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8 Interesting Things About Strength

Mary Kay

Women have no idea how strong they are or what they are capable of.  True story.  My friend Bryan has a female client who (despite having parents who own a gym) didn’t know how to back squat.  She had one session with him, and during that time not only did she learn to squat, she set her first personal record at 210 lbs.  She was shocked.  How can that be when she’s never squatted with a barbell before?  Because women are strong!!  I really wish women knew this simple fact. 

When I started my love affair with strength 8 years ago, it was not love at first sight.  It was hard.  I was weak and clumsy, and I couldn't fathom how lifting 5 lb. dumbbells could produce the body of my dreams.  Then, something shifted.  My body didn't change, but I felt different.  As I got stronger, I felt more grounded and comfortable in my skin.  The heavier the loads I could carry, the easier it was for me to deal with stress and juggle tasks.  And when I started to set personal records, I became inspired to take on more risk and learn new skills.  That's what chasing strength does for you.  It's all about progression, not perfection...and moving forward, one step at a time.

Now, I love being strong, and I can't imagine my life any other way.  But like anything that gets your juices flowing...to truly understand something, you have to consider the good and bad that comes with it.  So, here are 8 interesting things about strength I wish everybody knew.

The Best Thing About Strength

  • Anyone Can Get Strong. Generally speaking, anyone at any age can improve their level of strength, but you have to do the work.  This means committing to a program that combines strength training (8-10 exercises that work the major muscle groups) with 15-20 minutes of moderate cardio 3-4x a week.  This is the simplest recipe for building muscle while burning fat to keep a healthy weight for life.

The Worst Thing About Strength

  • Strength Is Unique to Each Individual.  While many strength coaches use skills testing to measure improvement, the truth is there is no definitive criteria that says every adult should be “x” strong in “y” activity.  That’s because how much an individual can lift is influenced by several factors like: program volume/intensity, predominant muscle fiber type, hormonal levels, body proportions, tendon insertion points, muscle-tendon ratios and neurological efficiency.  A good coach will always select exercises that work with your body, but the truth is...the level of strength you can ultimately achieve in a given activity is largely governed by your unique physiological and mechanical profile.

The Best Things About Strength That Get the Least Amount of Attention

  • Muscles are Co-Dependently Patterned and Wired for Power. Muscles are comprised of muscle fibers.  Each fiber is thinner than a human hair, and yet it can support up to 1,000 times its own weight. Amazing, right?  Additionally, while no two muscles in the body have exactly the same function, they are designed to work together.  Have you ever noticed athletes "squeezing” the muscles in their hands, core, glutes or feet first before doing certain exercises?  That's because 'activating' those muscles increases the firing and movement of adjacent muscles … thereby building strength over a broader area.
  • Muscles Increase Longevity.  It's true.  Muscles are the new fountain of youth.  In fact, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that the higher your muscle mass index the more likely you’ll live longer, and another study published in 2011 looked at 40 competitive runners, cyclists and swimmers (ranging in age from 40 to 81) and found that athletes in their 70s and 80s had as much thigh muscle mass as athletes in their 40s.  In other words, people don’t lose muscle mass as they age.  Muscles weaken at any age as soon as you stop using them.

The Thing You Might Not Have Known About Strength

  • Strength is a Balancing Act.  One thing many adults underestimate is the importance of developing muscle balance across the entire body … left/right side; front or core/back, upper/lower body.  Why?  Muscles zig-zag across the body and have a proportional strength relationship between them.  That is, if one area is stronger than the other, it pulls on the other side increasing the risk of injury on the weaker side.  What’s interesting though is muscle imbalance tends to develop even with good programming.  That’s because people have a tendency to push or pull or more forcibly with one part of their body.  Hence, it’s a good idea to incorporate single arm/leg or one-sided exercises at least once a week in your program to prevent or shore up any muscle imbalances.

The Most Misunderstood Thing About Strength

  • More is Not Better.  All the good strength coaches agree.  The “quality” of the strength exercise you perform is much more important than the “quantity” of weight you lift or the time you spend training.  If it wasn’t, the person who spent the most time in the gym would be the strongest — which is often not the case.  But in order for improvement in strength level to occur, the stimulus needs to be challenging enough to induce positive physiological changes but not so hard as to exceed the body’s capacity to safely adapt...to recover.  Thus, the guiding rule is only put as much stress on the body that it can recover from.

The Thing Most Know About Strength But Haven’t Taken to Heart

  • Your Joints Matter - Joint mobility (ability to facilitate desired movement) and joint stability (ability to resist undesired movement) are extremely important to strength.  Unfortunately, most adults either have too much movement in their joints or develop fibrosis (thickening or scarring of tissue) limiting movement.  This is where too much stress from heavy lifting can actually weaken joints.  So, what do you do?  Use lifting aids like back belts and knee braces to stabilize wobbly joints and incorporate dynamic stretching and foam rolling techniques to loosen up "balled up" tissue.  The more muscles that cross a joint and can contract easily and more strongly, the more weight that can be lifted.

The One Thing You Need to Start Doing to Develop Strength

  • Go For It!  Whether or not you believe it, your body is a mechanical wonder…fully assembled, adaptable and capable of building and sustaining muscle throughout life.  All you need to do is start.  So, accept that you’re going to feel weak and awkward and very confused in the beginning. We all go through it. And don’t make strength a contest.  If you focus on the competitive aspects of how much you lift, you risk injury or getting discouraged with your efforts.  Instead, find a good teacher, follow a custom strength program that aligns with your goals and your body’s capacities, and just do your best.  The results will come! 

There you have it. 8 interesting tidbits about strength.  I know muscles are merely tissue, but I think they’re no less valuable than the rarest of jewels.  So, I guard and nurture them to reap their benefits in my daily life.

Do your muscles need a tune-up?  Maybe it's time to seek strength.​

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