Strength and Conditioning does this.
The application of sports science to movement, Strength and Conditioning - or S&C for short - is a wonderful way to make positive and significant changes to your multiple facets of your wellbeing - not just physical strength.
You can benefit from Strength and Conditioning whether you're an athlete, a weekend warrior, or just a regular human looking to feel stronger and more capable in your body.
All bodies can benefit from this type of training. You can benefit if you're a yogi who has never touched a weight before. You can benefit if you're in a larger body. You can benefit if you're an older person. Or you're peri-menopausal. You can benefit if you're in a disabled body.
You can benefit even if your previous experience with bootcamps, weight rooms and WODs has been intimidating and off-putting (I know mine had been!).
A previously die-hard yoga purist, I now bring elements of S&C into my yoga classes such as strength training and mobility. And the feedback I've received is overwhelmingly positive. So much so that I'm now undergoing my Level 1 Strength & Conditioning coaching certification and will shortly start offering classes that focus purely on accessible Strength and Conditioning for all bodies!
But before I get all excited about that, we need to answer a few questions you may have, starting with...
What is Strength & Conditioning?
We all move and therefore we can all benefit from a better quality of movement.
S&C encompasses so much more than just lifting weights. It focuses on a variety of tools to improve movement, health and physical performance. Although you might see barbells, monkey rings, sleds, and the like with this type of training, there is plenty you can do with bodyweight and no equipment whatsoever.
S&C is a versatile and smart way of optimising your training and performance, whilst giving yourself the confidence that your body can do what you want it to do.
Strength and Conditioning used to be a niche reserved only for athletes. But as more folks come to understand the many benefits of movement-based fitness, the popularity of Strength and Conditioning is growing. Methods include plyometrics, calisthenics, speed and agility, mobility, core stability, muscular endurance, weight training and so much more, depending on your needs.
To me, S&C doesn't feel like mindless exercise, or a way of burning calories for the sake of burning calories (I gave up that game a long time ago)...
...but rather, a pointed and intelligent way of training that allows me to do all the other fun physical stuff I want to partake in, be that bushwalking, MMA, or just running after my kids.
The point of S&C isn't to just make you tired and sweaty. The point is to make you strong and capable in the ways that matter to YOU.
Perhaps my favourite side-effect of S&C is that the physical strength you develop transfers over to mental strength. Being physically stronger and better conditioned has this fabulous way of helping you feel more powerful, mentally and emotionally. This is a something that many folks who consistently engage in S&C training will attest to.
Strength training improves Body Image
Imagine being able to open heavy doors by yourself.
Lift a loaded wheelbarrow.
Carry large bags of dog food to your car without help.
Get off the ground or step up high with ease.
Run after or pick up your kid without hurting yourself.
When you notice yourself getting stronger, more energetic, and more capable, it's easier to feel more confident and proud of your body and what it can do...
...regardless of what your body looks like.
Research backs up this positive association between strength training and body image. This study of middle-aged and older women demonstrated that consistent strength training improved body image and perceived physical appearance, no matter the actual aesthetic results.
And this brings me to another important point: S&C training has many benefits, most of which have NOTHING TO DO with how you look.
Because of this, S&C - in the right environment, and with the right coach - is a fantastic form of movement for folks recovering from diet culture, body dysmorphia, or disordered eating (once they have been given the all-clear for exercise by their recovery team, of course).
It's a great way to get you focussing on the many benefits of movement besides it's impact on physical appearance.
"Don't try to make the number on the scale go DOWN.
Focus on making the weight on the barbell go UP."
- Nia Shanks, strength coach
Because as long as our motivation for movement is extrinsic (i.e. movement is just a way to achieve a certain ideal body size or shape), we tend to get stuck in the on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon loop with exercise.
When your motivation to move comes from within, you do it because it brings your joy, satisfaction, accomplishment, comfort, tangible health benefits, or something else that improves the quality of your life.
So besides enhanced mental strength and better body image, what are the other benefits of Strength and Conditioning?
15 Benefits of S&C That Have Nothing To Do With How You Look
And if that's your goal, that is fine with me - and frankly none of my business.
But this isn't what this article is about. (There are plenty of other people out there talking about those types of benefits!)
Most of the people I work with are recovering from chronic dieting, disordered eating, a tendency to over-exercise, and/or body dysmorphia.
Movement purely for the sake of changing the body's appearance is not all that helpful to these folks, and can actually impede their quality of life.
Even for people who have been lucky enough to avoid those issues, in the long run intrinsic motivation (e.g. feeling stronger, having more energy, being able to return to a sport you once loved) is more powerful in the long run than a goal to externally change something about your body.
Not only because we have much less control over long term changes to body appearance through diet and exercise than we have been lead to believe (and trying to do so can be disheartening and cause you to give up something really beneficial for you)...
...But also because training merely to change something about your physical appearance can get really. Fricken. BORING. Especially if you don't see the results you want soon enough.
Now let's explore the many benefits of Strength & Conditioning training that don't have anything to do with external appearance... but may well make you feel great from the inside out.
1. It improves your performance
Whether you’re an amateur or athlete, Strength & Conditioning can help improve your performance in your chosen sport - or in your life in general. If sport is your thing, then a sport-specific S&C program can improve your speed, strength, agility, endurance, and muscle strength. Not an "athlete" per se? Strength & Conditioning can simply enhance your fitness and give you the confidence that your body can do what you want it to do. And remember, improved confidence in your body and what it can do is a powerful way to improve your body image.
2. It makes movement more enjoyable!
When you move correctly and you notice improvements in your movement technique, moving your body becomes more enjoyable - which in and of itself is highly motivating!
3. It enhances general health
Any one or a combination of strength training, plyometrics and metabolic conditioning (some of the elements of Strength and Conditioning) helps to improve cardiovascular health, reduce arthritic pain, improve posture, enhance mental health, and improve bone health. Which brings me to...
4. It builds healthy bones
Regular weight bearing exercise and strengthening work can help prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures. Strength training builds stronger bones and a stronger musculoskeletal system, allowing you to move safely and avoid injury. This is especially poignant for women over 30 and older folks, for whom strength training can play an important role in slowing bone loss. Several studies show it can even build bone. This is tremendously useful to help offset age-related declines in bone mass.
5. It can help prevent injury
Strength and Conditioning work improves proprioception, the awareness of movement and position in the body. Sticking to a well-designed program will strengthen muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, reducing the risk of injuries. It will also address flexibility and strength deficits, which also decreases injury.
There are no guarantees in life, and sometimes injuries do happen (often whilst doing the weirdest, non-exercise related things if you're anything like me). If you do suffer an injury but work at keeping your other muscles strong, research shows that you will bounce back quicker.
7. It's an opportunity to attune to your body
A good S&C program incorporates the principle of progressive overload to develop strength, meaning that over time, it gradually increases the stress placed upon the musculoskeletal and nervous system through an increase in reps, weight, intensity etc. This makes it a wonderful way to get to know your body's internal cues, particularly through rating your own levels of effort during any one exercise.
Using rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a simple way to begin listening and responding to your body in this way. It's a measurement I use all the time. During an exercise you can ask yourself, on a scale from 1-10, how difficult does this feel? There is no right number to get to - it’s all about where you're at on any given day, and where you feel like you want to go.
Feeling strong and energetic? Say you’re at a 4 and you have the energy to bump up to a 7 or 8. You could put a little more weight on the barbell, or try to eke out another 1-2 reps at your next set. You never know, you might set a PR!
Feeling blah? If you’re at a 5 and need to take it down to say a 1, go for it. You can always use a lighter weight, move a little more slowly, or skip a certain part of the workout (or the whole thing) altogether.
You get to decide how intensely you train on any given day, using the real time feedback from your own body. It's a form of body attunement that gets easier with time and practice.
8. It's flexible and can be modified to suit your needs
This is an extension of the last principle, in the way that being attuned to your body's needs will guide you as to how to approach your movement practice in general. Planned a kettlebell sequence but don't feel up for it? Modify it to a bodyweight version, or ditch it in lieu of something that feels more fitting. Some days I ditch my workout altogether and go for a bushwalk instead, or even just lie in savasana.
A good S&C coach can be of immense help with designing an individualised program and offering alternative exercise options. For me, the goal is to use S&C to make other forms of movement more easeful and pleasurable. This is the benchmark for whether or not my training is a success - not whether or not I complete every rep or set in my planned session.
9. It can be a source of pleasure and enjoyment
The feeling I get after a great session is priceless. It's actually the best warmup for stretching - I often piggyback some yoga off of an S&C session... and those savasanas are always the bomb!
10. It improves overall posture
Yogis will love this one! Proper muscle conditioning helps you lift and hold your body upright, as a result of which, your spine, joints, organs and whole body will sit in better alignment.
11. It increases muscle mass and raises your metabolism
Strength and Conditioning training helps to build muscle, which in turn increases your metabolism. The commonly touted "bonus" of having more lean muscle mass is that you "burn more calories or fat at rest." But increasing muscle mass has so many other benefits besides that.
An increase in lean muscle mass reduces the risk of insulin resistance, a group of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other factors which can lead to ill health such as elevated fasting glucose and triglyceride levels, hypertension, and reduced HDL cholesterol.
Also, the increase in metabolism that you get from having more muscle means you stay warmer. You may feel more energetic in general. Increases in libido and sleep depth, and rapid wound healing may also result from a higher metabolism.
The downside (or upside depending on how you look at it!) is that as your metabolism increases, you may need to eat more in order to maintain a normal, comfortable body weight for you. This is something to keep in mind if you increase your training, keeping in mind that your hunger cues may or may not increase in proportion to your increased energy requirements.
12. It helps improve balance
Regular strength training leads to better muscle control and balance. As a result, you’re less likely to fall, and if you do fall - as in point 5, your injury will be less severe.
13. It helps you be present
When I'm focussing on repping out my set of heavy kettlebell swings, I. Am. Right. There. I don't have room in my brain to think about the clients I need to email or the appointment I need to make for my kid, lest I want to whack my legs with a 24kg kettlebell (not advised)!
Just like practising tree pose in yoga, there are moments in S&C training that demand 100% of your attention, squishing all the other noise out of your head even if just for a few peaceful moments.
Brag ahead: I'm approaching a 120kg/264 pound deadlift and have a 90kg/198 pound back squat PR. Although I don't know exactly what I weigh (I don't own scales), this is approximately double, and 1.5 times my bodyweight, respectively.
I can do 10 bodyweight chin-ups in a row, and nearly as many pull-ups. Push-ups aren't a problem anymore. As someone who started off not being able to do a single chin up or lift much more than 20 kg, I am incredibly proud of how far I have come! The feelings of accomplishment I experience help me feel really good about my body - there's that positive link with body image again!
Summary: lifting heavy shit makes me feel accomplished and powerful. And that brings me to my final point...
15. It's empowering
The general feelings of strength, power and confidence that S&C has given me, transfer to feeling the strongest mentally and emotionally I've ever felt. In the last few years I've been able to do more emotionally hard things than I remember being able to do at earlier points in my life. I know in my bones that strength training has contributed to that increase in mental resilience and grit.
I don't like using the word empowered (too many icky #girlboss connotations!)... but that is exactly what this type of training has given me - a sense of empowerment. It's a magical by-product of S&C that many will attest to. And it's probably my favourite benefit of all.
MY STORY: From Yoga Purist to All the Weights
A long time #YogaEveryDamnDay advocate, I found after a decade of practising and teaching yoga that the practice was no longer serving me in the ways I thought it should.
I'd hit a wall in how strong, balanced, and even flexible I could become through yoga alone (with a bunch of running and cycling thrown in for good measure). In actual fact, I had been injuring myself through overuse of some body parts and not others, and underloading my body.
Following the birth of my first child five years ago and a final yoga-induced postpartum injury, I was disillusioned with yoga (and yoga culture TBH) and sick of being injured.
I was also dealing with the sudden lack of free time and host of new body feels that most new mothers experience. Whilst not totally awful, my first childbirth experience was somewhat traumatic and required some recovery time. On top of struggling with all of this, I just missed feeling good in my body, something no amount of postpartum yoga seemed to be helping me with.
It was at this point that my dear friend Nick insisted on training me. Nick is a gifted personal trainer and bodyworker, and must have seen something in me that I did not. He was willing to challenge me on my stubborn anti-gym attitude, and work around my time-limited new mum life.
It took a fair bit of arm-pulling but Nick finally got me in his home gym doing things that I had always silently poo-pooed as "gym bro BS"...
...and associated with orange bodybuilders who rave about intermittent fasting and keto to anyone within earshot. In short, I was not an easy convert!
Using body weight, added loads (including my then 3-month old baby), and various forms of metabolic conditioning, Nick patiently and expertly showed me just how strong, graceful, and powerful I could feel in my body again... all while honouring my needs for time efficiency and effectiveness.
In just one (and later, two) sessions of 45 minutes or so each week, Nick helped me not only regain the strength I had lost during pregnancy, but also get stronger and fitter than I'd ever been doing endless hours of yoga and triathlon training.
I was hooked.
I have since benefitted enormously from diversifying the kinds of movement I practice, immersing myself in everything from powerlifting to pilates, various forms of dance, and my current love affair with MMA (mixed martial arts).
And yes, I still practice yoga - just not every damn day! (More like every third day).
Time and time again, I come back to Strength and Conditioning training as the bedrock for anything else I wish to do with my body. The feelings of strength, resilience and confidence I experience in my body are what keeps me coming back to S&C.
Because (as you might be getting by now), how something makes us FEEL in our bodies is far more predictive of long term sustainability, positive outcomes, and enjoyment than how something makes us LOOK.
S&C has gifted me with a smattering of other benefits including improved body image, drastically reduced injuries, and more strength - both physical and psychological - than I ever thought was possible.
If you are someone who knows that strength training could support your health, yet you have been hesitant to try it (because you you're recovering from disordered eating, live in a larger body, or for some other reason) I’d love to help. Same thing if this article has brought to light important issues for you.
Funky Forest Health & Wellbeing will soon be offering inclusive Strength and Conditioning group classes in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, with online classes coming soon!
Click the button below for more information and to schedule a free chat.