do we strength train to the exclusion of everything else?

No.

spoiler: no

Is strength training the only thing that you should do? To the exclusion of everything else?

Well, no.

Will it fix all of your life's woes? Will it give you fat loss and six-pack abs? And throw in a great personality and a winning smile?

Hmmm.

what it does

Strength training is the base. That's my bias. While this might have a lot to do with me growing up weak and skinny and small, I still think strength as a universal base, a foundation to build on top of makes sense for all of us.

Strength has a huge carryover effect on a lot of other attributes. Let's take endurance, for example. Having more strength in your muscles means your muscles can do more work. This can range from doing a lot more work briefly or translate that into doing a little bit of work for a lot of time, and everything in between. A bigger engine in your car, so to speak. Power and speed are directly related to strength. Proper training movements will ensure that your mobility i.e. full and proper range of motion for the joints is taken care of. An ass-to-grass goblet squat with a reasonable load means a whole lot of things are going right.

It helps you build muscles (I don't mean getting big and bulky, although that's possible as well). It can aid fat loss, for a combination of reasons. From being able to do more work (coz you are stronger), and having more muscle (meaning a shift in your metabolism and energy requirements).

But it is not a magic answer that you do to the exclusion of everything else. In fact, I think that applies to most modalities of training.

one-dimensional approach

A lot of you find one thing that you enjoy and do that to the exclusion of everything else. This is a great method if you are truly mastering an art. But for most of you who just want general fitness, to tone up, to work on GPP, to be healthy - the one-dimensionality can be limiting.

Running, for example, to the exclusion of everything else can lead to a lot of overuse injuries. A runner though has stopped running exclusively to be fit or to lose weight - they are running to savour life, to enjoy community, to find themselves. Likewise, immersing ourselves in an activity goes beyond just the outcome of that activity.

But that does not mean it does not have limitations. Spending a little bit of time on other things - strength work, better recovery techniques, etc. - can make you a better runner, and leave you injury-free to enjoy it even more.

Strength training is a lot more extensible than running. For example, you can do heavy weights, you can do light weights, you can do in-between, you can do undulating periodisation, you can do pyramids and ladders and complexes, and a whole lot of jargon thrown in. Yes, the adaptations that stem from the infinity that exists in strength training mean that it is not quite as one-dimensional as it looks to the outsider. To discover that requires a combination of time, community, a good coach, and a lot of patience on your part.

But obviously, you can get injured doing strength work as well. It is not a magical tool with no drawbacks. Chasing numbers and arbitrary goals can happen anywhere. So, even strength work, without proper guidance or thought can get one-dimensional. And leave you unable to extract the benefits of it.

a positive feedback loop

Let's say you practice martial art. Practice will get you stronger. You might get gassed out in 5 minutes but practicing the skill slowly will improve your endurance and conditioning. In a few weeks or months, you will be able to go for much longer.

You might NOT need to complement it with your strength training. But if you do, it will have a great carryover effect. Think about it. Putting more force into a punch, besides the timing and skill and balance, comes down to how much strength you have. And that's a specific part you can work on and improve.

Likewise, with running. If you want to run longer or run faster, the more work your muscles are capable of doing, the better. Teach yourself the squat and the deadlift, and your newfound capabilities will have positive feedback on your running speed and skills.

the base of the puzzle

Strength training is the base of the puzzle. Of the available options, it makes the most sense to have as the foundation. After you get past the initial stages, if it is your wish, you can move to a rather minimalist approach to strength training. It can be one component of what you do. For example,

  1. 2 days of strength work

  2. 1 day of yoga

  3. 2 days of cardio (run, play badminton, walk, dance, etc.)

  4. 2 days of rest and recovery

The larger things to keep in mind are to ensure that

  • you don't have pain.

  • your range of motion around the joints is full and not compromised.

  • you have a flexibility routine aka stretch regularly.

  • you sleep well.

  • you eat well.

  • you drink enough water.

  • you take care of stress.

This might mean that your wellness routine is a combination of proper strength work, yoga or Animal Flow or Original Strength, etc., a cardiovascular routine that might be separate or in-built into your other activities, breathing and/or meditation practices, proper focus on your nutrition, working on your stress by having a creative outlet and spending time with your friends and family and by yourself.

Strength is the base for taking care of your physical and mental health. You can extract a lot from it but a more holistic outlook is needed.

But if you have time to do only one thing, don't fret. If you haven't figured out what that is, my obvious vote is for strength training. But if you are already doing one thing - yoga/running etc. - and don't have the bandwidth to add more and worry about this holistic nonsense, ignore it. You are already doing a lot of things right, just keep going down your path.

As long as you are keeping in mind the bigger picture - it should add more to your life than it takes.

to summarise

  • Strength work is great. but then, so is running or yoga or cycling and a lot of other activities.

  • Strength work is great as a foundational element.

  • It is great as a vehicle to immerse oneself in, to be a lifelong student. But then again, so are a lot of other activities.

  • Strength work need not be done to the exclusion of everything else. It is a universe by itself and does lend itself to a large spectrum of opportunities. So, it can come close but then, I am stretching the definition of strength work as well.

  • If you have the luxury of time and mental bandwidth, make holistic wellness a part of your thinking. But if you don’t, that’s okay. You are already on the path. You are already doing a lot of things well!