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Why Strength Is Not a Choice

Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist

It is the thing people say, “strength is not a choice!” They aren’t lying, it isn’t! We use to think and say all the time that aerobic fitness was the most important aspect to build. However, if we really look at what impacts people’s lives it typically relates to strength.

I’m not talking about being a big bad ass either! In fact, I often have a very different perspective of strength coming from the world of physical therapy.

Why do a lot of our elderly suffer from falls? Strength!

Why do have a society full of joint problems? Strength!

Why do we have obesity issues? Strength!

Now, before I delve too much into these issues, the biggest problem we have in the fitness and strength & conditioning field is defining what being strong actually means! If we were to ask a dozen coaches and fitness professionals we would probably get a dozen different answers.

That is largely due to the fact that there isn’t really just one type of strength. Strength as defined by the textbooks like Dr. Mel Siff’s “Supertraining” is “the ability of a given muscle or groups of muscles to generate force under specific conditions.” The last part of his sentence, “under specific conditions” is what I want to have the biggest discussion around.

JUST being able to exert high levels of force in very simple conditions is typically NOT how we think of real world strength and why there is sometimes a division in the fitness community with the term “functional”.

While encouraging people to get strong and to strength train is great, having them understand the TRUE goals of doing such and leading them to more valuable priorities is even MORE important.

We all know the guy or gal that is awesomely strong in the gym, but put them in a sporting or athletic environment they fall apart. That is because they actually didn’t build strength for the “conditions” outside of the gym.

For example, teaching my elderly patients to deadlift is a wonderful starting point. However, teaching them how to move AS they hip hinge is even more meaningful. When they go to take a step off a curb, go up and down stairs, load or unload the laundry/dishwasher they aren’t going to be anything like what we see in most gyms.

What happened to that gym training?!

You think this type of functional fitness by DVRT Master, Larisa Lotz, looks like real world strength?!

I laid claim to the fact that a lot of joint issues were also due to strength issues. I need to clarify that though. It is important to differentiate because MOST people still look at strength as purely how much they can lift. Strength CAN help joints if we train them through a full range of motion of the joint. Shortening the range of motion is not the way to build strength in motion.



For example, I am not the biggest sumo deadlift fan. I get you can lift more weight, but you do so by building a bigger base and reducing the range of motion. If someone does NOT have the capability of lifting a weight from the ground I am a much bigger fan of elevating the implement and teaching them the pattern they are more likely to use in real life.

Coaches should use the mindset of safety, progression, and building excellence and not perfection!

You don’t have to argue or debate that much. Go watch people move, your family members, friends, or just people in every day life and ask yourself are you really putting them in postures and positions that they are going to build every day movement strength.

A classic example is the elderly woman or man deadlifting heavy. I get it, it is an admirable attempt to motivate people of all fitness levels to strength train. Where it falls short is really not being responsible to the type of client we are working with.

One of the key points that world renown spine specialist, Dr. Stuart McGill, makes it identifying both the “tolerance” and “capacity” of one’s spine. Something that unfortunately many don’t do and in the case of the elderly person, the risk of having less both tolerance and capacity is very high!

I know, you are doing it to help prevent falls. That is admirable as well, but do you understand why elderly people fall? Yes, strength is part of it, but so are issues such as post stroke, parkinsonism, blindness, drug-related hypotension, and arthritis (1). The qualities that fall prevention programs require are strength, balance, coordination, proper gait, and flexibility. Preferably we have these qualities built synergistically not in independent part.

How might that look in real world application? Here are some ways we can one simple movement concept and layer many different real world applications!

Then there is a also the often vague statement that the best way to help those that looking to conquer their weight issues is to actually do strength training. Well, this is true and a good thing, but it could mean SO many different things. Again, what we often fail to do is be specific in what we mean when we use a term that can be very vague.

In the case of strength training for fat loss, going to very low volume programs isn’t the answer. I know, it is great to feel that jump in the weight you can lift be so darn fast, but that isn’t a muscular adaptation it is a neurological one. Kinda like riding that bike the first time!

What some professionals have forgotten that people starting a fitness program can create the same intensity that someone who has been training for awhile has. It is the same thing whenever any new skill set is being developed. That means a beginners set of 10 reps can be VERY different than someone who has been training most of their lives.

Here is the another consideration, one of the main enemies of fat loss program is not creating disturbance in training. As one develops a very specific skill set the more efficient the person becomes at the movement and less they get from it. Creating specific, layered, and deliberate means of trying to build that efficiency, the better the result!

People need practice, they need direction, and they need to have their training base around the goals. Far too many times we fall into the trap of putting our goals and desires on others. A great coach listens to the individual and give them what they want throughthe means they need.


How can you learn more about how you can use DVRT to more specifically address YOUR or your clients goals? Check out our DVRT workout programs 25% off with coupon code “holiday” HERE for a limited time!




1. Lipsitz, Lewis A., et al. “Causes and correlates of recurrent falls in ambulatory frail elderly.” Journal of Gerontology 46.4 (1991): M114-M122.