Our weekly fitness column, “Weekly Wellness,” is back again. This week, Matt Gallagher, from MFC Sports Performance in Darien, talks about advancing your strength training routine.
In past articles we discussed how and why strength training is vital in the battle of the bulge, as it builds muscle and speeds up metabolism. We also touched on how to incorporate strength training into your routine, and which type of strength training might be best for you. What I would like to do now is talk about two strength training components that seem to be overlooked by most people.
Strength training can be quite an enjoyable experience, when you get a handle on how to do it properly for results. However, gone are the days when you walk into the gym, throw your maximum weight on the bar and grind out reps (with plenty of grunting thrown in), with not much consideration of form or warm-up. There are a few crucial elements that couple nicely with strength training, kind of like peanut butter and jelly being put together to form a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
You need three ingredients to make the sandwich work – peanut butter, jelly and bread. Similarly, there are certain critical elements that should be used to form a solid strength training program. You need the actual strength training, but you also need mobility training and soft-tissue release to complete the entire puzzle and keep your body as limber and loose as possible. Regularly performing all three training parameters will help ensure you gain plenty of strength and muscle while staying injury-free and moving freely. There isn’t a lot of benefit to having strength and muscle if you cannot move your body well without pain and joint restriction.
Since I have talked a lot about strength training over the last few weeks, let’s go ahead and address the other two pieces of the puzzle.
Start a Mobility Program
A proper mobility program needs to be implemented before you lift weights, every time. But what is a mobility program? Simply put, mobility training targets the major joints of the body to encourage a full range-of-motion. Different than flexibility, which mainly targets the muscle bellies through static stretching (holding positions for time), mobility work encourages flowing, bodily movements very similar to certain yoga poses that works your joints through their maximum range-of-motion. If you lack mobility in certain joints, you will be restricted in your strength training form on some major lifts.
There are many individuals who should not even perform certain movements in strength training due to lack of mobility, and ignoring this will usually lead to injury. It is imperative the human body maintains a high degree of mobility throughout its lifetime, otherwise joints lose their ability to move freely and will probably develop scar tissue. Just 5-8 minutes of comprehensive mobility training before strength training will encourage the muscles and joints to loosen up, allow for better strength training form, and keep you moving gracefully in everyday life.
For example, I use an exercise called striders, a complete body opener. It hits all major muscle groups and lubricates your joints. It gets the blood flowing more significantly than regular stretching.
If you look up exercise striders on YouTube, there are some great demonstration videos on how to properly perform striders.
Add Some Soft-Tissue Work
The second addition to strength training is soft-tissue work. This can refer to either getting a massage or, if you don’t want to break the bank, you can use a foam roller. Foam rolling is a 3 to 5 minute activity that will pay dividends when performed over the long-term. Using the roller before and after a workout can help reduce soreness, prevent stiff muscles and increase blood flow to the muscles. This activity makes for the perfect cool-down after strenuous strength training.
Be sure to get in the habit of using a foam roller either before or after a strength training workout is performed. Who would not want to have a miniature self-massage after a tough workout? This is exactly what foam rolling (soft-tissue release) is like. You can find a foam roller at most sporting goods stores for anywhere between $15 to $50, although I would recommend spending a few extra dollars on a durable foam roller.
If you aren’t familiar with how to properly use a foam roller, there are a lot of good demo videos on YouTube. Just be sure that when you start foam rolling for the first time, you hit your major muscle groups:
• IT band
• your entire back – upper and lower
The Takeaway — Muscles need to stay soft and pliable, while joints need to stay healthy through a full range-of-motion to avoid joint degeneration over time. Soft muscles and healthy joints with adequate flexibility will help tremendously in performing full-body strength training movements. Strength training done in conjunction with a mobility program and soft-tissue work will allow proper strength to be built in the safest manner possible, all while maintaining or improving the graceful movement and posture that the human body is designed to have.
Matt Gallagher is the Fitness Director at MFC Sports Performance in Darien, which specializes in functional training for both adults and younger athletes. You can reach Matt by emailing him at Matt@MFCSportsPerformance.com.