If I had a dime for every client who has ever told me she doesn’t want to “bulk up”, I would probably be writing this article from a remote tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific instead of at a desk in St. Louis!
A great deal of misconception surrounds the notion of what exactly occurs when one embarks upon “strength training”; many individuals do not realize the positive long-lasting benefits that in reality have little to do with becoming the next greatest international bodybuilder.
Reversing The Biological Clock?
One research study demonstrated that when an elderly population engaged in a program of strength training, over 170 specific genes within their bodies actually returned to levels typically seen in much younger individuals…as much as a decade younger! Such weight-bearing workouts beneficially impact almost a dozen biological markers of the aging process, which strongly substantiates the idea that some aspects of the aging process truly are within everyone’s locus of control.
One aspect of strength training that has a direct impact on our well- being concerns alignment. When the human body is properly aligned, all mechanical parts are satisfactorily where the least amount of joint stress will occur. This is the place in which our various body parts were designed to optimize proper movement.
How can we train in order to encourage our bodies to not only achieve proper alignment but also to remain there?
Carrying The Load
Alignment comes about by cultivating strong stabilizer muscles. A lack of strong stability within the body renders it less capable of handling any load placed upon it. This, in turn, lays the foundation for poor motor control. Neglecting to recognize and address such a problematic imbalance typically leads to injury and/or pain over time. Before this even occurs, however, one often observed a decrease in optimal sports performance — or simply activities of daily life – due to impaired motor control.
Encouraging The Reflexes
Fortunately for us, stabilizer muscles are reflex driven. When lifting a heavy object with proper form, and attempting to carry it across the room, our miraculous human body automatically seeks to place itself into the best and most stable alignment, without you having to give this a second thought. As with every benefit to be derived from strength training, this process of carrying loads needs to be practiced, perfected and repeated often as part of a workout regimen.
“Loaded Carries”, as they are known in fitness parlance, involve carrying a significantly heavy object over a predetermined distance. Often trainers provide clients with kettlebells or dumbbells as the weight, varying the placement of such for each carry. One of the more common loaded carry exercises involves holding a kettlebell goblet-style at chest level and carrying it to a specified location at a brisk walking pace.
Another variation is to walk briskly while holding a kettlebell in each hand: one arm is raised up to the ceiling, and the other is hanging alongside the thigh. Upon reaching the destination and resting 20-30 seconds, the arm positions are reversed for the walk back. As proper alignment is achieved and strengthened over time, these exercises can become increasingly more challenging by incorporating heavier weights.
More Than Merely “Bulking Up”
Loaded carries encourage stabilization as well as optimal mechanical alignment, simply by moving a relatively heavy across a distance. The good news does not stop there, however; these exercises also place a tremendous metabolic demand on the body as they are executed. This, in turn, leads to a continued caloric burn even after leaving the gym.
Strength training, therefore, does not have to mean “bulking up” for every client. Leaving a workout in proper body alignment, with strong stabilizing muscles and a respectable calorie burn along for the ride, seems to be a perfect scenario for just about any athlete.