For long distance events you need to be strong in terms of muscle endurance. Your body needs to be capable of working at moderate effort level for a long time.
For sprint events you need to be strong in terms of muscle power. Your body needs to be capable of generating high forces and sustain those for a short time.
For middle distance and to be a versatile swimmer, you need to have a good mixture of both.
But for just ordinary life on land, before you even put on your super-hero athletic clothes, you need to be strong in more simple ways. Before you can safely engage in very specialized athletic activities that require tremendous strength in very specific set of movement patterns, you do well to strengthen your body in a more general way. If you are strong in this general way, you’ll be able to more safely handle the more intense specialized training your sport calls for. But even before you consider the benefits this may have for your athletic endeavors this general strength allows you to do more in daily life.
The Fundamentals Of Human Movement
There seems to be a consensus (among those specialists who publish on the internet at least) that there are seven or eight fundamental human movements that compose just about every activity in normal life:
- Pulling – pulling something toward your body (or pulling the body toward something)
- Pushing – pushing something away from the body (or pushing your body away from something)
- Squatting – upright, as if to pick up a heavy object from the ground
- Lunging – a long step forward and then lowering down, rising back up
- Hinging – bending over to touch the ground, then straightening back up
- Rotating – holding an object and turning the torso
- Anti-rotation – moving the hips or shoulders while torso resists turning
Note: You can do an internet search on fundamental movements to check this list and get a more detailed description of each of these.
Just about every thing we’d like to do in life requires one or more of these. Getting out of bed. Putting on your clothes. Sitting down onto a toilet and standing back up again. Lifting grocery bags from the car. Pulling weeds in the garden. Picking the baby up out of the crib and placing her on the changing table. Opening a heavy sliding door. Tying your shoe laces.
Can you do each of these fundamental movements in the full range of motion, with your entire body weight? Can you do it with more load, as if wearing a backpack, carrying a child, or moving a heavy or resisting object?
If you cannot do one or some of these fully, with your own body weight or a bit more load, then you will almost certainly experience some restriction in the activities of daily life. You will almost certainly experience limitations if not injury in your sport. If you are deficient in one or more of these, there is a much greater risk of injury when getting involved in very specialized training.
Be Mobile, Stable, Strong
A thorough general conditioning program is going to touch each of these movements, identify weak spots and help you even out and strengthen these areas.
A targeted general conditioning program may choose just some of these to work on, because they are foused on movements or parts of the body that are related to the movements your specific sport activities will use, or that will be stressed more than usual by these specific activities.
In each of these fundamental movements you want to be:
Mobile – all active body parts able to move freely through the full range of the movement
Stable – maintaining balance while moving, with certain parts of the body able to hold their supporting position while other parts are going through the motion
Strong – able to handle the full weight of your own body, at least, and to handle more loading than that, which life and sport often require
There are all sorts of exercises we could do to work on these fundamental movements, to improve range of motion and strength through that full range of motion. For each trainer you ask you may get a different list of favorite exercises. How about my list?
For the athletes I work with on the Mediterra Dojo I’ve organized the body into these sections, with exercises in each that address ways we should be strong:
- Spine and Core
- Shoulders and Arms
- Hips and Legs
One of the reasons I’ve chosen the following exercises because they require using just your own body weight and require very few apparatus or pieces of equipment, or improvise with things around the house. You could do these in your bedroom or hotel room, with the exception of the pull up. I prefer to keep things simple and portable as possible for convenience, making it more likely we will keep doing them any where I may happen to be.
Spine and Core
- Standard Plank and Side Plank
- Accordion Crunches
- Bridge Exercise
Shoulders and Arms
- Horizontal Pushups
- Vertical Pushups (Pike Pushups)
- Horizontal Pullups (Inverted Row)
- Vertical Pullups
Hips and Legs
- Full Squat
- Frog Hips
- Air Squats
- Lunges and Side Lunges
You can do a Youtube search to see a variety of demonstrations for each of these.
Without knowing where each of your are at in your strength right now, it would be hard to give you all a generic suggestion for how much of each exercise to start with. It may take some restraint, but I’d recommend that you start with less than you think you are capable of for the first couple times you try them, just to see where your body is really at. I would recommend that you aim to do these exercises 2 or 3 times per week. Within just a few weeks you’ll start to notice the increased strength and the satisfaction that comes with it.
What is challenging to find is consensus on such exercises that allows each of us to set some appropriate starting standards for ourselves, male and female, younger and older, more history of athletics or less.
Where should you start? How can you modify the exercise to help you start if you are particularly weak in this exercise?
What’s the minimal amount you should aim for in these exercises in order to consider yourself adequately strong in this general way? What’s a good plateau to aim for so that you don’t become too strong in a certain area that may start to work against your athletic specialty?
In addition, the older we get the more strength tends to diminish and the less motivated older people are to do the uncomfortable exercises for staying strong, and the longer recovery that comes with it.
From experience and observation, most citizen athletes I see could benefit from getting stronger in general ways. They aim to get strong in a special way before they are strong in a general way. How about you?
Can you hold plank for 10 controlled breaths?
Can you do 3 pushups in a 10 seconds? Even from your knees?
Can you do 3 horizontal pull ups?
Can you do 10 accordion crunches?
Can you do 10 air squats, all the way to sitting position (horizontal thighs)?
Can you descend into a lunge on either side and stand back up again?
Maybe some of these would pose a problem for you.
Rather than give or follow a generic prescription, regardless of your personal conditions, I think it would be best to consult with a trainer or coach who can become familiar with your current strength and help you set up a plan to gradually, carefully get stronger in each of these sections of your body, using an array of exercises like these to test them.
Strength For Every Season In Life
What’s great about doing this kind of basic strength work is that you can do it, or at least some of it, even if you are kept away from your favorite athletic activity for a while. Even if you’ve been away for quite a while and lost a good part of the fitness you need to participate in your sport, these exercises sill continue to benefit you for everyday life. Maybe you can’t get into the pool to swim, or out on the trails to run as you prefer, but with body-weight exercises, working all three sections, you can feel the satisfaction of raising your heart rate and respiration, you can feel the increase of strength when you lift something, or sit down or stand up. You can even feel it laying down to sleep at night.
Being strong to swim or run a long distance or sprint for a short one feels really good, and I encourage more of it if we can do it safely and enjoy it. But something far more fundamental to our longevity and satisfaction in life is just being able to move and be strong in fundamental ways.
You may enjoy the entire series on strength:
- What Is The Difference Between Strength, Endurance And Power?
- Your Diet of Strength, Endurance and Power
- Your Lifestyle Of Strength