There is so much confusing information about what type of exercise is the “best.” Is it cardio? Is it functional movement? Is it yoga? Of course, there is no “best” type of exercise. I believe in doing a little bit of everything. Moving your body in different ways is crucial.
If I were to focus my attention on one type of exercise, it would be more targeted strength training, using a method I call “Highly Effective Strength Training” or “HEST.”
I’ll get into why HEST is effective and some characteristics of this method to incorporate into your routine, but let’s first talk about why to consider shifting your focus towards strength training if you haven’t already.
A primary goal of your exercise program should be to gain muscle. I think women especially avoid heavy lifting because they are afraid to get “bulky.” To me, this is the least of your concerns. I stress this in all my classes and education. When you transition your focus towards building muscle, your results will begin to skyrocket, and often your pain will decline or go away completely.
An improved metabolism
Muscle increases your lean tissue mass, which increases your metabolism. With a higher metabolism, you burn more calories throughout your day.
Fewer overuse injuries, less chronic inflammation, and less chronic pain
Overusing some muscles and ignoring others will cause some muscles to be tight and weak. This leads to joint pain and dysfunction. By selectively targeting all muscle groups, you create a more balanced body with less pain.
Joint pain will often decline with this method. It’s less stressful through your joints and more effective at building muscle. With less inflamed joints, you can increase your body’s tolerance for building muscle, and the results will compound.
Better ability to tolerate life-stressors due to improved tendon strength and bone density
By loading muscles using sound biomechanics, you also strengthen your tendons and bones. Your tendons are important to be strong because these tissues are what anchor your muscle the bone.
Resistance training also strengthens your bones. With stronger muscles, tendons, and bones, your body is much more resilient and prepared for life stressors like running around with your kids, moving boxes, etc.
Although we sprinkle a small amount of dedicated cardio into my programs, I believe you get great cardiac benefits from training in this way.
Effort is effort to your heart and lungs. They don’t know whether you are using 100% effort to sprint or if you are using 100% effort to lift a heavy weight. Leaning on your resistance training as cardio can be more effective than dedicated cardio because you get the cardiac benefits AND the muscular benefits.
HEST targets muscle groups individually and stabilizes neighboring joints. This combination allows your nervous system to dedicate all its efforts and resources to the targeted muscle, which improves muscular effort and hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Put another way; you can strengthen muscles without stressing out your joints.
In order to see growth in your muscles, you have to work them to fatigue. By selecting an exercise that stabilizes other joints, you can effectively fatigue the muscle group you are targeting without hurting yourself. Stronger muscles and happier joints lead to a more functional, supple, body.
Working a muscle to fatigue can look like high repetition with low weight or lower repetition with high weight. Although I recommend incorporating both methods, I tend to use heavier weights with fewer repetitions more often. This leaves less risk of overuse injuries and tendonitis.
Two techniques that I use to fatigue the targeted muscle:
1. Go slow and use a heavy weight
Slower is better because you avoid using momentum. Momentum will make the resistance physically lighter (inertia), which means you lose the effort through your muscles.
2. Create resistance internally, don’t just rely on the weight
A cue I use is: “imagine you’re holding 1,000 pounds. What kind of muscular effort would you use to lift 1,000 pounds?” By creating resistance internally, you create a more stable environment AND fatigue the muscle faster.
I can’t stress this piece enough. When you fatigue a muscle, you are creating damage in your tissues. This signals your immune system to begin the inflammation process. This is a good thing, and SHOULD happen. Your immune system swoops in to build back the tissue stronger.
When you don’t allow for full recovery in your muscles, you can spin in the inflammatory process. This can lead to chronic inflammation since your body never has the opportunity to heal before it’s stressed again.
The best recovery tool: time.
I recommend giving your body at least two days in between when you stress that muscle group again. If you’ve really fatigued a muscle, sometimes it takes up to 7-10 to fully recover. A good rule of thumb is to wait until soreness goes away before working that muscle again.
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