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Misguided perception: More weight means stronger

Now is the time to start strength training!

When I say weight training or strength training, what goes through your mind? Most of you will probably think of elaborate machines in the gym, weighted plates and dumbbells. If you aren't much of 'gym' person, it can all be very overwhelming and intimidating. It can all be very unnecessary as well. There's a misguided perception that the more weight I use, the stronger I will get. This could be true if you are a professional weightlifter whose competitive success is judged on a number of weights lifted but for the majority of us, lifting more/heavier weights will not make us stronger. Do not mistaken progress in strength training with progress in education. It's apples and oranges (although both should be considered lifetime journeys). In an education, we see progress when we move up a grade (4th grade to 5th grade),  collegiate class (sophomore to junior) or degree (bachelor's to master's). Let's take a different approach to strength training. Instead of measuring progress by the number of pounds or reps we lift, let's measure how hard our muscles are actually working. Weights, plates, reps are all external numbers. Our muscles are our own internal measurement. Our physical personal growth. We feel them. They tell us when they are tired, cramping or in pain and they will always inform us if we gave them a good workout or not. How many times have you told yourself "I just had a great workout!". It doesn't always happen but when it does you feel it. Look at your muscles as an onion. They have layers. Once you work through one layer, it's time to go deeper into the next layer. This won't happen by adding more weight but by adding more mental focus and energy.

If you ever thought, 'I would love to start strength training but don't know what to do in the gym' or 'I'm spending hours in the gym but not getting the results I want', now is a perfect time to start changing your mentality and learning about how your body works. With the COVID-19 virus in full effect, this is the time to gain some perspective on ourselves. Let's use this isolation time to take stock of where we are in our lives. Are our actions matching our intentions?  I was talking to my neighbor the other day and he said "wow, we got a lot of time on our hands!". Let's make good use of this time. This is time we may never have again in our lives. Let's work on our physical beings in a simple and strategic way to build strength that requires no gym or equipment whatsoever. Just a quiet space and some mental focus. We should all have that in this current environment.

To start, I'm going to ask for 10-15 minutes of your time. Schedule this time when you are not distracted by work, children or a stressful situation. You want to concentrate to connect our mind to your body. This is your time for your physical personal growth. Also, figure out when during the day is the best time for you to focus on yourself. Some work better in the mornings, other can focus more in the evenings or late at night. When is the most effective and efficient time for you to exercise?

We are going to begin with a simple core exercise. There's an old expression by Leonardo Da Vinci "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" that resonates deeply with me. In this context, it's basically saying you don't need a fancy gym or the latest equipment or fad to do strength training. Keep in mind simple does not in any way mean easy. Meditation is considered a simple task but anyone who has done it can tell you it is not at all easy.

Take a quiet breath while standing in one place and start to pull your stomach muscles in. Your belly button should start to pull in and you should feel your core muscles engaging while being able to breathe normally. If you feel you are losing your breath then you are using your breathing muscles and not your core. This makes the exercise ineffective as we are trying to work your core and not your respiratory muscles. Once you feel you have engaged your core muscles, either lift both your arms to the side of your body with your arms straight or if you prefer to work your legs, lift one leg backwards with the knee straight to the back of you. The most important part of this exercise is not lifting the arms or legs but to keep the core engaged and pulled in the entire time. Try a set of 10 reps or if possible until your core is exhausted and needs a break. As you go further into the reps, try to pull your belly button in deeper and deeper through the count working the deeper layers of core muscles. Again, think of the layers of your core like layers of an onion. They should start to get really tired to the point you need a break.

If you don't think you feeling anything (or just feeling it in your arms or legs) chances are you are not quite activating your core enough. It does take time and persistence to get the core to fire. This is a simple core exercise not an easy one! The goal of the core is to take pressure off the rest of your body. Strong buildings are built on strong foundations and your core is the foundation that you are starting to build on. The goal is to get into the habit of activating your core with everything you do in your life, whether it be climbing up and down stairs, walking up a hill or picking up a baby or dog. Building your core is a lifetime journey so don't ever feel like you have mastered it. Keep working at it and keep adding more complex movements (doesn't really matter what they are) while activating your core. Core activation is the foundation of all strengthening exercises. Let's start building this foundation of your body now while we have the time and personal space to do so.