Physical strength is one component of fitness that has a profound effect on many other areas of life. You’ve probably read blog posts or articles about how strength translates into the mental and emotional aspects of life, as well as performance in work, play, and other areas. While it’s true that having some level of physical strength carries over to different parts of our life, here’s how having physical strength makes getting fitness-related results easier.
What “results” am I referring to? Whichever results you are looking to achieve!
Most women who come to Girls Gone Strong are looking to gain strength, change their body composition, reach significant PRs, improve their health, and have fun. We’re willing to bet that any of these goals will be amplified or accelerated by improving muscular strength.
Sure, but how?
Following a resistance training program that’s progressive in nature will ensure that you’re setting the stage to continue making gains. Periodization is the concept of planning training programs over the long and short-terms, in a way that allows for the desired physiological responses and physical adaptations .
Periodization was originally developed as a systematic way of structuring training programs for athletes that allowed them to achieve peak performance during competition. Nowadays, periodization is not only reserved for competitive athletes: many of us want to reach specific goals, and periodizing or having different phases of training allows us to reach those goals by manipulating intensity, load, variety of exercises, training volume (sets and reps), and rest, in a logical, step-by-step way.
In order to reach a physical goal, we need the body to adapt in a specific way by applying the appropriate dose of stress. The specific changes the body goes through when responding to a demand is known as the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demand) . The demand or stress refers to how the body is challenged by the training program.
Resistance training challenges multiple systems of the body, including the nervous system, muscular system, and the endocrine systems. Periodization provides a framework for training over time to allow the body time to adapt and produce that result, regardless of whether the goal is increasing muscle mass, improving skill development, or being able to lift more weight.
Phase potentiation explains how a periodized training program moves from phase to phase in a progressive way. This allows you to achieve physical and physiological adaptation, which sets you up to be able to make additional adaptations in the future. Think of each phase of your training program as one step of a staircase that leads to achieving your goal: each step prepares you for the next. If you tried to jump a step, there could be risks that could interrupt the path to your goal.
Simply put, you want to train in a way that applies an appropriate stimulus and allows for adequate recovery and adaptation over time. This allows you to be ready for more advanced training.
Having a base of strength ensures that your nervous system, muscular system, connective tissue, and metabolic processes can handle and recover from additional training loads as you’re ready for them. Strength training increases bone density and improves connective tissue quality because of the forces applied by muscle tissue.
Muscle tissue is surrounded by fascia, connected to bones via ligaments and connected to other muscles via tendons. When we strength train, forces are transferred through these tissues and the body adapts where the force is applied. Bones increase in density, and muscles and connective tissue increase in strength. Continually applying the right dose of stress ensures that these structures will be ready to handle more forceful loads over time.
Women who initially start with a strength training program that is higher in volume (sets and reps) and lower in intensity (load/resistance) will experience an increase in integrity of these tissues because the body increases capillarization and thereby delivery of blood and nutrients required to remodel and strengthen those tissues.
Having a solid base of strength ensures that you have the structural capacity to continually make progress with your strength training, because your body is ready for it.
Strength training also can produce increases in muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is metabolically demanding, meaning the more muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate. If changing your body composition by losing body fat or laying down additional muscle tissue to create the physique you’d like to have is your goal, strength training can help you get there, as can having an existing solid base of strength.
Continually progressing your strength training one step at a time helps you achieve those goals without burning out or getting injured, especially if you’ll be increasing volume of training to achieve hypertrophy. By practicing major movements of the body through a strength training program, you’ll increase your motor unit recruitment .
In practical terms, increasing motor unit recruitment means that as you increase your strength, you will utilize a greater number of motor units because you’re able to move a heavier load for a greater number of reps. This, in turn, will increase your capacity to build muscle mass.
Another benefit of strength training progressively is the increase in proprioception, or how you sense your body in space . With appropriate progression of strength training and good technique, the body will refine neural connections and motor unit recruitment so that your movement patterns improve with regular practice.
When you’re a beginner, starting with basic movements allows you to progressively add to your movement repertoire as you’re ready, and helps you learn to sense how your body feels as you complete various exercises. This kinesthetic awareness of how it feels to move helps you understand what feels good and when something might feel “off” so you know how to adjust your workouts to keep yourself safe.
This awareness also carries over into daily life, whether you’re schlepping all of your groceries from your car to your kitchen in one trip, shooting for a deadlift personal best, or taking a nice long hike with friends. You’ll understand how to keep your body in good alignment, recruit appropriate muscle groups, and know what feels okay or not.
It’s important for women to embody strength in ways that are meaningful to them. Strength of body, mind, and spirit matter and impact how you show up in the world.
We believe that strength training can absolutely help improve each of those areas. How you move your body should help you enjoy and enhance your life, and if your focus is on a physical goal, having a solid base of strength can help you get there.
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