Calm Seas and a Lack of Stress
Stress gets a bad rap. People seek to avoid stress like it’s the Bogeyman. Not all stress is bad. Actually, some stress is productive, even necessary. Take the saying calm seas do not make a good sailor. With a small change it could be a lack of stress does not make a resilient body. Does a body need to be resilient? Does your body need to be resilient? Probably more than you might think.
The body is an adaptive organism, this is a necessary part of our resiliency and survival. When you train, you subject the body to stress, deliberate stress. If it is sufficiently stressful (but not excessively so) the body responds by adapting when given the means to recover until the next stressful event such as sleep, food and rest. This occurs regardless of age or sex. A toddler tries to stand up, the task is too much for her present development and constitutes a stress that her body adapts to by getting a little bit stronger. Babies eat a lot and sleep a lot, it should be noted, which are ideal for recovery from stress. Repeat this cycle over and over and the toddler eventually is strong enough (and practiced enough) to stand on her own. This adaptation wasn’t exclusively muscular. Tendons and ligaments get stronger too. In fact, all the cells in her body that were affected by the stress will adapt and get stronger too.
This is the training effect that an optimal training program solicits and is valuable to more people than just college football players. It is also valuable to teens and adults due to hormonal responses present post-puberty. Applying a stress, recovery, adaptation process is a safe, effective and efficient way to improve the health and resiliency of the practitioner. And even a little can go a long way. It is a good thing to be an adaptive organism, and if you are reading this, then your body is just such an adaptive organism.
A good number of young males seem drawn to barbell training, yet somehow a message is out there that it isn’t appropriate once a person gets to a certain age, or because one is young and female, or even older and female. The message is that the value of physical strength doesn’t apply to the teenage girl playing soccer or basketball, to the 30 year old playing recreational volleyball or softball, or even the 70 year old who wants to still get up from/sit down to the toilet unassisted. Let’s look at each of these a little closer.
People are quick to eschew giving a girl a barbell to train with yet like the idea of having them do plyometrics, thinking it is safer. But consider how much force gets applied to the hips, knees and ankles when landing repeatedly from an 18-24” drop. Even if taking a conservative factor of an additional 50% of body weight force is applied (it is actually much more), a 120lb girl’s joints/muscles will receive 180lb of force. This athlete would benefit more from training a barbell squat and systematically develop the strength to squat 180lb, which will also help her power movements because she can produce more force. Also, observe the position of her knees on the landing. Are they angling in or are they strong enough to maintain proper alignment so the landing forces are distributed across all the affected joints? Knees and hips that have not been strengthened will tend to buckle inward and this is not an ideal movement pattern to repeat hundreds and hundreds of times over the course of a playing season. While strong bodies may benefit from plyometrics, plyometrics are not a safer method to make a teen athlete strong and should not be the first approach to getting them strong. The other side benefit of being stronger is the improved capacity to resist injury because not only is a stronger body able to generate more force, it is better able to resist or absorb force. Strength is like body armor that is always present. This athlete’s body is an adaptive organism that will adapt to a safe and intelligent training program which develops usable strength.
Throwing oneself into an all-out game once or twice each week when the majority of the time is spent practicing sedentary pursuits is not ideal for “staying in shape.” Focusing on low intensity, aerobic type activities as the priority in the middle-age years is failing to acknowledge what is taking place in the body as it ages. Years of limited range of motion activity at a sedentary pace can de-train the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments rendering them weaker because the muscle mass is not being maintained and so is more susceptible to injury because they are less able to deal with sudden generation or absorption of force. Don’t get hung up on the use of the word “mass” in muscle mass. This isn’t calling for body-builder notions of packing on mass-ive muscles. Retaining muscle helps the metabolism (more muscle is better than less muscle when it comes to burning calories), helps maintain the ability to run and climb over a fence if you are being chased by a stray dog, even helps prevent injury by being robust enough to suddenly change direction because the 3rd baseman now has the ball and a sprint back to 2nd base is required. This adult’s body is an adaptive organism that will adapt to a safe and intelligent training program which develops usable strength.
Don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone the song lyrics say. And this is true for how easy it is to take for granted what a young and strong body can do until it is no longer young or strong. There are some nasty sounding words that accompany aging. Sarcopenia and osteopenia are just two of them. These two words can have a big impact on the enjoyment of the later years of life. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass and osteopenia is the loss of bone density. The ability of the body to maintain strong and dense muscles and strong and dense bones declines with age and the decline can start even as young as the 4th decade. Instead of looking for a pill to try and hold off this regression, this person could use strength training to send the body a message that the muscles, tendons, joints and bones still need to be strong and to ensure that maintaining this is a priority for the body. The training of older men and women is surprisingly similar to that of younger men and women. Limitations in recovery and sensitivity to volume and intensity need to be taken into account and that is best done under the supervision of a coach experienced with training people in the later decades of life. To be clear, strength training is not a guarantee of a longer life. It is more focused on retaining the vitality and enjoyment of those later years and being able to continue to perform the basic movements of life independently and without the assistance of others is definitely a way to help accomplish this. Sadly, the standard advice given to an aging adult is to not lift anything “heavy” and try to get in more walking. Neither of these options is sufficient to make an impact in preventing sarcopenia and osteopenia. The older adult’s body is an adaptive organism that will adapt to a safe and intelligent training program which develops usable strength.
How much training is necessary to ensure the body adapts for strength, what is the minimum effective dose? Typically 2 sessions per week seem to be the minimum, though the person’s schedule needs to be taken into account and adjustments can be made ongoing. Advanced age and state of deconditioning will need consideration too. If you have read to this point and are wondering if you would benefit from an increase in physical strength consider how often you have heard someone remark “In this situation I wish I had been a little less strong.” Likely the answer is never, and even saying aloud it puts it into a silly perspective. So then the question you might now ask is could you, indeed, get stronger? Your body is an adaptive organism that will adapt to a safe and intelligent training program which develops usable strength.
While it is possible, it may not be optimal to fumble around for months or years to figure out how to do this properly. You might not even have months or years to invest in going the trial and error route of discovering and applying a productive training program. In this regard a knowledgeable trainer is a good investment, at the very least to get started. Seek out a personal trainer who can teach you how to strength train properly, safely and effectively. Our trainers at Stone Brook Strength all have extensive experience in working with people of all ages and skill levels; from beginners to advanced athletes, students to seniors. Contact us to see how we can help you get started today!