The other way to train – other than “no pain, no gain” – is to look to where true strength, true endurance, true power and speed all arise: the brain.
As a rehab professional, I have worked with patients who have suffered from acute and chronic neurological disorders and diseases: from stroke, to MS (Multiple Sclerosis), Parkinsons, Acquired Brain Injury, and patients with various dementias (e.g. Alzheimers).
The reality of where true strength, endurance, power and speed emanates not from muscle, but from the ability to control muscle. This epiphany occurred to me while working with all the patients with neurological diagnoses because in the vast majority of these cases, the weakness, the fatigue, the inability to coordinate, the disintegration of complex movements such as balance occurred because of neurological changes, not from a lack of muscle mass.
Consider a patient who has a stroke… one moment they are standing, talking, walking, perhaps even driving a car, and the next moment they cannot form a sentence, they cannot swallow, they cannot remain standing. What happened? Did 30, 40 or 50 lbs of muscle mass just all of a sudden disappear leaving them without strength, without endurance? No.
Think about what makes a muscle move?
Exactly, its you thinking about making a muscle move that makes a muscle move. How big, how strong, how long a muscle can perform is irrelevant if you consciously cannot control that muscle. That is exactly what happens to a stroke patient. The portion of their brain that creates the thought to move a joint, and then creates the signal directing muscles to coordinate either by contracting or relaxing to varying degrees… is not working.
Muscle is not strong because of its size.
Muscle is strong because of its control.
You can have an immensely bulky individual with massive muscles and functionally they may be weak relative to an athlete with half or even less of the muscle mass. How is that possible? Well, ask a bodybuilder to throw a javelin, and then ask an Olympic Track & Field athlete to throw a javelin… who will throw further? You could argue that the bodybuilder is strong because they can bench or squat more than the field athlete, but according to the javelin throw guess who is functionally strong. Not the bodybuilder.
I use this example over and over because we have all seen it, but for some reason fail to recognize it each time we do see it. How many times has a teenager, years before their physiological or psychological peak prevailed against all other athletes from all other nations at the Olympics to win the gold medal? Countless. Yet, every time we forget that these athletes are not bulky. They are perfectly proportioned for their sport, and prevail because of their training in technique, not bulking up. But what do we do? We head off to the gym, off to inflict self harm by pounding ourselves into submission on treadmills, ellipticals, in bootcamps, and CrossFit classes until we either taste, cough, or pee blood, all in the belief that that is the effort required for a “good” workout, a workout that is supposedly making us healthier.
Right. Tasting, coughing up, or peeing blood… is healthy.
Do we even hear the crap that comes out of our mouths, our minds?
Guess what the rehab process is for a stroke patient? HiiT? Bootcamps? Spin classes? Circuits? What about a Tabata class? Nope. If non of that makes sense for a stroke patient, then why would it make sense for you.
Is there a role for strength and conditioning training? Absolutely, but not for newbies, not for individuals who lack back aerobic base conditioning, who lack full range of motion, who lack flexibility, mobility, and the ABCs of movement (i.e. agility, balance and coordination).
Athletes peaking for competition, athletes who have mastered sport specific technique and now need to load and overload their technique in order to train to maintain ideal body posture, body lines, and body position definitely need strength and conditioning training.
Until then, repetition after repetition of the technique specific to your sport is appropriate training that will lead to not only health, but will translate into functional improvements that will yield strength, endurance, power and speed.