STRENGTH is a very valuable attribute and often one that is lacking in the average person that walks into a CrossFit box – but thankfully it’s often vastly increased in those people when they walk out 😉
THE BARBELL is one of the most valuable tools available to us to increase our strength and thus, learning to train with it properly, is one of the main focusses in our CrossFit classes. Without going into the detail of why, you can move far greater loads with a barbell than most other equipment and this leads to greater strength increases. Add to that, the fact that barbells are readily available to use in most gyms around the world (or even your home gym) and we have a set of skills we can learn that enables us to stay super-strong no matter what life throws at us or where we might be.
ADDITIONALLY, learning the more advanced barbell movements (Snatch and Clean & Jerk) also improves our mobiity and various speed attributes (for example, through greater neuro-muscular cordination, or, increased Rate of Force Development) [You don’t need to understand those concepts, you just need to know that strength is good, and speed is good, and if you can use your strength at speed (power) then you are pretty well placed to do a lot of things]
Let’s look at a few hypothetical cases to see how this works in real life:
STEVE IS A DAD of 2, he’s 45 and works hard. He loves spending time with his family, being the best Dad he can be and also gets a lot of enjoyment from doing physical activity – however, it’s all getting much harder these days. His kid’s love climbing on him but he soon needs a break. He also tries to play football and run but he gets injuries and pains a lot more these days and that puts him off. By increasing his strength, when Steve picks up his kids he’s now only working at 20% of his abilty instead of the 50% he was before. This means he can mess around with them for much longer before he starts feeling like he needs the armchair! Additionally, the injuries start disappearing since most sporting injuries are a case of soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments) being exposed to a force they’re not prepared for (sprains/strains/tears result). The good news is that by regularly loading those tissues (weightlifting), they toughen up, and the next time he goes in for a tackle, the forces his body feels are well within his capcity to handle it and he jogs off with no problem. Good job Steve!
REBECCA IS A YOUNG FIRST TIME MUM and having gone through childbirth and lots of sleepless nights she’s now plagued with a constantly uncomfortable back. It’s particularly awkward when she has to lean over the cot to pick the little one up or put him down. Weightligfting teaches Rebecca’s body how to move in the best way when it has a load (the baby), it also strengthens her core muscles so that when she leans over the cot it’s a small effort (compared to the weights she’s been progressing over the months) and the result is she no longer feels any discomfort.
CYNTHIA IS IN HER 60’s AND SUPERFIT. She’s played high-level sport her whole life and still competes nationally in triathlon for her age group. However, she’s noticed quite a lot of muscle wastage over the last few years and is concerned about the aging process on her ability to continue to do what she loves. As we age, our bodies naturally produce less muscle mass, however, USE IT OR LOSE is the simple adage to remember. Studies show that you can hold on to (and even create new) muscle mass well into older age – effectively stopping aging of our physical abilities. The reason so many people lose it is simply because they stop using it. The less they use it the quicker they lose it and so begins the cycle of physical decline. Halt and reverse this by continuing strength training your whole life – and you are never too old to start.
The below image is a cross-sectional scan of some legs! The dark grey is the muscle that is equally present in the 40 year old triathlete as it is in the 70 year old triathlete. However, in the 74 year old sedentary man, you can see that the muscle has wasted significantly.
Some people – often athletes or those with injury history – are led to believe that strength training is bad for them. This is nearly always wrong. The long distance runner may think of strength training as being for huge powerlifters and that it will just slow them down. If they overeat and lift heavy, eventually it may well be detrimental to their long distance running. However, if they follow an appropriate strength training regime (still focussed around the barbell), they will inrease their strength and thus injury resilience, strengthen their postural muscles (very important for efficient running), and, increase their RFD which can dramatically increase their speed off the ground and subsequently their running speed. In the second case, the person with a history of pain or injury is often hyper-sensitive to their condition. It keeps getting aggravated because their desire to avoid the things they fear is simply making them weaker in the positions that they really need to be stronger in. Of course, they may need to very gently get into weightlifting and learn how to move differently or break the movements down initially. But with correct coaching and consistent practice this will soon enable them to lift heavier and in more complex ways until 6 months later they look back and realise – not only that they have learned to weightlift and with increasingly heavy weights, but also that they have kind of forgotten they were injured because they’ve been pain free for the first time in years.
THE TAKE HOME: Strength is good, Weightlifting and the barbell are great ways to get strong, and, if you have circumstances that make starting up difficult then engage with a good coach or gym to make sure you use weightlifting in the best way for you.
See you at the bar!