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strength

Why Is Strength Training Important?

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Why Is Strength Training Important?

It is well-established that repeated physical activity is an important part of living a long and healthy life (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). Thankfully, there are many options. Running, swimming, pilates, yoga, and playing recreational sports are all popular ways that people can stay physically active. These activities vary in the specific physiological demand and movement pattern of the body. However, they all have one thing in common. Performance in all of these activities is increased by a properly applied strength training (aka resistance training) program. In other words, strength training will make you a better swimmer, a better runner, and a better athlete in general. You could say that it is a healthy performance booster (especially for those who don’t do strength training often).

What exactly is muscular strength and how can we measure it?

Muscular strength is defined as the maximal amount of force that a muscle can exert in a single contraction. Strength can be measured in several ways, but in practical terms, strength is the amount of weight you are able to lift for a given exercise. For example, If you can deadlift 225 pounds for one repetition, that is a measure of strength, specific to that exercise.

A good strength training program involves many exercises that are functional movements (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc) that utilize all muscle groups of the body. It is important that exercises are completed with correct form, the correct amount of times per week, and with the correct amount of weight. It is also important to not overdo it! Let your muscles rest between lifting days.

Why is it good for us to be strong?

Reason #1

Stronger people live longer. Research shows that mortality rates are lower for individuals that are stronger (Metter et al., 2002). This is especially true for people over 60 years of age.

Reason #2

Greater strength levels increase performance in all physical activities. Yes, even long distance runners should lift weights if they want to improve their running performance. The reason is because strength training improves physiological factors in the body that increase our bodies ability to do other types of physical activity. Namely, the amount of fuel we have available for exercise (glycogen storage), our ability to tolerate intense exercise (buffering capacity), and how much energy we are using during exercise (STØREN et al., 2008). These physiological factors are important for many types of physical activities but often those activities will not improve physiological factors as significantly as resistance training. If you can perform activities at a higher level, you can burn more calories for a longer period of time. Through strength, we can achieve a greater performance in all physical activities we do, resulting in a greater level of fitness.

Reason #3

Strength training reduces chances of injury. It strengthens not only muscles, but tendons, ligaments and bones. All of which are important for staying injury free, allowing you to participate in many physical activities safely. For example, many people that run to excess can develop stress fractures in the bones, shin splints, or tendonitis. However, if you add strength training to your exercise routine, your chances of sustaining an injury are reduced.

Conclusion:

Strength training is an important part of living a healthy life because it helps you to live longer without injuries, and improves performance in all other movements that you do. The long distance runner who is trying to improve his/her time should do resistance training. The recreational basketball player that is trying to play an entire game without sitting out should do resistance training. And even just the average joe that is trying to live longer and stay healthy should do resistance training.

References:

  1. U.S. department of health and human services. (2018, June 21). 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/report.aspx

  2. Metter, E. J., Talbot, L. A., Schrager, M., & Conwit, R. (2002). Skeletal muscle strength as a predictor of all-cause mortality in healthy men. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 57(10), B359-B365.

  3. STØREN, Ø., Helgerud, J. A. N., STØA, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise40(6), 1087-1092.

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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

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Why You Should Be Using Kettlebells

First, what are kettlebells?! Kettlebells were first developed in Russia and are traditionally cast-iron rounded weights with a handle. Though you may have seen or used one in an exercise class, they’re actually still used a lot by special forces, martial arts masters, and national champion lifters, as well.

What makes this certain type of weight so special, you may ask? It’s because of how many athletic components you’re able to work. Research has shown kettlebell-specific routines to increase strength, strength endurance, general endurance, work capacity, balance, coordination, and agility, and to lower heart rate and blood pressure. A study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in 2010 found that, during a kettlebell snatch (a type of olympic lift) workout, subjects were burning at least 20.2 calories a minute. This is equivalent to running a 6-minute mile pace, and they compared that calorie expenditure to the amount of calories burned while cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace. With all of these possible benefits that basically cover every spectrum of fitness and athletics, why not train with kettlebells?

If you’re just getting into training and are overwhelmed by all the different machines and weight types throughout the gym, the kettlebell can be your answer to simplify things. I recently earned my StrongFirst Kettlebell Certification, which focuses on 6 lifts that can essentially be the entirety of your workout routine. You may need a couple different weights, but you can basically replace an entire gym full of equipment with just a couple of kettlebells. A national champion track and field thrower, Dan John famously said “with this kettlebell in my bedroom I can prepare for Nationals.” Form and technique are very important while using kettlebells to train, so make sure you’ve got a coach that can introduce you to the basics - as StrongFirst says: “safe execution first, perfect is a journey.” Even with light weight, just because of the nature of the exercises using this modality, you will get a large training effect.

For those athletes out there trying to up their game, this style of training will be hugely beneficial for you, as well. A big component of what makes kettlebell training transfer to sports is the relationship between relaxation and tension that is ever present. To hit a ball it’s furthest, or to throw the most powerful punch, an athlete needs both of these components at certain times. First starting loose so that they can react, then an initial tensing as they initiate the movement, followed by another relaxation period as the arm or bat flies to its target at top speed, and finally when connection has been made, tensing with everything the athlete has against his or her target. With this order, you can achieve maximum speed in the movement while backing it with power and strength. By training with kettlebells, you’re working on these same ideals, especially during the kettlebell swing which, of the main kettlebell lifts, most closely mimics this order. In the swing, you’re relaxed as you swing in the down motion, followed by tension to initiate the movement, relaxation as the bell starts to swing up, and finally achieving full tension at the top of the swing. The swing, snatch, and clean are all considered “ballistic” movements by StrongFirst and will follow this same basic principle, while the get-up, front squat, and overhead press are considered “grinds” that’ll improve the amount of tension and strength your body can achieve. Prof. Leonid Matveyev, a soviet scientist, noted that higher-level athletes could relax their muscles faster, observing an 800% difference between novice and olympic-level athletes in the speed of tension to relaxation in muscles. If you can’t relax your muscles, then they can’t hit maximum speed, which will ultimately hinder how much force you’re able to produce.

What does all of this mean? It means that any level of athlete can gain big benefits from a kettlebell workout routine, whether you’re training for a sport, competition, or just to look better. If you’re looking to mix things up - or to improve your own kettlebell skills - I suggest looking for a Strongfirst SFG certified trainer and get swinging!


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Why You Should Watch Your Habits Not Your Weight

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Why You Should Watch Your Habits Not Your Weight

I started my foray into exercise like many of you: in response to frustration with body image. I was around 210 lbs. at the age of 15, and this discontent resulted in dieting and exercising my way to about 160 pounds. Unfortunately, after settling into my first real relationship, the good habits didn't stick. Luckily, I was able to keep the weight off despite my lack of motivation once I reached this goal. As research suggests, and many of you can attest to, regaining lost weight is very common.

Now let's look at my second attempt at structured exercise a couple years later. I decided that I really enjoyed getting stronger, which was something I experienced in a resistance training class in high school. I made my mind up to focus on that aspect of self-improvement this time around. I had found something somewhat disconnected with my body image, yet with time my confidence was improved to a new level. As well, this time it stuck, and I have been regularly exercising for nearly 15 years now. 

I have worked with a lot of clients over the years, and everyone finds different things to ignite that passion for activity. I would say that it is a slim minority who find long-term results who only focus on training for looks, weight, and body composition. For everyone else, performance does more for motivation and confidence. The most trainable physical quality we have is strength. It is not uncommon for people to double or triple their strength with proper training. Furthermore, if you really train to improve this quality, body composition is very likely to improve as well.

One of the major downsides to training for looks is the subjectivity of your self-perception. Have you ever “felt fat?” This feeling doesn't only exist for folks who are obese, it is something that folks with healthy body fat levels also experience.

Our body image is incredibly fickle, and trying to set yourself up for a lifetime of success with exercise built on a foundation so volatile is a recipe for disaster for most of us.

Another advantage to training for strength is that it promotes regular progressive overload. You have to continually challenge yourself to pick up heavier weights to spur adaptation. Once again, this practice is very likely to lead to improvements in body composition. This basic tenet of exercise science is often ignored but is certainly one of the most important components of a successful exercise program.

I know it's hard to care about strength for some of you, but I'm willing to bet you will encounter moments in your life where you truly appreciate it. I have heard tons of client stories about being empowered by their newfound performance capabilities. Often times I hear stories of things people did with their children, how they were confident enough to try something they wouldn't have otherwise tried, or simply how many things they notice in everyday life seem easy when it used to be hard.

I'll share with you the first moment I truly appreciated my increased strength. I was on the island of Capri in Italy. My grandmother, who was terminally ill, sold her house and used some of the money to take one final dream vacation. Thankfully, I was included on this wonderful journey. Beyond her illness, she also had serious arthritis problems and a fairly recent hip replacement. When we finally got to the Blue Grotto, which was the central activity around which she planned this trip, she was crushed. There was a set of what seemed to be a couple hundred stairs to get down to the boat that would take us inside. She couldn't do it and told us to go on without her.

Photo Credit : Khachik Simonian

Photo Credit : Khachik Simonian

I wouldn't accept this; I picked her up and carried her down and up those stairs so she could realize her dream. The folks waiting at the bottom even clapped for us when we made it down. She must've told that story 100 times before she died. It was one of her most memorable experiences, and one of her most proud moments as a grandmother.

Photo Credit : Will van Winergerden

Photo Credit : Will van Winergerden

If I had never started trying to improve my strength, I would not have had the confidence to even attempt this, let alone the physical capacity to do so. This is the kind of thing that provides a lifetime of motivation to continue exercising. I have days where I feel like skipping my workouts too, but recalling this moment, among many others, can be very powerful for keeping consistent. 

I urge you to experiment with this mindset. It may not be for you, but as stated, a ton of my clients have found a lot of joy, pride, and confidence by focusing on this aspect of their transformation rather than body composition. Sometimes viewing things through a new lens can lead to an appreciation that wasn't there initially. Now go: be strong, and be beautiful.



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