The strength and conditioning community are a smart group, but they’ve dropped the ball in a fairly significant way.
The truth is, it’s none of their fault. They just failed to make themselves clear when addressing the general public. That’s why I’ll be the lone representative of the S&C world to do it for them.
We all know that strength is quite possibly the most important pursuit when it comes to training that a layperson can go after.
You can’t be “too strong” for a task, and it creates no disadvantage to anything we want to do in life regardless of how athletic the demand.
As strength and conditioning professionals, we do well to encourage people to create goals in the gym that revolve around resistance training and developing increased strength in most lifts.
But there’s a major issue with this.
In doing so, many strength coaches create the idea that strength training should also be the only pursuit for a trainee, and that being strong equals being in shape.
And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So, Here’s the Truth about Health & Fitness
The truth is, there are eleven components to fitness and health. Strength is only one of them. If we really want to perform well, be healthy, live long, and look great, then it’s important we take a more balanced approach to our training.
It’s nice to focus on getting big and strong, but beyond a certain point, we’re going to be sacrificing other goals and attributes if we put our focus on that day in and day out.
1. Muscular Endurance
That means training less of the heavy stuff, and training for reps. It’s not all about heavy sets of 2-5 reps. If we really want to get in shape, our muscles need to be strong and conditioned. And anyone who says that form declines too much during longer sets, doesn’t know how to lift properly.
Related: 7 Habits of Highly Successful & Motivated Gym-Goers
A set of 12 or 15 reps won’t kill you if the weight is appropriate. And if it does, it’s probably a good reason to be working on it.
2. Cardiorespiratory Capacity
This piggybacks off of muscular endurance, since they utilize similar energy systems. To be blunt, your beastly 600 pound 1 rep deadlift max means absolutely nothing if you’re still at risk for cardiac arrest when you walk up a flight of stairs or jog for the bus.
Easy cardio to supplement your program won’t “kill all your gains”. What it will kill is your cholesterol level. More important than being transfixed on preserving your precious muscle development, you should be concerned with remaining healthy, inside and out. Your heart and lungs will be very happy you did.
3-5. Agility, Balance, Coordination
The reason bodybuilders are rarely mistaken for football players by the general public is because of the way they naturally move. Football players are athletes for the sole reason that they possess a great handle on all three of these capacities that tend to escape most physique competitors beyond basic levels.
You can’t “fake” athletic. And if year round, you’re not doing anything to implement a little bit of athletic training, you’ll never be athletic. Period.
No one’s saying this needs to jump to number 1 on your priority list, but don’t complain when you, with all of your bulging muscles and herculean strength, are getting dummied on the football field or basketball court when it’s time for some pickup ball.
6. Body Composition
This one’s simple: Eat clean, most of the time. You can’t out train a bad diet, and it’s important that we regard this for more than its cosmetic appeal. No one’s telling you to get down to 8% body fat and stay there year round.
With that said, keeping a healthy body fat percentage (not too high, not too low) is integral for the health of your joints, your energy, and your organ function. Many people use “powerlifting” or “trying to gain strength” as an excuse to eat whatever they want all year round and ultimately get fat.
It doesn’t mean there can’t be phases of this throughout the year, but it shouldn’t ever frustrate your ability to remain healthy, given you’re not actively competing in the sport.
It’s important to take a new perspective on anything competitive. Many view athletes in their element as pinnacles of health and fitness, when in truth, their health is paying a serious expense to be so good at the skills asked of them in competition.
Invisible lats syndrome, common among many wannabe big guys, mimics the standard posture of many actually big guys who’ve been chasing one goal for too long. There’s nothing wrong with having a whole lot of muscle, until it starts to come at the expense of flexibility and integrity of movement.
When you have trouble scratching your back or cleaning other areas I won’t mention, it’s probably a sign that you need to be more focused on developing more elasticity in your muscles.
8-9. Speed, Power
You’ll train your speed in the weight room most efficiently by accelerating lighter loads via compound movements. You’ll train your power most effectively in the weight room by finding the intersection between max velocity and max resistance, and staying in that range for low reps.
Related: Beginner's Guide to Power - 5 Exercises for Explosive Strength
Outside of the weight room, sprinting, throwing and jumping drills are basically the only ways to attack this, and they’re worth their weight in gold for rounding out your fitness. As a collegiate track athlete, these were the true cornerstone of most of my training and it was supplemented by weight training. Our coach knew that we can only simulate athleticism in the weight room to a certain extent.
10. Reaction Time
Combine the mobility of joints and elasticity of muscles for a fast contraction, and add neural efficiency for strong innervations from training for power and strength, then follow that up with neuromuscular coordination that keeps your movement crisp and concise, and you’ve got a formula for good reaction time.
I was never the fastest starter as a sprinter, but to be remotely relevant in a university level race, you had to be in the above average category as far as basic reaction time goes. As you can see, having a fast reaction time involves a combination of other skills working well together.
11. Oh Yeah, Strength!
No one’s saying that strength training in and of itself won’t spill over into improving elements of many of the above health and skill related aspects of fitness.
What I am saying is that strength and size training alone is far from enough – if your goal is to actually be healthy, fit, and generally in shape.
This is one area where I believe systems like CrossFit get things right. They actively pursue performance in most if not all of these categories.
Without the risk factor, we should take a page out of their book, and start training for other goals. It’ll mean a longer training life, and probably a more rewarding one also.