Our evolutionary journey as a human race, included regular activities necessitating the lifting of heavy weights. It was an essential and integral component of our survival. We were the machines that manoeuvred bulky awkward materials and supplies as a routine part of our lives. That said, it was not repeated every day, day in day out. It was associated with the time of year, weather conditions and the needs pertaining to food, shelter and protection.
There would have been periods of hectic survival mixed with spells of rest and therefore recovery. It was this that built and maintained strength and durability and so our bodies were strong and durable – reserves of power and endurance in legs, arms and torso, on tap so to speak. We were ready and prepared to survive.
Of course it was not without its dangers which is why safer labour saving devices have become the norm for much of the western world.
However, today the pendulum has swung the other way. It is now easy to avoid lifting heavy objects for much of the time. Or maybe for most of the time but broken up with carrying bags of compost or log baskets or the moving of furniture or other materials. But without building and maintaining strength and durability our bodies and health is put at risk.
It is as true today as with our ancestral people, that this ‘being ready and prepared’ markedly reduces the exposure of potential strain and stress and harm being inflicted on our bodies.
I am not advocating you all rush off to the gym, to frantically pump iron, bulking up to compete with a ripped adonis. What I am advocating is you think how functionally strong you REALLY are in terms of what your reserves of strength are:
i) with a one off lift or push or pull of a heavy object
ii) regarding your endurance of sustained and repeated heavy manual activities
iii) in terms of your rate of recovery.
If you don’t know the answer to these questions you are potentially risking hurting yourself. If your reserves are limited the protective mechanism your body gains from a strong body is severely depleted.
If you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you because you avoid lifting any heavy weight, you too are putting yourself at risk but for different reasons. Without challenging your whole body to be strong and dynamic your body becomes weak and vulnerable. This latter state of decline is insidious and silent. It is often only realised when an innocuous activity presents as the tipping point to aches and pains, prolonged recovery and persistent low energy.
It’s not enough to be strong in your abdominal core, or mainly in your legs or just in your arms. It is the combined effect of your whole body working in a cohesive, balanced way that enables your body to operate safely efficiently and effectively.
So have a rethink, an honest discussion with yourself and ask yourself how strong are your really? If any of this is ringing bells of realisation, the way to act is simpler than you might think.
To work out your starting point for how strong you are, here is my advice.
You can use daily objects at work or at home; boxes or containers, piles of books, bricks, logs or pots. They all count when lifted for a few repetitions BUT ONLY to the point of fatigue (NOT exhaustion or to the point of feeling ill) and performed once or twice a week. If an object feels fairly light with two hands try lifting it with one. Some saucepans and water jugs can be really heavy in one hand.
HOWEVER! IT HAS TO BE APPROPRIATE TO YOU and YOUR physical ability and of course SAFE with respect to ANY PAST OR EXISTING health issues. What is overly heavy and potentially harmful to one person may be easy and effortless to someone else. The weight therefore has to feel heavy TO YOU and to you alone and needs to feel within your own body’s capacity to cope.
How do you know if the weight is right for you?
You need to feel tolerably fatigued in the muscles you have used BUT without pain, dizziness or a sense of strain anywhere in your body OR a feeling of vulnerability in any of your muscles and joints.
I would suggest starting with a weight that feels moderately easy, something that is familiar to you but opt to lift it more times than you might normally. The aim is feel comfortably fatigued by the end of the repetitions. It can take a bit of trial and error to work out what weight is right for you.
Make sure what you are lifting is not too low down or awkward to lift and avoid involving ANY twist or strain on your spine. Keep your shoulders, hips and feet all in line with each other from start to finish. Better to start with a lighter weight and build up as your familiarity, strength, confidence and ability improve, than using a weight that is too heavy and causes harm.
As your ability increases you are aiming to safely lift a weight after which, you feel significantly but tolerably fatigued.
It’s always best to err on the side of caution to begin with. If you are unsure of any of the above please get in touch with me.
Next month I will demonstrate strengthening in a more dynamic and progressive way. So tune in then!