Get Stronger Without Lifting Heavy Stuff – Part I

Did the title grab your attention? What does he mean, “Get stronger without lifting heavy stuff?” Conventional wisdom and current research states that to increase strength levels one must overload muscles to a state of fatigue. Besides, weightlifting has numerous benefits: increased bone density, increased muscle size, heightened sense of well-being, increased body circulation and metabolism, decreased stress levels, etc. What those research papers do not tell us is that the human form, exposed to the growing world of technology, experiences postural distortions due to the adaptation of a daily life of greatly reduced purposeful physical activity. When this distorted form performs traditional strength training exercises compensation ensues. This will lead to improper biomechanics and increase the likelihood of injury. Yes, the body is growing stronger but the long term effect has a potential of being quite costly. Right

What those research papers do not tell us is that the human form, exposed to the growing world of technology, experiences postural distortions due to the adaptation of a daily life of greatly reduced purposeful physical activity. When this distorted form performs traditional strength training exercises compensation ensues. This will lead to improper biomechanics and increase the likelihood of injury. Yes, the body is growing stronger but the long term effect has a potential of being quite costly. Right now there is some greedy orthopedic surgeon rubbing their hands cackling with their head thrown back shouting, “Yes! Yes! Bwaa-ha-ha.”

I am not advocating that we discontinue weightlifting. That would not be prudent. However, there is more than one way to achieve a stronger form. What if we explore the other ways to get stronger? We may find an even greater level of fitness with better biomechanics, less joint pain and reduced likelihood of acute or chronic injury.Let’s first consider where today’s choice of strength training exercises came from. What we view as strength training began around the 1820s with P.T. Barnum’s “Iron Game.” Strongmen displayed amazing feats of strength in his traveling show by lifting enormous weights and bending metal bars with their bare hands.

Let’s first consider where today’s choice of strength training exercises came from. What we view as strength training began around the 1820s with P.T. Barnum’s “Iron Game.” Strongmen displayed amazing feats of strength in his traveling show by lifting enormous weights and bending metal bars with their bare hands. Eventually this evolved into gymnastics and calisthenics by the late nineteenth century. Public school gymnasiums were filled with angled ladders, Indian clubs, dumbbells, barbells, climbing ropes and poles, and gymnastics apparatus like rings and vaults. This continued until the 1920s to 1930s. Then it all but disappeared. The Great War (World War I) had ended in 1918, and when the soldiers came home it was a time to celebrate and play. The public schools converted the physical education of the body to sports and games almost overnight. Lost were the classes of tumbling, climbing, lifting and calisthenics. Organized sports were the new curriculum and have been that way ever since.

Post World War II, Americans became fearful of the “Red Scare.” Communism was the new enemy and the Atomic Age was born. To protect ourselves from the communist threat the public schools began the Presidential Physical Fitness Program. Besides sports and games, P.E. classes needed to test the young soldiers of tomorrow to ensure victory of the almost certain World War III. Military consultants helped develop the new standards of P.E. testing. Push-ups and rope climbing, what every kid loves…not! The curriculum, however, did not change very much to meet the needs of the test

During the late 50s and early 60s, apart from westerns and war films, there were some other movies hitting the screen with an actor named Steve Reeves. He starred in films like Hercules, Goliath, and Sinbad. This amazing physical specimen almost single handedly began the sport of bodybuilding. Weightlifting had returned after almost half a century of dormancy! The major difference between the new style of lifting to the older style was the primary goal: one was about purposeful physical strength and the other was all about aesthetics. Over the next several decades and into the new millennium, American fitness programs were all about bodybuilding aesthetics rather than getting the body to move properly in a strong purposeful manner. In the last ten years this concept has been bastardized into mega-high intensity weightlifting. We have gone to the extreme: Crossfit Games, Spartan Races, and Ultra-Endurance Races. Meanwhile the orthopedic surgeons keep rubbing their hands and filling their pockets.

There has got to be another way with less pain and injury and a lot more happiness. There is! To be continued.

End of Part 1
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