To Build Strength is Simple, It’s Not Easy
I’m sure many of you clicked on to this post with a certain level of skepticism. In this day and age, there are so many people trying to sell you products and services that wildly over promise and under deliver results. We won’t be selling you anything or trying to convince you this will be easy. But everything we will share will you here, are from our own personal experiences, and it truly was the simplest way for both of us to build strength that we never knew was possible. There are three steps to this method, but they won’t happen overnight. The first is entirely mental and it required shifting some of what you might believe about strength and how to build it, then the second and third steps will require some work!
Enough talk, let’s break this all down and start finding that strength you never knew you had.
Step 1: Stop Resisting the Strength You Already Have
Your body works in a delicate balance. Front body and back body, left side right side, up-down, diagonally, and on so many other axis’ and movements planes. When you have resistance on one side, it debilitated the other side from working properly. Get rid of that resistance and both sides will function better. In context of strength –> When one muscle chain is tight, it can literally resist and impinge the opposing side. So by removing this tightness, or this inflexibility, you free the opposing side to express its full capacity of strength.
Think about it this way. If you have two horses who are trying to pull a carriage, it makes sense that if one horse is strong and the other is weak, then assuming both horses will try their best, the strong horse will end up pulling more weight, and they are likely to walk in circles because that weaker horse won’t keep up. This is essentially what happens when you have strong muscles and weak muscles, and this is primarily what keeps people like chiropractors and physiotherapists in business.
Now, imagine those two horses are the same size and equally strong, but one decided to stop moving and actively drive his feet into the ground to stop the carriage. The other horse is going to have to work insanely hard to even try to move that carriage. He’s now, not only going to be pulling the entire weight of the carriage, but the weight of the other horse, PLUS fighting the opposing force of the horse who’s putting on the brake.
This is what is happening when you have tight muscles all over the body that are never being stretched or otherwise worked out to try and get them to relax. They grow exceedingly tight and begin to resist the muscles you are focusing on working out and trying to get stronger. But in reality, they are in an uphill battle with that tightening muscle. (Or, your one horse is getting stronger and stronger, only to pull that stubborn horse who is braking harder and harder)
Method to increase the flexibility that unlocks strength
The two of us, for those of you who don’t follow our blog, are ultra marathon runners primarily, are certified yoga and acro yoga teachers, and love to dabble/cross-train with interval training, calisthenics, gymnastics and other bodyweight disciplines.
Adding in yoga of any sort to your daily or weekly routine can result in unbelievable increases in flexibility and proprioception, both opening up new forms of strength. Rolling, with a foam roller, trigger point style of balls or a recovery roller stick can really help you release tight areas of your body that you don’t know are tight. Maybe it’s your lats that have just seized up over years of weight lifting, and now they are your biggest shoulder mobility limitation. Or maybe like so many of us in the western world, you have tight hips, hamstrings, glutes or lower back muscles, from all that time we spend sitting. Rolling just for 10-15 minutes every day can absolutely shock you with the mobility gains you will see in a matter of a few weeks.
For those of you who still doubt this ideology that flexibility will increase strength, take time to listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast episode with Christopher Sommers from Gymnastic Bodies. Best quote out of that talk = “If the best in the world are stretching their asses off, then why aren’t you?”
Step 2: Strengthen Up Your Weakest Muscles
On some level, most of us already know this, but you are only as strong as your weakest muscle, and it;s true. If you want to use our horse analogy again (because talking draft horses just screams strength!), then a team of horses pulling a carriage are only going to be as strong as their weakest horse, or can only go as fast as their weakest horse. Two major areas where this will shine will be in your foundation, and in your core. Build strength in these areas and you will begin to look at movement in a whole new way.
Foundation –> This will include whatever muscles are having some form of interaction with the ground below you. (Or if you are working on inversions, then above you) If you’re a runner that gets shin splits, you need to focus on your lower leg muscles, find out what is strong, what is weak, and correct the imbalance. If you are trying and trying to balance in a handstand, there’s a good chance your hands are not strong enough to balance your weight, and the most common weakness that will help you improve will be by working your extensor muscles in the back of the forearm.
Core –> Block out the idea that your core is only your 6 or 8 pack. Think deeper than that. Think about solidifying your transverse abdominals to build that true strength. Static holds (with proper form) held for good chunks of time can really begin to tax and grow those deep, huge muscle groups. ***Personal opinion, but planks, might be one of the absolute best ways to grow this deep core strength. Forearm plank, wall plank, side plank, rotating plank, the options are endless*** It will also begin to teach you how to connect your core structure to your limbs, and once this foundation is locked it, more advanced movements like handstands, planche and levers become much more accessible to you.
Step 3: Stay Consistent Every Day
This step is extremely dependant on the first two. Once you have convinced yourself that increasing flexibility and range of motion will help unleash strength and once you’ve identified areas that are holding you back from being truly strong, then it’s time to go forth and work through the motions of building strength.
We won’t go into specific training plans or recommend any fitness regimes because there are about a billion people out there doing that already and it’s just too much of a debated topic. In the end, it really doesn’t matter as long as you do it with the right direction, motivation, and methodology.
To share our personal account of building strength here is a general breakdown of our experience over the past 8 months.
Starting point: Ultra distance runners already, moderate cross-training background, a 200hr YTT and a 200hr Acroyoga teacher training under our belts.
Routine: When schedule allowed our training schedule looked pretty similar to this for about 7 out of the last 8 months. (All of the below is given “per week”)
- 5 Strength Workouts – 40 minutes of a blend between yoga and advanced body movement
- 6 Skill Building Sessions – 10-15 minutes of dedicated practice on one specific skill (hand balance, handstand, etc)
- 4 Run Workouts – Ranging from 1-3 hours mostly – Mix of intervals, tempo runs, beach sprints, long easy runs, long hikes and recovery runs.
- 1-2 Crosstraining – 30-90 minutes – Biking, calisthenics, yin yoga, or other yoga practice for the most part
Stretching: Where did we fit in all of this strength building stretching to get massive flexibility gains? Deep stretching was working into the strength workouts (a little throughout and a bunch in the last 10 minutes), we would always make time for 5-15 minutes of dedicated stretching after running (don’t care what the controversial research papers say about it affecting your running, we value longevity and mobility more than we value high run performance), and the same goes for all cross training workouts, we would always leave 10 minutes or so at the end to stretch out.
Results: Differences could be seen after a few weeks, as we noticed flexibility started increasing. The true improvements to strength came after 2-3 months of consistency in what we were training. Free handstand, press to handstand, one arm hand balances, lolasana (had to go Sanskrit there, just don’t know what people are calling that in other disciplines) all started to take form, and we’re beginning to get tastes of more advanced movements like hanging levers, straddle planche, and just starting into hollow back handstands. These kinds of results might take longer for you, they might come faster, but the bottom-line is you have to be willing to believe in the process and that you are working through what you need to work through.