Training not Exercising.
A few tips for developing strength…
There have been many times after my shows that people (mostly kids, sometimes grown ups) have asked how they can get stronger… I started to write this for one such little girl, then thought that you might like to read it too. I hope you find something in here that makes you feel excited to move more and shine strong.
This is not about achieving strength… it is about growing stronger. There is no destination you arrive to where you tick the box and are now officially strong, it’s just a process of changing and growing and choosing what next. There is always a choice that you can make right now to grow a little bit stronger, enjoy it.
When we feel bad about how our body is now, it doesn’t make us get stronger faster, it slows us down. We can never hate ourselves into being any kind of better. Instead, if we can practice loving our bodies exactly as they are already and being grateful for the amazing things that are possible with this body, then we will find all our training is way more potent.
I learned from my friend Reuben DotDotDot (who trains better than anyone I know) that you should approach getting stronger as training rather than as exercise.
Don’t just blindly go from machine to machine at the gym to fill an amount of time, exercising because you know you should. Training means choosing a goal to work towards, something specific that you think would be fun to do like: holding a handstand; or being able to cross the monkey bars; or lifting a man into the air. Then you figure out what things need strengthening to do that, then you make a plan. When we train with purpose rather than blindly ‘exercise’ we enter approach mode (moving toward something we want) which is energising and motivating, rather than into avoidance mode (moving away from something we don’t want) which causes stress and slows your journey of growing stronger.
- Love your body as it is and get excited that it is going to get stronger
- Make a specific goal and figure out what training you can do to move you in that direction
- Train rather than exercise.
- Move towards your goal with focus, but know that the goal itself isn’t actually important, strength is a journey not a destination – once you achieve that goal, there will always be more goals…
The fastest way to develop strength is through training every day – make yourself some short training sequences or flows that you can realistically fit in every day. It is much more effective to do 10 or 20 minutes a day of focused training than 2 hours once a month! Going to classes like yoga, pilates, crossfit or heading to a gym are all great, but you can also train really effectively with just your own body in your own home if that will make it easier to build the habit.
Our habits are a big part of who we are, if you create a habit of training you quickly become a stronger person. Creating a habit takes effort, but the beauty of habit is that once it is established, it takes very little effort to keep going. So for the first few weeks of training every day, you are just working to establish the habit, so make it easy on yourself… make it a short session, put on nice music, pat yourself on the back afterward. The key is to make it daily (or at least on set days), so that it can become a habit. A little bit of focused movement every day will sometimes turn into a big session – but it is the consistency that powers it.
If our goal is something we can’t do yet, break it down to smaller steps that you can repeat over and over to train your body to move in the way it needs to – these reps will help to create neural pathways in the brain (habits of moving), which will make that complex movements automatic over time.
Which training exercises are best for you is quite individual depending on what your goal is… So I’m not going to go into detail here… other than to say that some things I find really great are:
- core strength training (planking and variations)
- bodyweight training routines & handstands
- primal movement
- hula hooping
- partner acro training
Most goals that have something to do with strength rely on having good core activation (the deep muscles of the torso including the pelvic floor, TA and psoas). Sit-ups are not the answer! They train your six pack, but don’t really help very much with doing any fun tricks. There are loads of great core training exercises in yoga and pilates… the simplest way is to start planking.
Some aligment notes:
- Spread the fingers with pointer fingers parallel to each other and hands under the shoulders, weight mostly in the pointer finger knuckle to protect the wrist
- press the floor away with your hands strongly and let the shoulder blades wrap around the side of the ribs, trying to make a rainbow shape between the shoulders. This is protraction of the shoulders. you also want to try to externally rotate from the shoulders: shoulder head wrapping back away from the ears and think of trying to use your shoulder to wrap the bicep around the outside of the arm.
- lengthen into a nice long line from the tip of the head down to the heels
- try not to sag in the hips, make a straight line between your shoulders, hips and heels.
- engage the core by lifting the lower belly and imagine the feeling of a wide belt tightening around the waist – also think of all the muscles of the front of the body lifting to press into all the muscles of the back of the body – and at the same time all the back muscles of the body press back into the front body.
The idea is to be able to hold a plank with good alignment for a length of time to build stability in your core. (try 30 sec and then when you can, make it 1 min etc). Once you can hold it for a while, then you can play around with variations – try keeping everything else still and in line while you lift one leg or arm (or a leg and an arm). Youtube has loads of tutorials…
One of the keys to getting stronger and avoiding injury is to find a balance between repeating exercises to get more skilled at them and also doing lots of different things so that your body moves in lots of different ways. There are online tutorials about yoga, primal movement play and pilates which all are great. Also, just putting on music and dancing your heart out, moving in as many ways as you can for 5 or 10 min is wonderful. Or go to the park and run, jump, climb, roll around.
How we use our mind when we train is important. It helps us get stronger faster if we focus our attention carefully on technique and whats happening in the body while we train, this can even become a part of a mindfulness practice, like a moving meditation.
We can use the time where we train our muscles to train or mind as well. If we practice focusing our attention what we are working towards in a hopeful way, rather than on criticising ourselves or others while we train, then we strengthen a habit of thinking (neural pathway) which is kind to ourselves and in approach mode – it will spill over into the rest of the day.
Side note… the mind is amazing! When you visualise doing something or imagine feeling it, it fires in the brain the same as if you really did it or felt it. So you can keep working on the technique of a skill even when you can’t physically do it by visualising. Also, you can practice feeling strong and amazing, even if you aren’t quite convinced yet…. and it will become easier to feel that way.
The power of Rest
We can sometimes get caught up busily trying to achieve all the time and our bodies get inflamed, using all it’s energy surviving and not on digesting, healing, or growing stronger… part of getting stronger is rest and recovery time. This can be savasana in yoga (the laying down bit at the end), or resting between sets of exercises, or having a good night sleep. Even after a weights session at the gym I like to take a few minutes to sit and do a breathing meditation to guide my body into recovery.
One great ‘hack’ is to do this 1:2 breathing exercise for a minute or more after you train to recover and help your body go into rest mode (stimulating the Parasympathetic nervous system).
- put your hand on your belly and the other on your chest
- try to breath deeply so that the belly moves when you breath (this is the diaphragm moving down to expand the lungs and it pushes the organs out a little)
- start to breathe so that your exhale becomes twice as long as the inhale (perhaps in for 4 out for 8, or in for 5 out for 10) Try work with a length that is comfortable and you aren’t going to strain.
I hope this helps.