If you want to get stronger, it may be time to ditch the barbell and opt for bodyweight strength…..at least for awhile.
In the Be Well Chiropractic Lifestyle Program we harp on the importance of balancing aerobic fitness with developing strength. Having one without the other is an incomplete approach to fitness and should be avoided. We must focus on both primary aspects of fitness.
Aerobic fitness is relatively easy to develop. Considerable initial gains in aerobic fitness can be made simply by becoming more active. Daily walks, hiking, regular recreational cycling, and other various outdoor activities can accelerate the early fitness gains that provide huge amounts of health related benefits. Or, pick up a new game you enjoy like pickle ball.
Strength can be a little more complicated. When class participants think of strength development, their first thought is of classical weight training. In our experience, the notion of classical strength training is met with either resistance, or possibly TOO MUCH acceptance. Folks who have never done any form of progressive strength training are resistant to the idea due to the higher barriers of entry into weightlifting as well as the fear of becoming too “bulky” or from getting injured doing something unsafe. On the other hand, people who conducted strength training in the past are often times all too willing and eager to jump back into strength training full bore, forgetting that their bodies have changed considerably since the last time they picked up a barbell.
Both of these concerns regarding traditional weight training can easily be overcome simply by following a well designed periodized training program (we give many examples of these in our workshops).
We love classical strength training. We have a great garage gym set up at our house that we have utilized for years, and the gym we have at my Air National Guard base is fantastic for my training needs as well. However, this year has shifted our paradigm ever so slightly.
After focusing on endurance sports for nearly the past decade (and checking a lot of big events off my bucket list), the constant repetitive motions along with the increasing life responsibilities (Be Well, Air Force, MBA) finally caught up with me. I found myself injured more often this year than in any previous year. Around mid June I decided I would cancel the remainder of my races and back way off on the training, and go back to something more anabolic like traditional weightlifting. I’ve always maintained a decent degree of strength with the barbell, but hadn’t made it my prime focus for a very long time. Despite the paradigm shift, I was noticing that I was still dealing with a large degree of fatigue and pain, and quickly recognized that I was going to need to alter course even more.
If you’ve ever been to one of my classes you know I use a lot of car analogies. For years I had been focused on developing a larger engine. I spent years maximizing my aerobic fitness and my absolute strength (bigger engines), while ignoring my relative strength (strength relative to my bodyweight, in this example, my chassis). If you were driving your car on the road with a squealing wheel bearing or a broken tie rod and your “fix” for that issue would be to put a larger engine into your car, you’re likely only going to cause a greater issue down the road. You have to address the issue with the chassis. If you took a V-12 engine out of a classic sports car and stuck it into a modern prius, the power would overwhelm the chassis. For years, I had tried to work around numerous joint issues and a thoracic spine (mid back) that had about as much mobility as the tin-man before he received any oil. After spending my winter, spring, and half the summer on the bike and running, these issues finally came to bear, leaving me unable to train anymore. This time around I decided it was time to go back to an old friend…..Gymnastic bodies.
3 Reasons Why Everyone Should Be Following a BodyWeight Strength Program:
- To develop MOBILITY rather than FLEXIBILITY: Flexibility is passive. A flexible person can lay on their back and have another person grab their heel and lift it over their head. A person with great MOBILITY can lay on their back or hang from a pull up bar and raise their own leg over their head. The difference between the two is that the person with great mobility is able to demonstrate strength throughout the entire range of motion. Think of mobility as the combination of flexibility AND strength. Very few people have both. People either stretch non stop and develop great flexibility, or they lift weights or run non stop and develop pretty good strength but little flexibility. Both are recipes for injury.
- To develop baseline bodyweight strength: So you go to the gym and lift weights, or participate in group fitness classes that revolve around strength training. Great. How many GOOD pushups can you do? How many GOOD pull ups can you do while maintaining great control of your body. How long can you demonstrate core strength by holding a plank? Can you hang from a pull up bar for a minute? Let’s face it, ever since kindergarten, most of us have been desk jockeys who spend the majority of our day in seated positions leading to a loss of strength and baseline body control. Very few people have the patience or the willingness to admit that when it comes to bodyweight strength and ability, we are all beginners! Admitting that you are an absolute beginner and starting from scratch in order to develop good bodyweight movements is not exactly entertaining or fun, leading many to gloss over the importance of such simple tasks. I would put it to you this way, if you are unable to perform good push ups, pull ups, or dips (or if you move like the tin-man) these should be your starting point. If you are unable to do a good pushup now, will you be able to pick yourself up off the floor in 20-30 years?
- Develop strength in the connective tissue as well as the muscles: We love training with the barbell. We really do. But the fact of the matter is that connective tissue strength (and therefore joint strength) does not progress as rapidly as muscular strength due to the limited metabolic rate of connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, cartilage, etc). Performing movements that simply strengthen muscles without providing the tension and static holding that joints require to get stronger leads to tendonitis and other joint related issues. Trust us on this one. I’ve been lifting weights since late grade school. I’ve experienced it enough times to know that it is true. Going back to square one with bodyweight training may not be the “sexiest” of exercise programs, but it will reap huge rewards in developing strength of, not only the muscles, but the joints that the muscles move.
We recommend heading over to the gymnastic bodies website, taking their survey about your ability level (BE HONEST), and starting off with their beginner program. Nobody wants to consider themselves a beginner, but everyone I know who does this program starts off as beginners. Trying to begin too advanced will only frustrate you and potentially injure you. Again, don’t get us wrong. We are still big believers in the barbell and classical strength training, we’ve just shifted our starting point a little.
Give yourself a significant amount of time, maybe even more than a year, to develop a high level of bodyweight strength and then go back to “traditional” strength training if you choose. However, gymnastic bodies has enough progressions to keep you busy and enjoying yourself for a long time if you so choose.