Mindfulness and Strength

Strength training has many benefits that are often overlooked and in turn, are sought out through different avenues that don’t deliver results as good as what you would accomplish through strength training.

When people hear strength training, they often picture bodybuilders, meatheads, people in next to no clothes, loud music, and some rugged gym environment. If asked what they think the benefits of strength training are they’d say build muscle. Completely one dimensional. Because for some reason (society) some people are afraid of muscle, they shy away from strength training and choose other options to invest there time to that in my opinion, would be better spent on other things.

Yes, strength training can build muscle. No muscle cannot turn into fat nor can fat turn into muscle. They are different cells. Now, according to Merriam-Webster, strength training is defined as a system of physical conditioning in which muscles are exercised by being worked against an opposing force (as by lifting weights) to increase strength. I want to keep this definition simple. In this definition, there is not a mention of building muscle. There is a mention of an opposing force. The opposing force is crucial if you wish to truly gain all of the benefits that strength training can provide.

Outside of the conventional wisdom of all of the benefits that strength training can provide such as resilience to sarcopenia (muscle loss), increased muscle density ("tone") and increased strength, there are many other benefits rarely ever mentioned in the same breath as strength training.

Mindfulness is one of the biggest benefits I believe strength training can offer. Normally thought to be reserved for meditation and yoga, mindfulness is a must if you treat strength training as what it is, practice. It is deliberate practice. Each rep teaches you to be in the moment and to learn from it. There is always something to improve upon, there is always something to focus on. With strength training, your breathing is extremely important. Breathing properly makes you stronger and safer where breathing improperly can put you at risk. Needless to say, you have to focus on your breath.

Since this is a highly physical mindfulness practice, this leads to many other benefits. For example, it increases body/spatial awareness. Since each movement you are looking to experience certain feelings in particular places, this helps to create a better mind-body connection. Knowing how to control your body in and through space is a major key if you wish to navigate this world resilient to falling. Being able to fire your muscles quickly is extremely important, especially as we get older. Having full control of your body is a blessing few people are “lucky” enough to experience, and strength training can help you get there.

This hyper-awareness and attention to detail with every rep of our strength training helps bring in another neglected benefit of strength training, improved active range of motion. Active range of motion means the ability to control your limbs through their full range of motion. Hyper flexible people usually have a huge gap between where their limbs can be moved to passively and where they can actively control their limbs. Stiff people usually are just stiff, unable to move their limbs through an acceptable ROM (range of motion). Strength training can help stiff people become more “mobile” and can help super flexible people build strength in their full ROM. For both groups, this is a plus. Having full control of a healthy range of motion makes you more resilient to injury. Being too stiff or too flexible puts you more at risk.

Gaining these benefits comes with another significant benefit, that of patience. Often people do not have the patience it takes to get stronger so they choose modalities that feel hard but leave them spinning tires going nowhere fast. It takes time, consistency, and patience to get stronger. To learn proper form and mechanics of a movement it takes time, deliberate practice and the patience of a saint. You are not going to be perfect the very first time you try, just like learning any new skill, it takes time.

These tremendous benefits gained through strength training can have life-changing carryover to every other aspect of your day to day. I am not saying that this is the only way to gain any of these benefits but I do believe it is a great way. Strength is the basis of life, without it we are nothing. Neglect it and it will diminish. Water it and it will flourish. Nurture your strength. Do not be afraid of getting strong, your life will thank you.