We have all heard about the benefits of strength training or weight training:
- It helps keep the fat weight lost off for good
- It protects bone health and helps build muscle mass
- It makes you stronger and fitter
- It helps build better body mechanics improving balance
- It plays a key role in disease prevention, e. g. improving insulin sensitivity and HDL cholesterol
- It boost your energy level and your mood
- It improves your metabolism so your burn more calories even when not working out
With so many benefits, it seems no brainer that strength training must be part of life style of anyone pursuing Optimal Health.
If you search on Amazon.com, you will find hundreds of books on strength and weight training. These books elaborate on the benefits and various techniques of strength training. Here are two that use scientific basis in their approach.
Is there any downside to the strength training? What could possibly go wrong?
If you do a quick Google search on this topic, you will find that Injuries is what most people caution about as the downside of weight training.
That makes sense. Major types of injuries during weight training are hairline fractures, pulled muscles and damaged joints. The causes of these injuries often are:
- Using Impropriate weights
- Not using proper form
Making sure that you take precautions to avoid such injuries is very important. Even when you are very careful and conscientious, avoiding wrong form while strength training can require a lot of vigilance. That’s where it is important to learn from a trainer the basics of using weight, machines and even your weight.
However, in my experience, there is something even more subtle and insidious that can potentially creep in and that is easily preventable, if you are vigilant. And, no one seems to talk about this topic.
So, let me tell you my story to illustrate what this insidious issue is and lessons I learned on how to prevent it.
Many years ago, I used to do a simple yoga routine few days a week. I found that over time, my body became quite flexible. I felt energetic. I did have spring in my feet. However, I found that my strength was continuing to decline. I was even surprised how few pushups I could do at a time. Abdominal fat around my belly was slowly getting worse. I was becoming what we now call “skinny fat”.
So, I figured, instead of yoga, I would switch to exercise routine that involved working with light weights and body weight. As I started this new strength training routine, I found that I was getting stronger every week. I could do more and more pushups at a time. After several months, I even achieved my stretch goal of doing one hundred pushups in a single rep!
Then after about a year, I went back and tried my yoga routine. I immediately discovered that my flexibility had significantly decreased. I was quite discouraged that within a year while I had made so much progress in my strength, I had lost the flexibility and even some balance.
At that point in time, I ran into my trainer Saleem, who I still work out with over 13 years later. I told him my dilemma and he showed me how to stretch my muscle after EACH weight training exercise. So, if I had just done curls, I would stretch my biceps. If I had done squats and I would stretch my quads and so on. Doing these stretches routinely as part of my workouts, I noticed that it helped me retain flexibility in muscles while building strength. Training with him, I would also start my workout always with proper warmups and finish the workout with some cool down stretches.
Then Saleem started to add stretch workout days in between strength training workout days. So, after 4 or 5 sessions of weight training, he might add a stretch workout day. On the Stretch Workout day, we would simply do all stretching exercises – stretching back, hamstrings, quads, front, all big muscles and small muscles. With this new regimen I noticed that I was retaining my flexibility as I was developing strength.
In spite of all these precautions, about four years ago, I hurt my right shoulder from the workouts. I was able to fix most of it by doing the various stretches etc. However, as I would lift my right arm, I would feel resistance and even pain in my shoulder- may be at a level of 1 to 3 on a scale of 10. That led me to start doing Bikram Yoga, about 3 ½ years ago. As the shoulder got more and more limber with Bikram Yoga, resistance or pain at a level of 1 out of 10 still remained. And this resistance/pain would get worse, whenever I did bench presses or some other exercises that put strain on my shoulder.
At that point, I really got curious. I wanted to figure out what exactly would it take for my shoulder to be 100% recovered and normal.
I found various methods of making my shoulders further limber. Using foam rollers, such as below, was a big help.
Then I found massage balls (lacrosse balls), shown below. With these massage balls, I would find muscles around neck and shoulders that were tight and then use the ball to relieve pressure and loosen those tight muscles.
Finally, I decided to engage a massage therapist to work those muscles. And, she immediately found tight muscles and worked on those to loosen them up. And, finally, my right shoulder got to a point of 100% recovered and normal.
MORAL OF MY STORY
So, what is the moral of this story? Here is the insidious process that I discovered:
- Weight training induces tightness in muscles since strength training by design involves contracting of muscles
- It requires active work to dissipate tightness in the muscles by stretching, foam rolling and/or massaging
- If not properly loosened, during the following workouts your form may change subconsciously to compensate for the tight muscles, which may in-turn cause some other functional issues
- Over time these compounding issues, like the layers of an onion, may give rise to issues whose root cause may be buried deep and not be readily visible.
- Truly fixing such issues requires series of actions to fix one issue at a time, like peeling the onions, until you get to the root cause.Otherwise all fixes will be temporary.
If you are engaged in strength training, it is important to be hyper-aware of the tightness in muscles.
Incorporate yoga, stretching, foam rolling and massaging into your routines to immediately dissipate any tightness.
Chronic musco-skeletal issues can be cured by working on muscles as peeling the layers of an onion. However, it may require a lot of patience.
What do you think of this topic?
Have you had similar experiences?
What has been your approach to stay limber while developing strength?
I would love to hear from you. Please leave comments and questions to share your knowledge and wisdom.