I frequently see people think if “strength & conditioning” is something that is applicable to them – often because we tend to think of these training protocols as something that belongs to highly trained athletes only. This is not the case.
Read on and find out why adopting this type of training will be of benefit – whether to your chronic lower back pain, headaches, menopause, depression, or weight issues.
Age is not a barrier to improving your strength and conditioning fitness
First, let’s think about what “being fit” is all about. How do you define this? In fitness terms, there are 5 elements:
Cardio(heart) Vascular (transportation system) Fitness is usually the easiest one to start with when you are unfit – it tends to be simple to do, such as running or walking, can be free, doesn’t always need equipment, and can be viewed as “fitness” that is accessible to all.
There are some key issues to think about:
The benefit of this type of exercise is hugely important to fitness, with significant gains seen in the strength of the heart muscle, increased transportation of blood and oxygen. This happens through increased building of blood vessels, increased energy production through greater and more numerous cells called “mitochondria” (powerhouse for energy) that mean more work feels “easier”.
It has great protective capabilities for the heart – not only by greater strength and resilience but also in the way that endurance work mops up “bad” cholesterol, keeps arteries “clean”, regulates insulin and helps with breathing problems. These are all important considerations, and it is easy to see why we should include some kind of cardio work into our daily routine.
The key to successful cardio response is to be able to sustain a consistent pattern of training for about 20 - 30 minutes.
Cardio Fitness usually involves lifting your heart rate between 55-85% of your maximum and sustaining this for around 20 minutes for optimal effect.
This type of training can be categorised as endurance work – although much of the effort put in will challenge what is called your “anaerobic threshold “ (where you get heavily out of breath) in peaks throughout your run/jog/bike/swim session.
Current guidelines for health are 30 mins per day in blocks of 5 mins, with one block being 15 mins – but to get gains in fitness (and health) then you need to get up to that 20min as a minimum, get breathless and repeat the process for 3-5 sessions per week.
Benefits of Regular Exercise on Coronary Heart Disease
Reduced systolic/diastolic pressure – your normal resting blood pressure will regulate
Increase in what is known as the “good” cholesterol and a decrease in what is known as the “bad” cholesterol
Reduced total body fat, reduced intrabdominal fat
Reduced insulin needs, improved glucose tolerance
Reduced blood platelet adhesiveness and aggregation
“Strength & Conditioning” training will make your cardio fitness much easier to do.
Weight training is hugely important for bone strength, joint stability, and posture - Weights can be split into both strength and endurance, and both elements are significant for health and fitness. By increasing the force and pressure on the muscles and bones, the body adapts and grows stronger.
The benefits of weight training are tremendous – and here are some basic facts that might help change your mind:
Muscular Endurance is the ability of the muscles to sustain rhythmic motion over a prolonged period. This can be seen when we do repeated exercises such as sit-ups, squats, the plank, press ups – there needs to be a high level of repetition of the exercise, and usually repeated “sets” so that you fatigue the muscle and get the changes to your body.
When you train for muscular endurance on a regular basis – or what we now call “conditioning” the body we see some amazing adaptations:
o An increase in the number and size of what is called the “mitochondrial content” which enables us to keep training for longer and harder, with less effort. o An increase in and respiratory capacity of skeletal muscle o Increase in muscle tissue (myoglobin) and capillary numbers o Smaller disturbances in homeostasis – meaning slower utilisation of muscle glycogen and blood glucose which is important for Type 2 or borderline Type 2 Diabetes. o Can burn fat at an earlier rate in the workout and burn more of it throughout the workout compared to someone not as trained. o Less lactate production –when we feel the muscle “burn” due to a build up of lactate acid, that then tends to make training uncomfortable and makes us slow down our training.
You can work an endurance-based programme by including repeated lifting of one type of action for at least 15 times (reps) – this should feel within your comfort zone up until the last few repetitions where you should struggle to push with the same amount of ease and comfort. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that 15 reps is some kind of magic number – ideally, keep going until you can’t move the weight.
Strength and endurance gains occur most frequently within a range repetition of 8-15. At this point you will get significant changes to muscle mass and will see the most amount of muscle growth – more pronounced in males due to the effect of testosterone.
Muscular Strength differs slightly from the endurance or conditioning of the muscle – but includes what is call a “neurological adaptation” which is specific to this type of training and will help you massively with your health and fitness.
If you have not done any weights before, it is worth pursuing the conditioning phases of training for a few weeks/months until you have “conditioned” the muscles and joints to cope with increased force and have had some of the physical changes we mentioned.
Don’t confuse muscle size with muscle strength – you can be strong and light – and this is down to this “neural drive” where the body gets the ability to contract more muscle fibres together in one go to produce more force – you can’t do this for long (as you are using so many fibres) – but this ability allows you to lift heavier weights, sustain effort at the end of the workout and provides
Weight training increases muscle strength and power by increasing the amount of protein stored within the muscle. Think of you muscle like a big kit bag with only a few items in it – it loses shape and flops around. Now think about packing more items into you kit bag so that it is tightly packed and firm. Think about hitting someone with you half empty bag and then the force of the full bag – now think about the ability to swing that bag faster – the combination of weight and speed leads to POWER.
Benefits of Strength Training:
Unique benefits to the muscular system - for both healthy and those with common health disorders
Reduction in all-cause mortality (including cancers)
Improved bone density
Improved tendon and ligament tensile strength
Improved fat metabolism
Reduction in pain levels of chronic lower back pain, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia
Improved sleep patterns
Improved cognition in older adults
Reduction in depression and anxiety
Reduction in overall fatigue
Improvement to confidence and self-esteem
When training, think about working with a fitness professional for advice on technique, but also the established training protocols.
o Overload – how many times do we need to repeat an exercise to get the changes
o Adaptation – both of the current exercise to suit your fitness needs, but also over time as you get stronger, or get ill and need to go back, or you have an injury etc
o Specificity – make sure that you are training for the gains that you want. The law of specificity means that you train in the way that you want your body to respond – this might be different if you want to get stronger to do the gardening and not have a bad back, compared to taking part in a cycling race etc
o Reversibility – understanding how the body regresses when you miss training, and how to keep the changes that you made for a longer period of time without losing too much fitness