Think Outside the Box

After my two most recent posts about strength training, I started to get a bunch of really great questions rolling in and, as I sifted through them, it occurred to me that people still feel very much “boxed in” when it comes to strength training. It appears that most have a vision in their heads of what strength training looks like and there’s no coloring outside the lines. But that’s not reality.

Strength training is not one thing…it’s MANY things. Strength training is not for one person…it’s for EVERY person. And to prove it, I compiled some of the frequently-asked questions that demonstrate just how much latitude you have with this type of training.

  1. I don’t own a bunch of dumbbells, barbells and weight machines so how am I supposed to strength train? Free weights (dumbbells and barbells) and weight machines are expensive and bulky. We’ve all been there, right? Nothing takes over your basement quicker than a bunch of machines and free weights.

Not to worry though because you can also use resistance bands, resistance tubing, and even your own body weight when strength training. Studies have shown that training with bands and tubing not only increases muscle strength and lean muscle mass and decreases body fat in a similar manner to free weights, but you’ll actually get a few additional benefits that you wouldn’t otherwise get from training exclusively with free weights. For example, free weights rely on gravity to provide resistance and bands do not which means they can be used to do more functional movement patterns that mimic both everyday activities and sport-specific activities. Additionally, because bands and tubing don’t rely on gravity, it is possible to change the demand placed on muscles during certain exercises by simply switching grips or changing the direction of the pull. From a trainer’s perspective, I like bands and tubing because of the unique challenges they add while making it very difficult to cheat the movement by using momentum to hoist the weight up.

Another key difference is that with bands or tubing, it is much easier to customize the resistance without buying more equipment because the further from the anchor point you go, the harder the resistance becomes. You’ll also find that bands and tubing are cheaper and take up much less space than free weights.

  1. Does yoga count as strength training? The short answer is that it depends on (a) your goals and (b) the type of yoga you practice. I’ve done some practices that ABSOLUTELY are strength training and in the truest, most-functional possible way, requiring my muscles to cooperate fully with each other, pulling their own weight, to hold my body weight in good alignment (WAY harder than it sounds)- textbook bodyweight strength training. But I’ve also done some practices that are more restorative and relaxing (translation: AHHHH-mazing!). My recommendation is that if you’re already doing yoga as strength training and you aren’t seeing the fat loss and/or lean muscle-building results you are looking for, add more non-yoga strength training to your routine and see what difference it makes over the next four weeks or so – but don’t lose the yoga…it provides a lot more than just strength!!
  1. How do I know which weight to use for each exercise? Check out my Weekly Challenge from last week to find out. From there, always remember that you have to “graduate” to the next higher weight or level of resistance – just like in school, you have to earn the right to move on. DO NOT add more resistance until you’ve mastered the move and your form is flawless. Doing so will go a long way in helping you avoid injury.
  1. So, what happens when I’m ready to move up in weight but don’t have heavier weight to graduate to? This is where it gets fun! There are plenty of ways to advance strength training exercises that do not involve upping the resistance. For example, if you’re doing biceps curls with 10 lb. dumbbells and you don’t have a heavier weight, grab those 10s and try standing on one leg as you curl or alternate one arm at a time (on one or both legs) to challenge your core. If you’ve mastered that, you can move on to standing on a pillow or thick folded blanket (on one or both legs) to really challenge your core and leg stabilizers. Another option, wrap one end of a resistance band around the weight and stand on the other end, then try to curl that bad boy. You could also perform certain moves while sitting on a stability ball, bringing your knees closer together to up the challenge further. Mastered the plank? Try lifting one arm or one leg (or both) as you hold the position…WHOA!!! Suddenly, the plank just got a whole lot harder, huh? The possibilities are endless!
  1. How am I supposed to know if I have good form? The easiest way is to have a mirror or two nearby while working out. AcaciaTV offers a ton of streaming content with some of the most amazing trainers so if you work out to their streaming content, pay attention to the trainers’ form cues and compare their form through the entire move with your own form. Pay close attention to the foot, knee, hip, shoulder, arm, neck and head position for each move and mimic it, using the trainer’s spoken instructions to fine-tune your body position. Check out your form and posture from a few angles to ensure that you’re lined up properly.
  1. I feel pretty good so what if I don’t really care about getting stronger? Sure you can say that NOW…but studies have shown that by not including some form of regular strength/resistance training, by the time you’ve reached retirement age, you may have lost as much as 80% of your muscle strength. Yeah, you read that right…80%. Do you think you’ll feel “pretty good” then? I highly doubt it. Also, strength development is only one part of what you’ll get from this type of training. And can you honestly tell me that you don’t want to be more stable, lean, mobile, powerful, and injury-resistant?

So there you have it. Strength training is really whatever you make of it and no lack of equipment or gym membership should stand in your way. That also means that you’re officially out of excuses! You’ll thank me someday for that, I promise. Now go forth and get strong!