Myths about Strength Training

1. Strength training will make you bulky and heavy

Real strength training (1-5 rep max range) mostly works by impacting your nervous system and teaches the body to coordinate muscle contractions more efficiently. It’s less about increasing muscle mass and more about developing more powerful contractions (recruiting more muscle fibres at the same time). Strength training, done properly with good technique and full range of motion, will not only increase your capacity for movement, but also make you move more gracefully and with greater coordination and ease. If you want to bulk up, better to focus on hypertrophy (8-12 rep max) and getting a real “pump”.

2. Strength training is repetitive and boring

Sure, any conditioning is going to involve some amount of repetition, but it doesn’t need to be as repetitive as you might think. Chasing numbers on a barbell back squat might mean practicing the same movement for years, day in and day out. If you choose callisthenics (body weight strength training though) it’s more about learning new progressions. From the squat we can progress quickly to new patterns (to lunges, Cossacks, Bulgarians, step ups, pistols, shrimps, dragons, etc.) thereby minimising the repetition and focussing on learning and development.

3. You need to train a lot to get strong

Actually, strength is one of the least time consuming components of movement to develop. Whereas flexibility needs frequent repetition for example (5-6 days a week to make progress, 3-4 days per week to maintain), cardio requires a moderate amount of investment (4-5 days per week for progress, 2-3 times per week for maintenance), strength requires only 2-3 sessions per week to make progress and can be maintained with a single weekly session. If you can commit to developing your strength to a good level, 60 minutes per week is plenty to maintain that strength for a long time. As investments go, strength training has a pretty good rate of return.

4. If I want to learn skills, my time would be better spent working on them directly

There’s no denying that to learn a skill you need to practice that skill specifically - no amount of strength will get you a skill for free (although complimentary skills can lead to free gains!) but neglecting strength usually leads to imbalances in the body and increases your likelihood of injury. In the long run this means more time spent off training and slower progress. You’ll progress faster if you divide your practice between strength and skill based training. To find the right balance for you will take some tweaking and research (and maybe a good coach!).

5. Strength training will make me feel sore and stiff

The stereotypical image of the steroid fuelled bodybuilder who can’t touch his toes might spring to mind here, but again, this is more due to the “pump” associated with higher rep ranges. In order to get really flexible, strength training can actually help: once you become strong in an end range position, the muscle learns it is “safe” and therefore relaxes so you can stretch further.

Having said that: strength training alone will increase base level tension in the body. In order to find balance, it is important to engage in softening work, such as shaking, somatic practices or body scan relaxations. To move well, we need to be able to access hard and soft, fast and slow, effort and ease. This is why strength is a means, and not an end.

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