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.
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.