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Skinny Without Willpower

Sunday, July 3, 2011


By now you must have gotten a pretty good idea that I am a proponent of strength or weight or resistance training. Having been doing some form of resistance training since my 20’s I have always been drawn to lifting weights over, say, running on the treadmill (although at one point in my life I was addicted to running). But I have always stuck to conventional methods of training perpetuated by the bodybuilding community.  In the past few years, thanks partly to CrossFit, I got interested in the Olympic style of weight training or functional strength training and realized it was much more taxing on my system not only metabolically but also mentally. So how does functional strength training differ from the conventional exercises in the gym? Well for one you get much more work done per unit time doing, for example Olympic lifts, than perhaps a shoulder press or bench press. Let me clarify what I mean by that. The technical definition of work is the force times the distance moved (W=F*d), or the amount of weight you move times the distance it moves. So if you take the example of bench pressing 100lbs . The amount of work you do bench pressing this weight over a distance of 15 inches (20 inches if you have long arms) is 1500 force units (ignore the mixed up units for now). Now take the same weight moved in a Olympic snatch. The weight moves all the way from the ground to the top of your head over extended arms which would be about 6.5 ft (for an average 5.5 ft person). That would be 78 inches. So the amount of work done would be 7800 force units. So the work done is about 6 times more for the snatch vs the bench press. So basically I would have done the same amount of work in 1/6th the time doing the snatch vs. doing the bench press. So instead of spending one hour in the gym I can get the same work done in 10 minutes. 

That’s just one part of it. The second and more important part is functional vs. specialized strength. Just to give you an example consider a guy in the gym that does countless sets of shoulder presses and bicep and tricep curls on the shiny machines and is ready for prime time on the beach with his impressive body but after he packs his suitcase to head out for a weekend trip to the beaches of Miami he throws his back out while putting that suitcase in the airplane’s overhead cabin and ends up in the hospital instead. Alright that example is a bit extreme but you get the drift. Basically his training methods are making him some impressive muscles but are not making his body any more ‘intelligent’ in the sense that his body is not able to put the strength to any real life functional use. This is the biggest gripe I have with the current system of training that’s perpetuated by the bodybuilding community that trains a body for mere aesthetics. The split routines that individually focus on every single muscle for maximum growth and size create a disconnected system of muscles that are very strong in their own little range of motion but cannot ‘work together’ to complete a functional task. It actually creates muscle imbalances and makes the body ‘dumber’, if you know what I mean. 

This is where the ‘intelligent’ part of functional training comes into play. Unlike conventional bodybuilding type isolation exercises that are muscular in nature, Olympic lifting for example, is neuromuscular. It not only trains the body but the mind as well. It teaches the muscles to work in coordination in order to complete the task of lifting the weight from the ground to overhead in one explosive movement. This requires training the mind & body as one single unit which is how the body functions in real life. Take for example lifting a heavy suitcase and putting it in the overhead cabin.  You have to first bend your knees pick up the object keeping a tight straight back and then be able to stand up and push it up over your head into the cabin. This requires all the muscles in your body, the legs, back, core, hips, arms and shoulders to work in tandem to complete the task. So when life’s challenges require your body to work as a single unit why train the body to work in disconnected pieces? After all the goal of any fitness program should be to make you healthier and fit to take on life’s real challenges and not just to look good on the beach. 

Don’t get me wrong, but I have a lot of respect for the sport of bodybuilding (if you consider it a sport) as it requires the utmost disciplined diet and training regimen and I certainly don’t mean that bodybuilders aren’t healthy (at least the ones that don’t dope) or strong. There is a place for isolation type exercises but only if you are recuperating from a specific injury and not if you are training for general fitness. So go run, swim, lift sand bags, kettlebells, play sports and get healthy and ready to take on life’s real challenges rather than spend 2 hrs everyday in the gym doing isolation curls and calf raises so you can look impressive in those sleeveless shirts and shorts.

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