The Art of Movement: Week 17 - What Do You Mean by 'Strong'?
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Week 17 - What do you mean by strong?
Having spent the majority of my adult life standing behind a gym desk or out on the gym floor coaching and fielding various questions about health and fitness, one of the FAQ’s I am regularly presented with is the quest for ‘strength’. People want to get strong, stay strong or be stronger, and for all kinds of reasons.
Sometimes it is simply aesthetic - to ‘tone up’ (so they say) and appear more lean and athletic. Sometimes it is to feel more confident and raise self-esteem. Some people participate in elite sport and have an urgency to reduce their injury susceptibility and maximise performance.
However, one thing is for certain. For all of these varying individual cases of desire to get ‘stronger’, each will have a wildly different understanding of what that actually means and entails.
Many people new to exercise mistakenly believe that they can get away with lifting very light weights, for high repetitions (15-30), without going heavier and will somehow get stronger. Unfortunately this isn’t how our body behaves. Our body interprets the stress that we apply to it, and adapts accordingly. So if we pick up a weight that we can lift 30 times before we reach fatigue, we are not sending the message to our body to get stronger, we are sending it the message that it needs to be able to persevere with an easy to moderate weight for a long duration of work. Endurance improves as a result - but not strength!
Below is a visual guide to how you can interpret the weight you are lifting in the gym:
Assuming correct technique, you are simply asking yourself what is the maximum number of times I can lift in a row? If you were not able to do more than 6, there is a good chance you are predominantly training your strength. Of course, these zones do blend into each other, so you might for instance go as high as 12 reps, and still kind of be training maximal strength (even though you are predominantly targeting muscle growth). However if you genuinely want to get stronger, you will get the most bang for your buck lifting a weight you cannot lift more than 6 times.
Likewise, if you want to ‘tone up’ (which isn’t really a real thing - what you really mean, whether you like it or not is that you want to increase your muscle mass, which in turn accelerates body fat loss and increases muscle definition) - you should be lifting weights that you cannot lift more than 10-15 times.
I sympathise with anyone reading something about this topic for the first time, but hope it all makes sense, and give me a shout if you’d like to learn more about this principle of training! To summarise:
Strength, muscle growth (hypertrophy) and muscle endurance are 3 different things! (which can overlap)
We must be specific about what exactly we want
Number of reps to failure (mostly) determines which type of training we are doing
And the type of energy system we are using
and therefore the type of adaptations our body will make
If you really want to get stronger, lift heavier for low reps!
“Just like in bodybuilding, failure is also a necessary experience for growth in our own lives, for if we're never tested to our limits, how will we know how strong we really are? How will we ever grow? ”
― Arnold Schwarzenegger
Movement of the Week: Slider Curtseys
2 x 5 reps each leg
You can have a go at this difficult balance exercise with either proper sliders (as shown) or just a bit of paper or a towel - anything that will slide along the floor as you push it! Stabilise through your standing leg and focus on creating tension at the knee and recruiting the stabilising muscles in your hip. As you reach your leg behind you, move extremely slowly, with as much control as possible, and go as far out as you can, before returning and repeating. Measure the difference between your left and right side!
That’s all for this week! Please spread the word about my Patreon channel so more people can enjoy the videos and newsletters!