From Strength Comes Wellness…
I have dedicated much of my adult life to championing the utility of strength training. Not just as a means of making muscles bigger and prettier, but because I understand the values of wellness associated with it. Strength training provides benefits that few people recognize, though most everyone would appreciate them. In no particular order, these are among the leading values of strength training:
- Increased flexibility
- Decreased blood pressure
- Improved balance
- Enables better fat loss than cardio (please repeat that one over and over again)
- Personal confidence
- Enhanced strength outside of the gym
- Slows down the inevitable loss of bone density
They key to maximizing these dividends is in being deliberate in one’s actions once inside the gym, and not just going through the motions.
But Few People Care To Know…
A lack of optimal execution in strength training is the largest reason why people don’t obtain the benefits that come with lifting weights. Attention to proper strength training form can not only accelerate benefits, it can guarantee them. A lack of results and the related dings, pings, and injuries which can be associated with strength training done incorrectly, often lead to a state of disdain for the gym, yet people often continue to go anyway as something they feel they should be doing – because so many others are doing it.
Poor strength training form is so widespread that I often believe it will never be overcome as a cultural phenomenon. I will suggest that more than 90% of a gym population at any one time is working less than optimally toward their goals and related benefits, and in many instances they are working far below a fruitful outcome.
A generations deep copycat gym culture has assured that proper strength training form is scarcely utilized by the masses, leaving strength training’s greatest potential; to be a viable form of wellness as well as disease & injury prevention, largely unfulfilled.
What is most striking about the lack of attention people give to proper form with the weights is that it is almost exclusive to strength training as a form of exercise. In yoga and Pilates, for example, the underlying focus of any practitioner, be it in a class or done solitarily, is to master the form – regardless of how much time is involved in doing so.
Martial arts works much the same way. A good sensei will only advance a student who demonstrates exceptional form in a kata. If that form is not met, the student must return to practice and test again later.
In strength training though, the next step to advancement is usually nothing more than the ego based decisions to add weight or increase repetitions regardless of form, because it is assumed that in strength training progress comes exclusively from more, not from improved.
There’s More Than One Way To Be Poor…
I see examples of poor strength training form daily, often to the point where I feel the blended emotions of sympathy, disgust, and frustration – simultaneously as I walk about my local gym. By far, the two most common violations I see are fast repetitions, and partial repetitions.
Fast repetitions: There is a widespread misconception that speed in strength training translates to explosiveness. On one level this is true, notwithstanding that of the many values of strength training, explosiveness should not be high on the list for the middle aged businessman or the new mother wishing to lose her baby weight.
When athletes train for explosiveness, momentum is an underlying element to their training. As momentum and force increase, the opportunity to become injured increases proportionately. Most athletic injuries are caused by forces upon musculoskeletal structures that exceed the structure’s tensile limits. This means injury is caused by excessive force or excessive motion. What could be more excessive than repping out in the loose form that most people use when lifting weights…?
Partial repetitions: Though less dangerous than fast repetitions, partial repetitions offer little benefit with regard to strength and functionality. An unrecognized value in strength training is tendon strength. Tendons are where muscles taper, increase in density, and fuse muscle to bone. Having strong tendons offers joints better support. For balance, day-to-day agility, and functionality, having strong tendons is as important as having strong muscles.
Tendon strength can best be increased in the gym when exercises are taken through a complete range of motion. Partial repetitions keep load on the muscle bellies with minimum engagement of the tendons. However, when muscular extensions (negative reps) are complete, it is the tendon that bears much of the load prior to a subsequent contraction. These full extensions help strengthen tendons, offering joints more support outside of the gym.
Function Follows Form…
Despite the popular engineering edict to the contrary, in strength training function follows form. That is, the better form a group of muscles exhibits during strength training, the better they are likely to perform outside the gym where they are needed most. Ask me what I do for a living and my answer is simple; I teach proper form in strength training. Anything beyond that is secondary. A few basic concepts worth noting:
- Range of motion = flexibility.
- Eliminate momentum in a strength movement = reduce the chance of injury.
- Concentrate on the primary muscles involved with a lift = create a greater awareness (intimacy) with one’s muscular skeleton.
- Improve control of a weight in motion = improve the body’s command of itself.
Still, it’s simply enough for most to walk into a gym, do some pushing, some pulling, perhaps some bending and squatting, and do so in a haphazard fashion with the exclusive goal being to increase capacity or quantity. To me this is similar to sitting down to a pricey meal and eating it quickly while washing down every bite with a swallow of a soft drink. What’s the point…?
Which makes more sense, this…?
To this day, before I add weight to any movement or attempt more repetitions, I always ask myself, “Could I have done that last set any better…?” Only if the answer is no will I attempt to increase my load or capacity.
The execution of proper form, in my opinion, should be the highest priority in determining improvement with strength training.
With Benefits Comes Enjoyment…
I hear regularly from people that they strength train because they feel they should or because their doctor suggested it, often followed by, “but I don’t really enjoy it”. If you fall into that category, please consider this: I take pride in teaching people to actually connect with strength training – often to a point where it becomes transformative and meditative – a necessary part of their weekly routine.
The perfect repetition, and all the benefits that go with it is anyone’s for the taking. It’s not always easy. Moving weights properly can burn at times, and there can be mild discomfort in the moment. I will suggest though, that on completion of a set – of a workout in this fashion, there can be an exhilaration and sense of cleansing that is just as powerful as yoga, Pilates, or going to church.
The singular repetition of a strength exercise executed in proper form, through a complete range of motion, and dialed into with absolute concentration, is as cleansing to me as a breath of fresh air. For that one moment, I am alone in a perfect state that transcends time. I am not even aware that there is a world beyond my repetition, let alone beyond my workout. That I get to repeat this state over again daily, weekly, and yearly, and to know that it comes with the benefits of improved wellness, is among the greatest gifts I have known as a physical person. Be well… rc
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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from the genius of Corey McAbee. Enjoy!