I would like to tell you a little bit about why strength training is so important.
In fact at Fitness Soul we think about strength as being the foundation of your fitness. Through adding strength, we help our clients realise their potential and this article will explain why it will help you to realise yours too.
But I’m a Runner!
So let’s begin by looking at a couple of different situations. Let’s say you are a runner. And for example, running a marathon. We see a lot of ultra runners, triathletes, and plain old joggers who think that the only thing they need to do is to run. Maybe this is you too. And by running, you get better endurance because you’re getting better at running. However, you’re not really working on strength. And strength is something which helps you. When you are stronger, you will be able to run faster, further, recover more quickly and you suffer fewer injuries. Even the top racers – the Mo Farahs of the world, spend dedicated proportions of their programs working on pure strength and specific strength for running.
The Mobot knows that not including strength in your training is a mistake.
But I’m a dancer!
The next situation: let’s say you love dancing and the only thing you do at the moment is Zumba.. It’s great exercise, and it’s great fun! But with some strength training, you will be able to enjoy Zumba more. Your moves will be bigger and you will have more energy to do this. Look at Joanna, Fitness Soul’s lead Zumba instructor. Joanna dances every day. But on the top of that, she does specific work to strengthen her body – her joints, tendons and ligaments as well as her muscles because she knows that with the strength training, she will be able to perform better, for longer, and stay happier! And after a really hard Zumba session, because she has strengthened her body, she can wake up the next day and she’s ready to go again.
How to train for strength badly
The first thing is what not to do. This is the most common error people make, often because they are advised by gym instructors who are still teaching from 1980s textbooks. The biggest error is that we tend to go somewhere safely in the middle. But what does this mean?
Imagine there is a line. On one end there is pure strength training and at the other there is endurance training. We know a marathon runner is “endurance”, so we train endurance. And we know a powerlifter is “strength” and we don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, so in our training, we mostly do something in the middle.
What this means is that we are not really focusing on strength and we’re not really focusing on endurance. We’re going somewhere in the middle. A rep range of around 8 to 12 with weights that are heavy-ish but not too heavy? You take 30 seconds rest, and you go again? Does this sound familiar to you? And that’s fine. But there is a better way of doing it.
The better way of doing it
The optimum methodology is to take our reps range all the way down and the weights all the way up – into the Strength Zone.
In the Strength Zone the weight should be heavy. Heavy enough that on the fifth rep you feel you can’t possibly control the movement anymore. To gain maximum pure strength you work on a single rep – your One Rep Max.
Now, a word of warning. For most of us, single reps are too focussed on strength over other things. It’s beyond the limit of what we advise all our customers because whilst it can be super effective, it’s hard to do safely without another person present, and it moves away from being easily applied to general fitness and health. When we program our deadlift sessions or add strength work to your schedule or classes, we ask for around three to five reps.
The other half of the strength equation is the forgotten bit. Rest.
If you can only perform three lifts, you are working at one hundred percent. Your body needs time to recover between sets and between sessions.
Rest is super important. You cannot just rest for ten seconds and go again. You need to rest between two to three minutes at least. With a big, multi muscle exercise like a heavy deadlift, sometimes we rest our clients up to five minutes. Muscles need to be ready and recovered for hundred percent effort.
A typical Fitness Soul strength plan would be based around a few heavy lifts, between three to five reps in three sets with rest for more than three minutes between each set. Ideally, this training would be graduated across three sessions a week.
Some people struggle to fit this in, so our rule is a bare minimum of one per week but with a preference for at least two sessions per week.
The Long Term Benefits of Strength Training
When you train strength, you can recover faster and have fewer injuries. The longer terms benefits are also important for a long, healthy and active life. If you are reading this, chances are you love sport and being active and healthy, and you probably want to be able to go on loving these things forever.
At Fitness Soul, when we help people train, we train for the present but also the future. If a client is 38 now, we help them picture the life they want when they are 78. At 78, it’s unlike you need to do the splits, run a lap, or do a handstand push up (sorry Crossfit!) But we definitely want the strength to stand up from the floor on our own, or to carry something up stairs, pick up a bicycle or play with children. So the work that makes your body stronger now is vital in the years to come. This is because of degeneration.
Our bodies gradually lose their strength over the years. That’s normal. To understand the process, we think about levels of 1 to 10. We can imagine our strongest body is a level 5 strong at 35 years old. Without strength training, at 45 it has become a level 4. By 55 it becomes a level 3 strong body, and so on. The reality is, the degeneration isn’t linear but it is progressive. A significant factor in old age is this lack of strength because it causes loss of balance, risk of falls, brittle bones and loss of independence. But the way to prevent this is by building pure strength early so that the degeneration starts from a higher point on the scale. Essentially, if we can start the degeneration process at 8 instead of 5, we finish it at 3 or 4 instead of total zero.
Building Lockdown Strength
One of the questions we are asked a lot right now is how to do this strength work at home when you don’t have access to weights.
Sadly, that’s not easy. But it is possible. Here are some ideas:
- Slow it down – instead of making your exercise harder by adding weights, you can slow down. For example, instead of going fast with your squats, you can gain strength and mastery of the movement through control. A 10 count squat means going down for five seconds down and coming back up for five seconds. One rep takes you 10 seconds and you’re really concentrating on these muscles because they are under load for longer.
- Get explosive! The opposite way is to do explosive training. So instead of a regular squat, you jump as high as you possibly can out of each squat.
- Focussed bodyweights – you can introduce body weight exercises which are super hard. For example, if you don’t have a barbell to push overhead, you could start learning how to do handstands against a wall. And once comfortable in the handstand, you can start doing press ups in the handstand position. Both these exercises gradually add tension to the exactly the same muscles in a very similar way they are used in the overhead press.
- You can also use simple home exercise equipment. Bands are cheap, pack up small and are available in different sizes and tensions allowing for progression. And a very effective and versatile tool is a pull up bar. At Fitness Soul, we have dozens of bars we use to help clients build strength. By starting with hanging, which is amazing for shoulders but also helps to strengthen and relax the whole body; and building to do pull ups. Between the pull up and the deadlift, pretty much every muscle in the body is strengthened – they are the dynamic duo of the exercise world! A pull up bar also gives a good attachment for gymnastic rings. A final addition to a low cost, low space home gym would be a kettlebell. There is a reason our kettlebell classes at Fitness Soul are always full – kettlebells are a fun, versatile way to build strength and stability across the whole body. We have a great free online library of kettlebell videos so you never need to run out of ideas.
It helps you lose weight and recover from exertion faster. Strength training should be a fundamental part of your health and fitness plans, no matter if you are 18 or 81, an athlete, a weekend warrior or just someone who likes to try to get a little bit stronger, fitter and healthier today than you were yesterday!