Updated: Nov 12, 2021
I love to lift. You may not know it by looking at me. I don’t have chunky thighs and broad shoulders. I’m not ‘stocky’ and my muscle definition doesn’t produce shadows when the light is on me. Heck, I don't even have a six pack. I’m a 39 year old woman, I'm tall and long but now, if you ask me what a clean & jerk looks like, I could show you. Ask me what I feel grateful for, among other things, I can finally say ‘my strong body’.
The reason I love to lift is because of the ‘feeling’ of strength. It’s a knowing. A confidence that you can do stuff; lift heavy things, leap over walls and streams (albeit, for me, pretty small ones), help a single mum carry her buggy down an awkward flight of steps, try a new sport and know that even though you may not have the technical skills, you will have the strength and ability to move in the right ways enough to give it a good go. I can carry a surfboard into the water and paddle against the waves, I can attempt a front flip on trampoline while messing around with friend's kids, I can pull myself out of a swimming pool and imagine I looked just as athletic as Tom Daley while doing so. But even better than the confidence that I can physically do anything that may appeal without hurting myself - or worse, embarrass myself - somewhere in the back of my mind I am confident that if I found myself in danger or strife, I’d be ok; my body can do stuff to keep me safe. It’s this feeling, I believe, that not only helps me love my body but also keeps my anxiety levels under control. My conscious and unconscious mind knows that whatever life throws at me - from a burning building to terrifying bank statement - I’ll be ok. I can say to myself 'you've got this' and now I believe it.
This self-efficacy is a hard sell, especially when ‘strength’ is still associated with a look or something your physio tells you to work on to overcome an injury. I am a triathlon coach, among other things, so my clients are used to hearing me talk about glute and core strength, and staying ‘injury free’. Understandable then, that many swimmers, cyclists and runners find this kind of strength work boring, frustrating and occasionally intimidating - I mean, who wants to go to a gym to do a load of clams and lunges and watch big burley men staring at themselves in front of a mirror just so that hopefully your glutes will start firing a bit more?
The news is strength is so much more than something you ‘should’ do to stay injury free. It’s also much more than carving out a six-pack. Strength work is about building a closer connection to your body. It’s having more control over movement patterns and developing the skills to move the way your body is designed to - fluidly, dynamically and pain free. Who wants to have to hold onto something to help us get up off the floor or worry about putting our backs out when we tie our shoe laces again? Not me!
Strength is having some close, personal time with your body - the soft tissues, the joints, your heart and lungs, your nervous system and all of those things that combine to make your body and brain the most sophisticated things you will ever know. Strength work is focus, control, posture, balance, proprioception and all those other words you might read in an A-level Anatomy or Sports science handbook. Strength work is creative, sweaty, heart-pumpingly rewarding and best of all it’s building your resilience to the perils of ageing in a sedentary world. Strength work maintains bone and muscle density, it builds better core stability and balance, which is also good for our cognitive function, and it even supports hormone function and balance. In a society where our health system is already on the brink of collapse, strength work could be seen as our moral duty to staying active, healthy and happy.
If you fancy improving your strength and experiencing the benefits of having a strong body and mind, join one of our Strength sessions. We emphasise technique and learning, as well as challenging ourselves to go beyond out limits.
For more reading about the benefits of strength work, check out ‘Move! The New Science of Body Over Mind’ by Caroline Williams