don't confuse bodybuilding and strength training

you wouldn't confuse cricket with rugby, right

When I was a skinny, weak kid back in my teens, all I wanted was to not be weak. But I did not know how to. While I had access to the internet, I did not know how to find information that did not confuse me. Somehow, I knew the obvious - go to a gym. But every gym (a practice that continues today in a lot of places) had photos of guys with gargantuan bodies and muscles that had muscles on top of them.

And that was rather off-putting. One, I certainly did not want that as my end goal. Two, I certainly could not even fathom anything like that was remotely possible for me.

I simply wanted to be more athletic. I wanted to be able to run faster, have enough stamina to not gas out while swimming a lap, or not be exhausted running with my pads on and get out while playing cricket because I had no strength left.

But I thought that was just something one was born with. And kids like me who ate rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner could never be it.

skinny and weak to out-of-shape and weak

We had two rather athletic boys in my class who went to the gym and in a few months, their biceps were the size of my thighs and that just confirmed my suspicions about what going to the gym meant - blowing up.

Few years go by and I am in college. Out of shape, and still weak. I tried going to the gym for a couple of months, on two occasions, but nothing really seemed to happen. And of course, by now, the goal was to lose weight.

bodybuilding is a separate sport

But obviously, nothing happened. And the cycle continued - try going to the gym, nothing happens, lose interest.

Not getting stronger. Not getting leaner. Bah!

The funny thing is, even today, there's a central misconception about what strength training is and is not. So, I thought, let's start at the start.

  • There's a sport called bodybuilding. Just like how cricket is not baseball, or football in the USA vs football in the rest of the world are rather different sports, bodybuilding - think Arnold Schwarzenegger - is different from what we want to play.

  • The point of the sport of bodybuilding is to get big and showy muscles. Strength is not a requirement. You don't need to have a triple bodyweight deadlift, you just need to look like it. You are judged on aesthetics and physique and how well you can show your muscles.

  • A legitimate sport and a lot of hard work. Except that's not what most of us want or are working towards.

  • Again, you wouldn't try to take a cricket bat and do a forward defence in baseball.

  • Different goals, different methods. The complications arise because most gym trainers are/were bodybuilders and they did not know much about the field of strength and conditioning. And most gyms outfitted themselves with machines, which are great for rehab and doing high-rep isolation work (working muscles in isolation) which helps you balloon up.

what is strength training

  • Strength training is about getting stronger.

  • This means you are training your body and your mind to work as a unit to lift more weight.

  • As Coach Dan John says, that essentially boils down to

- put weight overhead

- pick weight up off the floor

- carry weights for distance

  • When we do lift weights, we will put on muscle. And we will tone up (body recomposition i.e. lose fat and gain muscle).

  • But unless we try rather hard and train specifically for it, we will not blow up into a big beefy dude or gal.

  • Analogy time. Just coz you pick up cricket does not mean you will become a fast bowler, a good spinner, a great batsman and a superb fielder. They are all different skills and all of them take practice and it is hard to get and a constant process. Or if you know to sing Carnatic, you cannot just randomly sing western.

  • Different skills. Different methods. All with a steep learning curve and continuous.

  • The strength work we prescribe at The Quad is low repetition strength work i.e. you will lift heavy weights not too many times (around 5-10 reps). This means your muscles get denser and stronger and a wee bit bigger but won't blow up. The jargon for this is myofibrillar hypertrophy versus sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.

  • It is hard work, especially as we get older, to put on muscle.

  • It is harder for women because of how our bodies are i.e. producing testosterone and all that.

  • For men and women, it takes sensible and consistent strength training to get strong. And with good coaching, one can get amazingly StrongEnough in a process that seems smooth and immensely enjoyable.

  • When combined with a good lifestyle of eating like an adult and getting enough sleep, we end up looking better as well.

I was confused and put off by strength training as I thought bodybuilding was the only option. It is not.

You can get much stronger than you thought possible and you won't look like those people on those hoardings outside a gym.

I hope this helps. Good luck with your resolutions for the year.