Strength training was originally popularized through bodybuilding in the 70’s. Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized working out and a bodybuilding style weightlifting program became the norm for cross-training athletes.
It turns out a bodybuilding lifting program is not very beneficial to athletes. Since then we have used many different forms of strength training to improve human performance. Training in different cycles with different focuses is the norm now. Focusing on strength, power, endurance, and hypertrophy (muscle growth) at different times in the athletic year to build better athletes.
However, in traditional strength training, the body is often trained in parts. Think bicep curls and tricep presses. There is also often a focus on getting reps and doing work more often than there is on movement quality and correcting movement patterns.
Adding more weight is also the primary form of tracking progress. This is convenient for keeping training logs, but it isn’t very helpful for understanding how the training benefited the trainee. For virtually everyone but powerlifters and weightlifters being able to move more weight on a barbell is a poor indicator of performance.
How Muscle Balance Moves Bodies
There are basically two types of skeletal muscles in the body. There are muscles that stabilize joints and muscles that move joints. Both of these muscles are essential for the body to work efficiently and safely.
Muscles that stabilize joints during a movement don’t really change length throughout a movement while the mover muscles shorten and lengthen as needed to complete the movement. These muscles have to work well together or the movement will be inefficient at best and the movement will fail and injury will result at worst.
A great example of this concept is your hamstrings during a deadlift. Throughout the entire movement, your hamstrings stay pretty much the same length. If they don’t, then your form breaks down and you lose movement efficiency. Learning how to maintain tension in your hamstrings while also maintaining length is a critical component to building a strong and safe deadlift.
As I’ve mentioned before, What Is Strength Really, movement efficiency and strength are skills that have to be practiced. They are largely neurological in nature rather than muscular in nature. Because training so often breaks the body into parts, focuses on moving more weight, and on getting more reps people do not always learn how to integrate all the parts into good full-spectrum movement.
In all but the simplest of movements, there are multiple stabilizers and multiple movers. If because of improper use some of these muscles are significantly stronger than other muscles or due to poor movement patterns muscles are used incorrectly you greatly increase your risk of injury.
Our bodies are a product of our habits. It will shape itself into the sum of all your movement patterns. In order to build a healthy, resilient body it must be moved through many different positions and used in many different ways or it starts to specialize. Too much specialization is very damaging.
Someone who sits 14 hours a day will look like they’re sitting a little bit even when they’re standing. Your body gets better at what it practices and the more you practice it the better it gets.
A robust body can crawl, walk, run, lift, carry, throw, and climb. It doesn’t break and it adapts to tricky movement problems. Gyms don’t do a good job of replicating difficult real-world movement problems, but it’s a great place to experiment and build a base.
Remember to vary your movement as much as possible and to take your time when building new skills. Movement quality is more important than movement quantity. Just because you broke a sweat and you’re exhausted doesn’t mean you got a quality workout. Pay attention to how your body is moving and get a competent coach if you’re having problems.