The answer to many questions in relation to improving your health is to improve your movement quality and strength. It is fascinating to me the number of people who do not see the importance in strength work. I understand that for the longest time strength training was only seen as something meant for those who wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was thought that if you lifted weights you would become big and bulky. This perception still lives on today, where people fear that if they lift weights they will become slow or bulky, and their performance will go down. Or they simply believe that strength training won’t benefit them because they are already strong. If you can already bang out 10 pull-ups, a bodyweight deadlift, and over 20 pushups then maybe you are right that you do not need to get stronger if you are not an athlete. Doubtful, but maybe. Even the strongest people I know can benefit from becoming stronger even if it is just mentally. Strength is for all, and it is for all to cultivate always.
I want to start by debunking the myth that if you strength train you will turn into Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is not true. If you lift like Arnold then maybe. Arnold spent hours on top of hours in the gym, training for the purpose of becoming huge and he successfully did that. However, what he was doing was not strength training, though he did become strong in the process. He was bodybuilding. BODY BUILDING. Not STRENGTH TRAINING. True strength training consists of low reps per set and plenty of recovery time in between sets. It is meant to make you stronger, not tired, not weaker, not bulky. In fact, here is a list of some of the benefits that you can expect from proper strength training:
In every sport, power is a key component. Whether you are playing tennis, golf, football, baseball, or running. The ability to have a high power output can help your non-maximal efforts seem even easier, aka improve your endurance. Let's say you have to move 100lbs. Do you think it is better for you to only have the ability to move 100lbs one time or have the ability to move 100lbs ten times? Strength helps to make any task feel easier. If the rate of perceived effort is lower for the same amount of work, guess what? Your endurance goes up. This is why strength is so important. The formula for power is p=force x velocity. In layman's terms, to improve your power you can either apply more force to an object or move it faster. In other words, to improve your power, becoming stronger is a good idea.
Now that you are convinced that you need some strength training in your life, do not forget the first part of that equation. Movement quality. You must move well inside and outside the gym in order to increase the likelihood of living this life pain-free. For many of us not only do we need to become stronger, but we need to move better. Life behind a desk, in a car, on a couch, biking, running, jumping, swinging has been quite damaging to many of our bodies. None of these activities are inherently bad. This is not what I am saying at all. Please enjoy the activities you like to do. However, also do the things that will ensure that you can continue to do them into old age. Even if you enjoy the couch, there are a few movements that I find highly beneficial to learn and to do but only if you wish to have healthy hips, spine and shoulders as you get older which are the main areas that will ensure you are able to be active in your later days.
The most important move one can learn how to properly perform is the hip hinge. I have mentioned the hip hinge many times before such as in my fitness tips article which you can find here. The hip hinge is THE athletic stance. Every single sport utilizes the hip hinge in some way shape or form. Not only is it useful for athletic development but it is pivotal in preventing back issues and rehabbing back issues. Often times, if we can clean up how someone moves in everyday life, we can decrease the amount of time that they experience back pain. The move that saves people’s back the most is the hinge. It teaches people how to properly pick things up off of the floor without using their backs as the prime mover. In other words, it utilizes the hamstrings, glutes, core as the main lifters and allows the spine to not do the heavy lifting. I like to start off with this drill utilizing a PVC pipe. When done correctly, you should not feel your low back working.
The next move combo that is great for teaching the body how to be strong and move well is the quadruped rock and head nods. These two moves are resets. Meaning there purpose is to restore the body’s natural reflexive strength. They operate utilizing the vestibular system, which is responsible for spatial awareness and balance, as well as utilizing proprioception which also helps spatial awareness but through a different mechanism. If your proprioception is off it can be very difficult to move optimally and pain-free. Improving your body awareness can only help and these seemingly simple moves go a long way towards improving your body awareness. Outside of these benefits, these two moves also help the spine to return to its natural shape and function in a passive but effective manner. The list of these movements benefits goes on and on like Erykah Badu. To simplify it, they make you feel good, give them a try. Thank me later.
Another move that, when done correctly, can really help you feel strong and healthy as the days go on is a plank. Emphasis on when done correctly. This move next to the deadlift might be the most often seen movement done in a very less than optimal manner. It is supposed to be an anti-extension exercise. Meaning you are supposed to create a neutral(straight) spine and fight the urge to hold the position by arching your back. When the plank is done right, it is an incredibly useful core exercise that helps to teach you how to brace your core and protect your spine. It also teaches you what a proper lockout position looks and feels like. Same as with the hip hinge, I often utilize the PVC pipe to help teach people what their position should look like. When done correctly, you should not feel your low back working.
If you think strength training isn’t for you, you should seriously reconsider. Moving well is important and being strong is equally as important. Both need to be worked at, you aren’t going to miraculously be strong (physically) or automatically know how to move. Every great mover at one point was a novice who had to learn how to actually move. Swallow your pride, admit you need help and seek it out.
Bonus: Many of us do not stretch, or those of us who do stretch have no goal other than becoming Gumby. I think mobility is extremely important if you want to be strong and healthy as the clock ticks. Two places that I think most people can improve their mobility are their hips and their thoracic spine (mid/upper back). It’s no secret that we live in a sitting culture which often tightens up our mid and upper backs as well as our hip flexors. Also, we love cardio, usually utilizing a bike or running, two activities which can also tighten up already tight hip flexors. Losing the ability to extend a joint usually leads to some sort of pain/injury down the road. Losing the ability to extend your legs usually leads to pain in your hips or your low back, no one wants that. Having a spine that loses its natural s curve puts a lot of strains on the vertebrae which can create some discomfort in your back, neck, hips or even knees. Each human is built different so don’t expect your posture to have to be the same as the next person, however, most of us can work to release some of the tension we have in our bodies due to the posture we are frequently in. The moves I love to do to help unwind are the infamous Bretzel series. These “stretches” do an unbelievable job of finding tension and releasing it. Leaving you with the ability to take more full breaths and have a more humanly posture.