A Treatise on Strength: Part 1

This is the first part of my four-part series on Strength.

What do we normally picture when we hear the word “strength”? Everyone’s view on “Strength” is different. Is it large muscle-bound men throwing around weights? Your favorite athlete? A lumber-jack? The Hulk? Or is it the face of a mother who has raised a family on her own? Or a cancer victim who can go into treatment with a smile and hope?

Personally, I think there are two aspects of strength:

Physical Strength:

“… is the ability of a person or animal to exert force on physical objects.”(1)

Mental Strength:

“… is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.”(2)

Although this quote defines Mental Strength in a sports setting it is valid for any circumstance, as you must withstand whatever life throws at you, just as in sports.

Why do I bring this up? Well it’s been my passion for a while now, although I didn’t know it. For a long time I haven’t been aware of what I have been striving for when I was pursuing the martial arts or putting myself through hardships just to see how I came out. I thought I didn’t want to be weak, or I wanted to be prepared for anything. But over the years I’ve broken it down and down and down, and maybe I will continue to whittle away at it, but what I have finally come away with is the idea of “strength”: Being able to endure, to move, to remain steadfast and weather all storms, to not fear, to protect, to survive, and to grow old with a straight back and my wits about me. I have definitely not reached my goal. I am just saying that I have realized what it is.

No-matter what the common perception, there will always be a place in this world for the strong; although it is not emphasized in this age as it was in the past. In society today strength is no longer a prerequisite or even a priority. If you are no longer able to hold your own weight you can get a scooter. If you can’t open the pickle jar you can get a home machine that can do it for you. If you can’t make it through an education or make yourself get work there are systems in place to make sure you get free money. I’m not picking on anyone or saying that these things are good or bad. I’m just saying.

In the past none of these situations would be an issue. If you can’t hold your weight, you die. If you can’t get to your food, you die. If you don’t work for your food, you die. Pretty simple. Our ancestors needed an impressive amount of strength to survive, and every one of us has the genetic make-up to be strong as well. The only difference is: need vs. want. Which I will delve into later.

In this series I’m going to go into the two main aspects of what I refer to as “strength”: the physical and the mental. I will share my thoughts on what they are, why they are important, and how we can build upon them. And I say “build upon them” because everyone has a degree of strength, the key is to never be happy with it and to always strive for more.

For now I am going to leave you to contemplate. Let me know what you think. What do you think strength is?


(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_strength

(2) Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, p.209

Strength Training Without Weights: Get Started Right Now

“Pumping Iron!” That’s the common image of strength training. But, you say, you have nothing in common with Arnold Schwarzenneger, and don’t want to? You do not require any iron amid your home exercise equipment. At its most minimal, all you have to have is you. Beyond you, a few bits of rubber (or perhaps it is really plastic) is all you require. You can lift all that iron–weight training does develop strength–but resistance training is equally good.

You own body has a huge variety of weights in its limbs and joints that supply plenty of possibilities for movement. You can get as much strength training as you choose just by repeatedly moving your own body. One bit of “rubber”, however, may be good: a workout mat. Cushioning makes most of the prone and seated activity a lot more comfortable. Be sure the mat is at least 3/8 inch thick. The thin yoga mats may be convenient to roll up and stick under your arm for transport, but they are not thick enough to pad your body adequately.

You can find numerous video clips and posts on body-only strength workouts on-line, but be careful about the qualifications of the trainer. There are many videos from physical therapists and certified physical trainers–you do not have to listen to just anyone. If something hurts–you know the difference between working muscles and real pain–stop! Strength training should not cause pain.

You’re likely to become burnt out just using your own body, and boredom can lead you to stop working out. At this point, you might wish to spend a few dollars in some resistance bands or tubes. These rainbow-colored bands add resistance between limbs, or can be attached to a door knob or a grip bar. They give variety and increase the strength needed to perform a movement. The bands grow in strength as the shade gets darker. This means you can go a very long way in reaching your strength training aspirations with only these light, low-cost, easily stored bands. You can find them at any decent sporting goods store or on the internet. Hang them on lightweight plastic hooks to avoid tangles.

A fitness ball makes a last, inexpensive piece of home exercise equipment. Choose one that lets you sit on it with flat feet. A fitness ball intensifies your body-only workouts. You will be amazed at the increased difficulty of a push-up started with your feet on an unsteady round surface. Your core stability and your balance will both be drastically challenged, and improved.

When you are investing in your ball, make sure you get a pump, spare plugs, and a training DVD or booklet. Save yourself the aggravation of not having them. (Note: a bicycle pump even with a “ball needle” will not work.)

Pump plastic, not iron! It may not have the status, but plastic saves you cash and room, and is no less effective as home exercise equipment. Eat your iron–don’t pump it.