magazines, journals and websites, have all written an article or two on it. Every “health article” seems to say it one way or another: Americans need to exercise more!
I want to put this frankly: physical activity is different from exercise. Physical activity can be anything – walking, riding, lifting, sex – and yes, we could use more of it versus our increasingly sedentary lifestyle. But, an exercise is done with the specific intention of making you better, more adept to handle a situation; a fire drill, for instance, is an exercise. And, although it is physical activity, if we use fire drill as the exercise for the hasty generalization I mentioned above, we get: Americans need to fire drill more!
However, having more fire drills doesn’t exactly decrease the prevalence of type II diabetes, reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia, and help children and adults with ADHD – but, hey, anything’s better than cramming kids into desks all day, and taking physical education out of the curriculum, all the while wondering why kids can’t focus for more than ten seconds at a time.
This article is meant to argue that the majority of American’s, and humans in general, should practice strength training specifically, in addition to living a more active lifestyle. Here are some simple reasons to develop a simple practice.
1. You will exist in a stronger, healthier body:
Wait, did you just say you don’t want to be strong? Well, why the hell not? You don’t want to “bulk up,” whatever the hell that means? Being strong doesn’t necessarily mean being big. Sure, often times, the bigger you are, the stronger you are. However, strength is a skillful adaptation. When done right, strength training produces neurological changes that make you stronger, not bigger.
Strength, first and foremost, is about making your nervous system more efficient. Pavel Tsatsouline is a Sports Scientist and chairman of a company called StrongFirst. If you ask him a question about how to get stronger, and he is in a good mood, he will probably give you the answer through an old Russian joke. After you scratch your head, trying to understand the joke, you can go read any one of his books on strength training. The answer is “Tension = Force.” The more tension you create, the greater the force you can produce, the stronger you are; and this is done through training the nervous system. It has nothing to do with making your muscles bigger. In fact, they will become more defined, and – one of my favorite buzz words – toned. Why? Simply put, you can squeeze them harder at any given time, therefore, residual tension, aka “tone,” stays with your muscles. Hypertrophy, or muscle building, is something totally different (Power to the People!, Pavel Tsatsouline).
Now, in addition to making you muscles contract harder, and work more efficiently through neurological adaptation, strength training also improves posture by stretching muscle and tendons, along with reorganizing bone articulations. Using proper bio-mechanical technique through strength training is the basis for Dr. Kelly Starrett’s work. Dr. Starrett is a physical therapist and Cross-fit coach, who teaches a movement-based mobility system. He argues, and illustrates through his books and website, that pain can virtually be eradicated from your body using proper strength and mobility training. However, this is only true if you have good bio-mechanical technique. Don’t fret about the word, once you get the hang of basic bio-mechanics, movement makes total sense. (You can think of it as coordination).
As a result of strength and mobility training, your body becomes stronger on the outside; therefore, it becomes stronger on the inside as well. Ultimately, a good strength training practice, with emphasis on bio-mechanical technique, will make you better able to do physical activity [i.e fire drills 😉 ] and have less aches and pains. Additionally, with a good practice you will find that your body craves certain types of foods, and, because you can do more with less as you get stronger, you will need less food to get through your day. Which brings us to our next reason:
2. You will have greater endurance and stamina.
As I just said, with a good strength and mobility program you learn to do more physical work with less effort. Therefore, day to day physical activities – playing with your kids, cleaning the house, walking the dog, taking out the trash, sitting up straight at work – require less effort, and you have more energy in your tank at all times. The same is true with more intense physical activity. If you are a runner, you will have the ability to run faster or farther, or both, depending on your goals and desires. If you dance, you will be a stronger dancer, better able to endure the stress of given movements. Once again, you will be able to do more with less effort, therefore, you will notice an increase in stamina.
3. You will have more mental clarity, and a greater ability to focus.
We are meant to exist in our bodies. The body evolved the brain to navigate itself through its environment. It is only when we are fully present, aware out our surroundings externally, feeling out and through our body from within, that we are in a centered, homeostatic balance.
You are putting your body under great stress when you strength train. This is why it is so important to ease into strength training with a coach, or an experienced and intelligent friend. But, through learning to endure this stress physically, you learn to remain present in your body; your pain is right here, you can’t run away from it. The body and mind are two sides of one coin. If you want more mental clarity, learn to stand strong and remain present, even in times of difficulty. Strength training teaches you that you can’t run away from the weight you bear on your shoulders, much like sitting in meditation teaches you that you can’t run away from yourself.
To conclude, everyone should have a strength training practice, just like everyone should have other movement practices, musical practices, visual practices, logical or mathematical practices. We are amazing, capable humans. By making us stronger physically and mentally, and by teaching us to do endure the stresses of life by remaining present rather than running away, strength training will give us the physical foundation to do the amazing feats we, as humans, are capable of.
If you have questions or comments about getting started, please leave them below. I will be releasing another post soon that is about how to get started with strength and mobility training.
Aches and Pains.
A simplified guide to eating.
Resources (also provided in the links throughout the article):
Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance, by Kelly Starret 1st Edition (2013). [link will take you to 2nd edition]
Power to the People!:Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American, by Pavel Tsatsouline.
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