Is Strength a Skill? (......YES!)

We all have secrets we like to keep close to the vest.  Maybe it's that we secretly love The Bachelor (sorry I'm not sorry); are slowly becoming a Patriots fan (5 years in Boston WILL do that, but the New York Giants will always be #1); or have some OCD-like tendencies (if you want some amusement, ask me about my superstitions when I was a pitcher)

But today, I'm revealing another secret that I usually keep pretty close to the vest:  I'm somewhat of a musical theater geek.  In fact, loooong before I discovered deadlifts, I was the lead in my high school musical. *Cue: Jazz Hands, annoying vocal warm-ups, and the "I've Gotta Crow" scene from 21 Jump Street*

(If you're curious, the play was "Starmites," and I played Space Punk, captain of the Starmites. And, I wore pleather pants..so have fun with THAT mental image)

One of my favorite plays is "Avenue Q," which if you're unaware, is the one with all the puppets.  The show tends to tell it like it is with popular songs, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and "Schadenfreude."  But, there's a line in the very first song, "What do you do with a BA in English?" that goes a lil' sumthin' like this:

Four years of college and plenty of knowledge, have earned me this useless degree.  
I can't pay the bills yet, 'cause I have no skills yet.

Why did I start thinking about this song?  I don't really know....my brain tends to be a revolving jukebox.  BUT, it did get me thinking - why am I such a proponent of lifting heavy things?  Because strength is a skill!

That's right..you couldn't avoid Uncle Alex somehow tying musical theater into heavy lifting. You're welcome.

In fact, the Russians once came up with a saying called "strength-skill" (those damn, smart Russians!!) which can be defined as the skill it takes to apply maximum force.  And, it's a skill that's usually underdeveloped in the majority of our population.

 If only more people treated every workout as some form of leg day (Santa included), their strength-skill would be a lot higher.

If only more people treated every workout as some form of leg day (Santa included), their strength-skill would be a lot higher.

To break that down into plain terms, I'd like to put it like this: there are some big muscular guys (and gals!) out there.  Yes, they look good in a mirror, but many of them are not anywhere near as strong as they may LOOK.  In fact, when I see a guy with only big arms (and no glutes/upper back swoleness to go with it) I think to myself....well, he's clearly chosen to master exercises that don't matter (bicep curls, shoulder raises, leg extensions, etc.)

Hence, we finally get to the crux of this post - strength isn't always about lifting heavy weights in the gym....it's about training for life.  We all lift for many reasons, but the great thing about developing your strength-skill is that it can be applied to everything - not needing help to shovel out your car; picking up your children when they're being a bit too cranky; or looking at your bags of groceries and thinking to yourself: Challenge accepted!!

So, how does one develop their strength-skill?  That's a great question, and there's the rub.  The secret to unleashing your strength-skill is one word: tension.  Unfortunately, many people simply don't like tension, and more important, don't know how to create/apply it. 

One exercise that I love to demonstrate this concept is the RKC Front Plank.  I'll be honest, it looks VERY similar to a normal front plank - the type where you simply hang out for a couple minutes and think you're doing work.  But the similarities end there.

In the RKC Front Plank you start with a normal plank, and then try to "zip up" your midsection by pulling your elbows to your toes, and your toes to your elbows.  All the while, you're squeezing your glutes as hard as you possibly can.  When done properly, 10 seconds should be all you can bare (if that!)

Ideally, you'll also be tilting your hips like the example below.  On the left we have Bret Contreras showing us proper "tilt," while on the right we have all sorts of wrong:

 Right.

Right.

 Oh so wrong.

Oh so wrong.

By exposing yourself to as much tension as you can create for small 10 second increments, you'll slowly start to realize what "YOU GOTTA GET TIIIIIGHT!" really means.  Many of us are nowhere near as strong as we could be if we realized the power of tension and our own strength-skill. Moving heavy weights is rarely about building muscle.  Instead, it's usually about technique, your strength skill, and more technique.  That's the main reason I can pick up 500 pounds (no, I'm not done bragging about that quite yet), but at <190 pounds I'm still waiting for the day I get "too big."

When you properly hone your strength-skill, heavy weights will get lighter.  The best part?  Everything outside of the gym gets easier too.