Recipe for Strength

by Kilo on July 9, 2010

strong woman

Gubernatrix

This is a guest post from Gubernatrix, another of my UK buddies and a prominent female strength blogger. Ladies (and gents) take heed!

There are five key ingredients that make up a successful strength training career.

  • Progression
  • Challenge
  • Recovery
  • Variety
  • Psychology

It is common for people to focus only on one or two of these ingredients when they first get into serious training (it is also common for people to focus on none of them when messing around in the gym, but let’s assume you are not one of those people). To start with one or two is perfectly acceptable, in fact it is probably a good idea. Some things need to go into the pot first and simmer for a while.

But as your training career progresses, remember to add in the other ingredients to make a healthy and full flavoured dish! This will ensure you make progress, stay fit and continue to challenge yourself over many years.

Progression

Progression is a simple concept and is usually the first thing that a keen trainee gets to grips with – maybe even a little obsessed by (yep, guilty over here). It is so simple that it is surprising how many people just don’t get it: that lifting the same weight for the same number of times at the same intensity is doing nothing for them because the body, amazing machine that it is, has already adapted to the training load.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that ‘it’s not for me because I’m just doing this for fun’ or ‘I only want to lose a couple of pounds’. Progression is necessary for everyone, not just those who want to get to the Olympics.

You need to increase the intensity (weight, reps, speed or whatever) gradually so that your performance gets better. Sometimes you take three steps forward and two steps back, but the trend is always forwards.

Challenge

Progression is all well and good, but you still need to be challenging your body in order for it to adapt. Start too low, give up too soon and you are throwing away great opportunities to get stronger and fitter, even if the numbers are better than last week.

If you are not used to challenging yourself, it can seem like a scary prospect, with the potential for public embarrassment or failure. But challenge is addictive and you will learn to love it, even if you don’t see yourself as a competitive or driven person.

I’m not just talking about physiological adaptation either; without challenge you are missing opportunities to strengthen your mind, go beyond existing boundaries and discover new strengths and abilities. A training session can be a journey in many senses, even if you are just getting through your programme one rep at a time.

Recovery

With all this progression and challenge, you want to make sure you are recovering well too! Recovery includes rest, nutrition, treatment such as massage and ice packs, anything that gives your body a chance to recuperate. It is in the recovery phase that the adaptation takes place, the strength is built.

Those who train often with high reps of sub-maximal weights are particularly prone to neglect recovery. They don’t have the immediate need of rest that max effort lifters do; in fact, workouts can make you feel full of beans! So it is important not to get carried away by those exercise endorphins into overdoing it.

In strength training, sudden injury is rare compared to other sports but problems tend to creep up on you. Fatigue, pulled muscles, lack of motivation and even drops in strength can all occur if you are not looking after your recovery. Work hard, rest hard!

Variety

Our bodies love and respond well to variety in training. Hammering the same movements in the same way over time can be very damaging. Elite athletes do it – and often end up with a lot of damage! Variety – whether of movements, intensity, environment or companions – will make you a stronger and more able human.

Variety doesn’t mean flitting from discipline to discipline in an unstructured way or overworking particular body parts; it means learning movements that challenge and load the body in various ways and at different speeds. The stronger and more able you are, the more you will enjoy variety and feed off it, keeping motivation high. Ever thrown a tire? Ever tried a one-handed snatch with a barbell? Ever tried to pick up an awkward object and run with it? Hell, what are we training for if not to have fun with it?

Psychology

The mind gives up before the body. Heavy weights are scary. Lifters don’t often admit it, but everyone gets a bit scared at some point. What’s interesting is that most people don’t see this as a training weakness that can be tackled and improved – but it is!

After years of training, sometimes the main thing holding people back is fear. It’s why they never seem to do as well in competition as in the gym. It’s why they’ve never been able to improve on that particular personal best. It’s funny how many of us get a mental block around a particular number. Often it is a round number with a lot of intimidating zeros: 100kg, 200kg, 500kg…

There are a number of ways to deal with the psychological side of lifting, from the more structured visualisation and neurolinguistic programming techniques, to training with a supportive peer group, or simply working on your own priorities and behaviours. Strength is a full body, full mind undertaking, and this final element should also reap benefits in other areas of your life.

So these five ingredients are what should go into the dish that is your strength training career. It is a recipe that was handed down to me by many lifters over the years and now I’m handing it on to you. No doubt there’ll be some spice that you will add yourself. Bon appetit!

Gubernatrix has built a reputation as one of the foremost female strength bloggers on the planet. She loves strength sports, being a competitive powerlifter, Olympic weightlifter and strongwoman, and is passionate about sharing the best ideas in strength training. Her website is at gubernatrix.co.uk.

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