Strength Training is Great
I am a great advocate of strength training. It is hard to find a single activity that will give you more health benefits, general strength or overall, general athletic performance. As a rule you will find that a strength athlete will be able to perform very well at most sports while an athlete who trains for a specific sport often will not be able to transfer the skills to many other sports or general strength for that matter. This is elaborated upon in the very excellent book by Dan John and Pavel Tsatsouline (2011), “Easy Strength : How to Get a Lot Stronger Than Your Competition - and Dominate in Your Sport”.It is also summed up well in the notion of General Physical Preparedness (GPP). The concept of general physical preparedness (GPP) has enjoyed a resurgence in the last 10 years thanks to American coaches such as Louie Simmons applying the information in old Soviet texts. As stated by famous Soviet athlete Edvins Ozolin (2006):
GPP contains the idea of all around physical development. Which is why the qualities developed by GPP may be called general as they express the ability o f the organism and its psychological sphere to perform any physical work more or less successfully. Hence general endurance, general strength, general joint mobility, general coordination, general psychological preparedness.
And that is what strength training is about. To develop a generally strong body (to house a strong mind and a strong spirit), so that in anything you encounter, the body is strong, agile and capable. That anything is a tall order and so strength training can become quite a journey.
Strength Training is Safe
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Is one of the safest sports one can enjoy, perhaps counter to common perception. This also applies for kids, where starting a kid on strength training is much more safe than, say, football. Let me explain. In strength training one of the core principles is progressive resistance. This means that we start light and progress (increase resistance) gradually as the body adapts. With the exception of a clown here and there who does something stupid to show off (I think they are found in every sport) this means that the body never meets a load is has not carefully been strengthened to handle. It is also a social sport, contrary to many beliefs. Once you leave the chrome and fern crowd in the disco-and-lotion gyms you will find a group of people who are united in their quest to better themselves and forever challenge what they thought were possible. We all have different starting points and different physiques, so competition is more with yourself than with training comrades. Everyone appreciates when someone outdoes him- or herself, no matter what weight is used. It is not the actual weight that counts - it is whether or not that weight is an improvement for you and that is relative to your current strength level.
Planning for Healthy Strength Training
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For long term strength gains your lifestyle and training regiment must be healthy. It is a logic necessity because if you are sick or weakened or otherwise out of balance, you will not be able to be your strongest. I use the word “strongest” in it’s widest possible meaning to exclude the use of steroids, growth hormone and the like from achieving a facsimile of strength - see also my blog post on the subject.This means that you must include sleep, stress, food - your entire lifestyle - into thoughts about training. While the actual training doesn’t have to take long - the shorter the better, actually, becoming strong is a life project. It means, that to get gains from your work, you should make sure to sleep properly. To sleep properly you must address issues in your life that stresses you. To recover properly from workouts you must eat properly. To eat properly, you must understand what “properly” is. Maybe you are often in situations where you are tempted to buy fast-food. Then you might want to make it a habit to think ahead, eat from home or bring your own food. A little fast-food matters little when you train hard for strength, but in general the old adage “you become what you eat” holds true and without solid and good food you will not be able to keep growing and adapting.As you can see, once you start on the path of strength it becomes part of you, a good part, and an ever-present part of your life. It should not consume you but instead guide you. Live your life, but make your choices compatible with your strength project. Build a strong body to house a strong spirit and a strong mind.
Practical Implications of this Philosophy
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In my blog I write on my experience with training methods, apparatus, programs and so on. All that I write there is shaped by the philosophy outlined on this page and the practical implications outlined below.
Plan for fun. True strength takes time, so make it fun or you will loose interest.
Plan longterm. True strength takes time so find a training regiment you can stick to without crashing from time management issues
Plan for a structurally sound body. Many build up imbalances, overly big chests, for instance, because of trends and fads. This causes posture issues and uneven stress on your bones and frame. In the case of a too large chest, it will round your shoulders and contract your chest.
Listen to your body and understand that recovery takes time. Many fall into the pit of overtraining in eager attempts to build super big muscles really fast. Overtraining will set you back, make your life suck and make training way to hard.
Find training methods that best subject your body to variety and instability. General strength means the ability to apply strength no matter what. So balance must be good. You must be able to apply power in any direction, maybe on a bad footing. So we use free weights rather than machines because they are more difficult to control and don’t force our bodies into fixed movement patterns. We want our bodies to work on stabilizing the weight while exerting force - just like it would have to in real life when you lift something or run around unsupported. And we use different methods to train the same muscle groups whenever possible so we develop the most general ability to apply force from every muscle group. It is also great for results, as the gains tends to stagnate if you do the same movements always.
Be results-oriented for better results. Your body doesn’t care about the latest fashion fads or expensive machines. It cares about the nature of the load it is subjected to as it has always done. So to get results and provoke adaption you must think about how to best put loads on your body in ways that provoke adaption. If ugly, weird, old equipment or methods gets the job done, that is what you must use to get results.
Be skeptical. The internet is a fantastic source of misinformation and stuff someone wants you to buy. Most new “training secrets” or training fads add nothing towards real results, instead often to the contrary. Worse, the vast majority of programs out there leave so little time for recovery that the implication is that they will only work for the unadapted beginner (and so loose efficacy after a short while) or those who have fallen into the pit of using steroids or growth hormone.
Be more skeptical. I cannot emphasize this enough. Apart from a few contemporary authors (of real books, not internet “articles”) of sound reputation (check my blog for more on them) you really cannot know if what you read is intended for steroid users or not. Steroid use is really, really prevalent and since no one will admit that what they claim work only works because they do drugs it is very hard to figure out what to trust. There is a way though. First of all, start reading books on training published before the first steroids were available. If you stick to literature from before 1940 you will be safe. Secondly, in the absence of artificially raised hormone levels from drugs we must find a way to increase our hormone levels naturally (because they drive muscle growth together with local adaptation to the stress we provide though training). Hormone levels in our blood increase after training and the more muscles you activate at once the better hormone response you get. Therefore we prefer exercises that move the most amount of muscle at once. They are called compound exercises and stand in contrast to isolation exercises that train only a single muscle at a time. Examples of compound exercises are Deadlift, Kettlebell swings, the Press, Squat, Pullups, Dips.
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Join me on my blog where I try to provide advice, outlines and tips for proper strength training as well as sources for further reading. The aim is to make this great sport available for the thinking (wo)man who want to get the most results from his or her efforts and would like to cut through all the horrible misinformation out there. I like simple, cheap (I did study economics :-) solutions that will yield the best results.
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