How Much Strength is...Enough?

I've been asking myself the same question over the past few years: "How much strength is enough?" Sometimes the answer is easy - like when someone can squat a piano, but they can't walk up a flight of stairs without panting.  

 The current Mayor of Gainz City..

The current Mayor of Gainz City..

But other times it's less obvious. When someone is new to fitness and everything needs to be improved, or they have a specific goal like running a marathon or completing some other physical event.

And as much as it pains me to admit, there's more to training than simply being the Mayor of Gainz City.

So call it maturity or just good old fashioned learning, but I've realized the error in my ways.  No longer is conditioning an afterthought in the programs I write for people, as you can tell from my previous posts on the topic.  Instead, it's one of the most important qualities to train.

If we take a long-term view of our health, the number one cause of death and disability in America is cardiovascular disease.  It's responsible for 1 in 4 deaths, and strokes are the leading cause of serious disability.  We now know that chronic inflammation is the driving force behind this trend.

Specifically, this chronic inflammation occurs as we lose the balance between our "rest and digest" parasympathetic system, and our "fight or flight" sympathetic system.  For example, when we're performing a tough workout, our fight or flight system will help signal inflammation around our body - this is good.  Without it, we wouldn't make the necessary changes within our body to make us stronger or last longer.

 In case you were curious about the connection aerobic capacity and heart rate recovery have on our health,  see the source here.

In case you were curious about the connection aerobic capacity and heart rate recovery have on our health, see the source here.

But if we're unable to return to our rest and digest system, this acute inflammation becomes chronic.  Circumstances we may not always associate with stress - erratic sleep schedules, travel, poor diet, constantly being wired to technology - all can keep us from shutting off this chronic inflammation.  Joel Jameison offers a great explanation here if you're interested in a longer, more detailed take.

The good news?  Your work in the gym can help.  And it stems from the fact that endurance athletes tend to live 4.3 to 8 years longer than the normal population, and higher exercise capacity is correlated with less systemic inflammation.  But before you trade in your barbells for running shoes, remember the key is balance.

If your resting heart rate is almost always under 60, and your 1 minute heart rate recovery (your decrease in heart rate after an intense bout of exercise) is under 40, you don't need to change much. Throw in an extra day of long, slow cardio and you'll probably be set.

But if your resting heart rate runs higher than 60 or your 1 minute heart rate recovery is less than 30, your focus should be on more aerobic exercise.  And the further away you are, the less you'll want to focus on deadlifts (I know, you're shocked!) and the more you'll need to focus on conditioning.