Get Strong First
I recently gave a talk at the local community center, and one part of my presentation focused on training, the process of moving towards a goal (usually a physical, quantifiable objective). It is the process of going from here to there, and having a plan to get there that takes you on the most direct route. One question I got a few times was how getting stronger might interfere with the other physical stressors in life. If someone takes multiple classes(i.e. Yoga, pilates, bootcamp), how might they be able to juggle all of them? The reality is, to get the most of your strength training, there will be a few trade offs, at least in the short run.
There is something in training that we call the interference effect, and it comes down to the notion that your body can’t adapt to too many competing physical stressors all at once. This is one reason why the elite marathoner doesn’t also win the 100 meter dash, or why the olympic weightlifter doesn’t also win the marathon. Training for both, at a high level, can derail progress on the main goal. The reason we can’t do many physical things all at once (or at least do them well), is because the signals the body receives are at opposite ends of a physical spectrum. Endurance training signals a different change in the body than strength training, and training intensely for one usually means the body signals adaptation to that type of stress rather than another. Another reason why is simply the ability to recover. As you age, recovery becomes an important part of the stress-recovery-adaptation process. Adding more physical stress into the equation requires more work from which you need to recover.
My contention in the discussion was that strength, the ability to produce force against an external resistance, should be the quality you focus on first. If you have not already progressed through a novice stage of strength training, doing so will benefit not only your strength, but also your other physical qualities as well. The reason strength has an effect on many qualities is because force production is the basis for most abilities. Consider running or walking: each step requires some amount of force to be produced through the ground. Training your ability to produce force can have a positive effect on both of these activities. Think about balance and flexibility: when squatting with a loaded barbell, we strive to maintain the midfoot balance point, through a full range of motion. We can simultaneously train both your ability to balance, and do so while improving mobility. The list can go on, but the point is that strength, for those not already strong, yields tremendous return on your investment.
The main point is that strength is rooted in almost all daily, physical tasks, from walking to sitting to standing. The best way to get strong is through progressive resistance training (i.e. strength training). Developing a good foundation of strength doesn’t take very long (many run through their novice phase in 12 weeks or so), but the impact is profound. Take the time to develop your strength, and maybe put all of the other stuff on the back burner temporarily (maybe only do 1 class a week rather than 5). You’ll return with a healthy foundation of strength, and most likely perform better in those classes when you come back!