If you’ve been reading my articles over the years you already know that I am a big proponent of strength training. Strength training though is more than lifting weights. When most people hear strength training they have images of body builders pumping iron. I’ve tried to make it clear that strength training is much more than that and the training that I am a proponent of is probably better labeled as strength and conditioning. Simply stated strength and conditioning addresses more than the muscle building aspects of fitness training. It includes flexibility/mobility training (more than stretching), prehab exercises to prevent injury, core strengthening (not sit-ups), strength training, and aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.
For the purposes of this brief article I am going to focus on the strength training aspect of strength and conditioning. I define strength training as the movement of a mass by exerting force against the resistance of that mass over a determined distance at a determined speed. The amount of mass, the form of that mass, the selected distance, and speed of that movement are all variables of a training program. So you are probably wondering should the mass be heavy, should you move it quickly or slowly, should you move it a large distance or a small distance? The answer is yes to all of the above. Heavier masses will be moved more slowly while lighter masses will be more conducive to power training and can be moved more quickly. You should train for both strength and power so you should move heavy weights (mass) more slowly and perform movements with lighter resistances (mass) more quickly.
In regards to distance, I find that when you perform movements that challenge you from your toes to your fingertips you get the most bang for your buck. These exercises, like picking up a weight from the ground and then lifting it above your head are very challenging to say the least. You are using multiple muscle groups in a synchronized way to perform the movement. These movements are more functional then let’s say a machine biceps curl performed sitting down, because they resemble real life everyday movements like picking up a box or a laundry basket and placing it on a shelf or a bed. The more muscle groups you use in performing a movement the greater the energy demand, thus the greater caloric expenditure. And when you put a series of these total body exercises together back to back with minimal rest you are not only getting a strength benefit but also a conditioning benefit similar to cardiovascular training. Your heart rate will get up higher than using the elliptical while performing the circuit and will take longer to recover when you’re finished resulting in an after-burn; an important aspect of metabolism that I have addressed in earlier articles.
Strength training also referred to as resistance training is not reserved to just lifting dumbbells. While dumbbells and barbells are excellent tools that I use regularly, there are other tools that provide challenging and unique stimuli to our bodies that deserve consideration. Training with sandbags can provide a very challenging workout. Because the sand moves while you lift or carry the bags there is the added demand on your body, especially the core, to maintain stability. Performing exercises where you lift the sandbag, place it on one shoulder and then carry it a determined distance, before lifting the bag and switching shoulders for the return trip are very challenging. Kettlebells, because of their shape and design, are great for swinging. The kettlebell swing is excellent for hamstrings and glutes, and the motion and speed of the exercise can really get the heart rate going. The TRX suspension trainer is a great tool for training the entire body using your bodyweight and gravity as resistance. It takes bodyweight training to a whole new level. These are only a few of the tools out there that can take your strength and conditioning to a whole new level. Not only are these tools effective, but they are also a great deal of fun. After training with these tools myself, I can’t see why anyone would want to simply go to a gym to sit down on a machine perform an exercise and then move on to the next machine, or plop themselves on an elliptical trainer for 60 minutes. Many of us work at jobs where we sit all day, do you really think the exercise we need is at a gym that encourages us to move while sitting down or move without going anywhere?
In conclusion, strength training is more than pumping iron. It is functionally challenging yourself to move against resistance to get stronger and to improve your performance of daily activities and recreational sport. While cardiovascular training has been attributed to adding to the length of your life, strength training will help improve the quality of your life. And when total body movements are performed in sequences or complexes the heart healthy benefits of this type of training can also be realized. If your workout looks like play then you are probably on the right track. On the other hand if it resembles that of a hamster on a hamster wheel it’s time for a change.