Why strength training?
The only way, short of pharmaceuticals to affect any subsystem of the body, be it cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological or endocrine, is by doing mechanical work with muscle. Strength training is the most efficient way to do that. Muscle is the one factor we can control and develop to help maintain all of these other subsystems. Unfortunately, after your mid to late twenties, you begin to lose a half pound of muscle each year. Proper strength training is the only method that can reverse this. Muscle is also the biggest driver of your metabolism and it is the natural loss of lean tissue as we age that makes it so easy to gain unwanted fat. Muscle also acts as a cushion around the body's bones and joints, stabilizing them and protecting them against trauma. Muscles absorb the impact, keeping your bones and organs safe. Strength training also increases bone mineral density, effectively reversing or halting osteoporosis and keeping your bones strong as you age. In short, building muscle safely is the most important physical activity you can undertake to maintain life-long health.
Why no additional cardio?
Most people engage in steady-state aerobic activity like running or cycling for two reasons: to burn calories in an effort to lose weight and to maintain and promote heart health. Unfortunately, steady-state cardio, like all forms of exercise, burns very few calories and usually leaves you hungry enough to easily eat back anything you burn. A caloric deficit is the only way to lose weight, and it is simply easier and less potentially injurious to eat a little less each day then to try to out-run a poor diet. And if you do need to lose weight you will have better results when also doing proper strength training. Dieting while just doing cardio will promote an indiscriminate weight loss that will include valuable, metabolism-increasing muscle tissue. The stimulus provided by a Strongworks regimen along with a sensible weight-loss diet will allow you to lose fat while maintaining and gaining muscle.
As for heart health, it is important to understand that what you need for a healthy cardiovascular system is plasticity. That is, the ability to handle varied demands in a short span of time. If you shoot for a target heart rate while on the treadmill or stationary bike and hold it for 45 minutes what you will have done is intentionally trained the beat-to-beat variability (i.e., plasticity) out of your heart. Over a long span of time, endurance athletes are more prone to have atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). It is believed that this is their hearts’ desperate attempt to evoke some beat-to-beat variability that they unwittingly trained their heart to longer have. And heart rate alone isn’t a meaningful measure of anything when attempting to strengthen the heart. What is meaningful is Cardiac Output or heart rate multiplied by stroke volume (the amount of blood ejected with each heart beat). You want to condition your heart by making it occasionally (and briefly) beat harder not simply faster. A Strongworks session, which leaves you breathless, though with a heart rate that rarely goes past 125 bpm, does just that. Unless you enjoy participating in endurance sports for recreation and are comfortable with the risks they entail, our workout will be all the exercise your cardiovascular system needs.
Why only once or twice per week?
First, you must get out of the mindset that more exercise is better. The quality and intensity of exercise is what generates results, not volume. The only thing exercise can produce directly is injury. What we desire is what exercise can only indirectly produce in our bodies: an adaptive response to the stress we have placed upon it that leaves us stronger and with enhanced functional capability. The acute stress placed on the musculature during a proper strength training session, especially when sequentially worked to complete fatigue, sends a strong signal to your body that it must get stronger in order to ensure its survival the next time it faces such an event. That adaptation isn’t instantaneous however and for all but the most genetically gifted it typically takes several days, usually between 4 and (yes) 14 with most doing best exercising on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If you introduce another stimulus before your body has a chance to synthesize a response to the last one you can short-circuit the adaptive process that leads to increases in muscle and strength. At The Strongworks we carefully chart your progress and adjust volume and frequency accordingly to ensure you keep getting stronger. Typically, as a subject becomes more advanced and able to work with greater intensity, the key to their progress is a reduction, not an increase in actual exercises performed.
It also helps to stop thinking that a goal of exercise should be to burn a lot of calories by way of the immediate energy expenditure of the activity. As previously mentioned, no form of exercise does this well, with a few hundred calories all you can expect to burn after even hours spent monotonously sweating. But the right kind of exercise (progressive, high-intensity strength training) can have a significant impact on your hormonal and metabolic systems and leave you burning more calories day in and day out. This larger systemic change within your body will give you the long-term results you are looking for and give you greater latitude in your diet as you become a metabolically more efficient organism.
Why move so slowly?
Because it is both safer and more effective. When exercising it is imperative that you avoid placing excessive and injurious force on your joints. Force is calculated as mass multiplied by acceleration. By moving slowly and steadily we all but eliminate acceleration from the equation keeping your joints safe no matter how heavy the weight. And acceleration not only damages joints, it temporarily unloads the muscles making the exercise easier. (If you don’t believe this, see how many push-ups you can do at a brisk pace then try doing them very slowly for 10 seconds up, 10 seconds down.) Our goal is to keep the targeted muscle under continuous load in order to efficiently exhaust their slow, medium and fast twitch motor units. Moving slowly and, more importantly, at a consistent rate of speed is the best way to do this. It also allows for visual confirmation and correction of form discrepancies that a faster cadence might obscure. By moving very slowly you can work extremely hard without sacrificing safety no matter what your age or fitness level.