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Getting strong means different things for different people. Some want to compete, but most of us want to do our day-to-day tasks easily, see progress in our training, and feel strong overall!
But what does that mean? Have you taken a sec to think about what strength means to you? Or how it can be tracked and monitored?
If you’re interested in feeling stronger than you have ever felt (whatever that means for you), all while juggling work, life, and family commitments…
Then this post is for you! We will be covering what strength is, how to measure it, what to avoid, and most importantly, how to get much stronger with limited time.
WHAT IS STRENGTH?
So, is it stronger when you can bench press 150kg? Or deadlift 200kg, perhaps? Sure, within the context of the weightlifting world, this is definitely strong.
But what we want you to start thinking about is strength within a relevant context. What do we mean by that?
We want to have the strength that is relevant to our actual lives. The movements we incorporate into our training should directly assist us in our day-to-day activities and life. Looking at strength from this angle has a few advantages.
First, by training like this, we align our movements with good biomechanics by applying forces on the body that we are meant to be experiencing.
Second, we respect human biology that has developed over a million-plus years! We hear about all the different animals under the sun in many training styles. Downward dog, pigeon, crab walks, cobra, bear crawls, gorilla walks, bunny hops, frog jumps, inchworms & the list goes on and on. But what about human movements? Isn’t that where our focus should be?
Third, by thinking this way, we can establish a solid foundation of strength for human beings that don't focus on handstands because they look cool or walking around like a bear just for the sake of it being difficult.
So to simplify, strength is respecting biomechanics, biology and focusing on training that prioritises the fundamental movement patterns we experience in our day-to-day lives.
So, what are they? We have 4 pillars of strength and functionality, and to learn more about these, check out Functional Patterns.
1. Posture – Good posture is good structural integrity. And good structural integrity is strength! Check out our previous post on posture for more on this crucial topic, or head to functionalpatterns.com for heaps of advice that is second to none.
2. Walking mechanics – Doesn't sound overly exciting, but it is the absolute foundation of human movement. Every step you take is a process that involves many integrated muscles and processes. If the system moves poorly, then every step you take is wiring in those poor mechanics.
This doesn’t mean that you need to stop all training and just walk! But it does mean that strength training should have an integrated component to it.
3. Running / Sprinting – Level up from the walking side of things but has an essential component. While you're sprinting, there's no hiding behind your dysfunctions! It's challenging, it's fast, and it takes a lot of work to sprint well. Whatever issues you're experiencing in your biomechanics, going for a sprint will reveal them.
Once you know what is going on, you can get right to work on correcting it. You don't need to be a runner to get massive benefits from being great at it. When considering relevance in training choices, a human being has been biologically designed to run! The bench press, on the other hand… Not so much.
4. Throwing mechanics – The last one is throwing mechanics. We focus on this as it involves the integrated shoulder, pecs, arms, core, and multiple other areas. Over many years, our shoulders had evolved incredibly, which was essential in our survival when we were hunter-gatherers.
This is important because shoulder and chest exercises don't respect this at all. You see shoulder injuries in the gym all the time because shoulders aren’t designed to do dumbbell front raises or side raises. Think about it for a second. When would you ever lift a weight in front of you with a straight arm in the real world?
Doesn’t really make sense, and people are really paying for it as they start to hit their late 20s early 30s as their training starts to catch up on them.
what training style works best?
We’re not here to tell you we know it all and tell you our word is the gospel, so to speak. We base this answer on what has worked best for our clients and us for many years.
Over the last 17 years, we have tried bodybuilding, CrossFit, gymnastics, yoga, 6 different martial arts styles, reformer Pilates, floor Pilates, Les Mills classes, group training & many other training styles.
Hands down, absolutely no contest the best form of training has been through the Functional Patterns training system that we exclusively have worked with for over 5 years.
We have also found boxing and kickboxing to be the best form of cardio and by far the most enjoyable. But with the focus on strength for this post, we will stay on topic and focus on strength, and we will do a post focusing on fitness shortly.
what should i avoid if i want to be strong?
We gave a few points on this in our posture post and applied a similar thought process here. If you love cycling, yoga, classes, or whatever it may be. We aren't here to tell you that you are wrong, and we are right.
Rather than call out training styles, we will outline a couple of warning signs for you to be aware of to make your own informed decision on what you should be doing.
1. Does your current training cause you pain? – If so, this is a big warning sign that it may be time to get out before pain turns into an injury.
2. Has your training caused you injury in the past? – This is a scenario that happens all too often. We do an exercise that injures our lower back, shoulders, or knees. We are frustrated but wait it out and hope the pain goes away. Maybe do some physio work to try and speed up the process. Then what do we do? Go right back to what caused the issues in the first place. Not a good idea!
3. Isolating exercises – Imagine training a dog to walk on 2 legs, and clearly, a dog isn't designed to do that. So too, when we train muscles in an isolated, bodybuilding-style fashion, we go against their design. Work together! If you want real strength, you need to follow the right blueprint. And focusing on 1 muscle at a time is great for bodybuilding competitions but not for day-to-day life and true, relevant strength with an emphasis on longevity and quality movement!
4. Training that worsens your current imbalances – Let's say you currently have rounded shoulders due to many hours sitting behind a desk. Exercises like bench press can worsen this by tightening the pec muscles and further drawing the shoulders more inward. Also, exercises that force you into a hunched position may negatively impact your posture, like cycling.
Or perhaps you have inactive glutes, then doing a pigeon stretch for ages like you would in a Yin yoga class may not be ideal. There are many examples of this. But just consider if what you are currently doing is designed to make things better, or you may not really be sure what it's doing. If you're unsure, chances are it will be doing more harm than good as you are not training with specific intentions.
BUILDING REAL STRENGTh
So we've got an idea of what strength is and what to avoid, which leaves us with the fun part. What do we do? There's a lot to do, but we'll take you through it step by step to make it simple.
1. Fix your posture – You don't want to build a skyscraper on a weak foundation. Same too for your body. Your foundation is your posture, and without it, you'll experience injuries, setbacks, and average results.
For help on addressing posture, check out our posture post here https://www.platinumhs.com.au/blog/3-must-know-steps-to-better-posture-for-busy-professionals and head to Functional Patterns for plenty of free info on the subject. But in a nutshell. Take photos of how you’re standing, assess what is going wrong, release the tight spots and strengthen the weak spots that aren’t holding the structure correctly.
2. Focus on activation – It takes more than just an excellent technique to get the results you're after. For example, if you're trying to work your glutes and have perfect textbook form, but you can't feel your glutes working at all, and your quads are on fire… Then you know your glutes aren’t doing anything and will never get stronger.
Approach exercise with clear intention. I want to achieve this and activate that. If that’s not happening, it’s time to reassess and work out why so it can be corrected.
3. Sets, reps & intensity – We always hear about sets and reps whenever we think of weight training or strength training. We usually do 3 sets of each exercise with clients, but this isn't necessary. Same with the reps, they will vary depending on what you're trying to achieve.
Generally, we keep reps low and reach a level of fatigue. Not really worrying about counting the exact amount of reps, but generally, they are below 10. Higher than 10 is also OK and great for those interested in more endurance-based activities.
4. What exercises work best – Put in 3 words, integration over isolation. We want to utilise the body as a complete system and not just isolated muscles. We have a posterior oblique sling system, which is an excellent example of this. This is your lat muscle connecting to your glute on the opposite side and vice versa.
So when working your back, doing it with one arm and engaging the glute on the opposite side is a good example. However, it is only 1 example of thousands but gives you an idea of what we are looking for. You can see this exercise showing an example of glute activation in a staggered stance. We pinch the ground with our feet which gets the glute firing like crazy. Even though it looks like nothing is happening. You can see a video tutorial of this exercise below.
Of course, there are way too many exercises to mention here, so just remember that human beings are designed for integrated, dynamic movements.
5. Functional mindset – Finally, to build true strength, you need to rid yourself of the things holding you back. Strength comes from having the energy to train effectively, sleeping great for recovery, lowering inflammation and blood sugar levels, and other variables that can’t work well in a dysfunctional lifestyle.
We can do many things for this, so we’ll just make a quick list of the most important.
Get good sleep with regular timing, exercise consistently, avoid processed food, plenty of water, minimise alcohol, try a sauna or cold exposure, reduce screen time & rid yourself of the things you don't need in your life. Less time on what's not essential leaves you with more time for building mental, physical and emotional strength and fortitude!
The intention of this post was to get you to look at strength from a different angle. Our culture has made us believe that you are only as strong as the number of plates you can stack up on a bar.
Strength training needs to be relevant to what we experience in our everyday lives. If not, then it most likely goes against how we are designed to function and doesn’t prepare our bodies for the forces it will experience in the real world.
This mismatch will lead to injuries, muscular dysfunctions, and imbalances that can often take years to resolve.
Building true strength takes understanding where your body is currently at, correcting the current imbalances and dysfunctions your body has, then growing integrated strength in alignment with good posture and functionality.
Looking for a little more help? If you live in Brisbane, our initial session will cover your posture and muscle functionality. From there, we can determine your imbalances for you and show you exactly how to correct them based on your training availability, equipment access, and budget.
We are always available to answer your questions as well. Just let us know via email at email@example.com or shoot through your question using our contact page.
Hope you found this helpful.