Column: Why strength training should be your priority
The fitness landscape has come a long way since the inception of Richard Simmon’s neon spandex and matching headband.
Step aerobics, jogging and pasta-based diets have retired to more efficient, and more effective, methods. However, we still have some work to do.
Let’s get some definitions out of the way first.
STRENGTH HELPS ENDURANCE
All fitness qualities are time tested data points that can be measured. For example, to be merely fit is too vague. But to specifically quantify the exact time it takes to run a mile is a great measurement of muscular endurance and aerobic fitness.
The height an athlete can jump measures how quickly she can develop force, and whether or not an individual can touch their toes from a standing position measures available range of motion throughout the lower extremity.
Strength, which is the ability to apply force against external objects, is the most general of fitness qualities.
Simply, strength acquisition improves all other fitness qualities. However, all other fitness qualities trained specifically hinder strength development.
Running 5 miles per day will reduce your ability to display force. On the other hand, lifting heavy weights to improve strength, will improve your running performance and increase your endurance.
Let’s assume an average runner can maintain a pace of 12 miles per hour over 5 miles; this is a representation of 50 percent of his maximum effort. To baseline his strength, I measure his five repetition maximum in the barbell lunge exercise with 100 pounds.
After 12 weeks of training, the runner doubles his strength, and now performs the barbell lunge with 200 pounds.
Back on the pavement after his strength has doubled, his former 50 percent effort is now 25 percent at the same speed and distance.
He now has a larger reserve to run faster, endure longer and operate more efficiently.
SMALL MUSCLES, LESS FORCE
Here’s the problem and why we still have a long way to go. Rarely do trainees prioritize strength training, despite the irrefutable evidence that strength development is the most important quality, because all others qualities are dependent on it.
The following is not a sexist rant, but it’s the best example to make the point.
Why are female athletes slower in all respective sports? Sorry Lindsey Vonn, there’s a reason why you ski Kestrel, and not Golden Eagle.
What about the local town series mountain bike races? The results don’t lie.
The world record marathon time for a male is 2:02. The female record is 2:15. With endurance sports, the conventional wisdom suggests that a light body weight is more beneficial because it’s less burdensome to carry around; it would make sense that women would dominate as they tend to be lighter.
But they don’t. It’s not a psychological issue, either. Women aren’t mentally inferior, and in many cases are mentally stronger than men.
Quite simply, women typically have smaller muscles, and smaller muscles produce less force. Smaller muscles are weaker than larger ones.
Even with respect to endurance activities, a larger and stronger muscle greatly increases performance.
My philosophy has always been firmly grounded in strength training principles because their importance is paramount.
Strength development reduces the stress on your joints, improves endurance and power output, increases the efficiency of mundane chores, optimizes blood sugar utilization, increases bone density and positively alters the architecture of your connective tissue.
Endurance training, on the other hand, increases your red blood cell count and weakens your muscles.
Unless you need more oxygen carrying capacity because you’re a professional, paid endurance athlete, the benefits aren’t compelling enough for me to sign up for a marathon. No thanks. Have a great week.
Ryan Richards is a fitness professional who has been keeping the Vail Valley strong for over a decade. You can find him at ryanrichards.com or 970-401-0720.
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