Most of us believe in the value of brushing our teeth. The evidence for the benefits of lifting imbalanced external load is just as strong. And yet, we have failed to infuse Instability Resistance Training (IRT) as a staple of most clients’ weekly rhythm. I won’t sleep at night until we fix this.
The roots of our defeat date back to Ancient Greece, where men lifted heavy stones to bolster their manlihood and build muscle. The premise for weightlifting hasn’t changed much since in mainstream fitness rhetoric. If you Google “fitness poster,” you get an ocean of shiny ripped people flexing muscle, flaunting strength as a measure of external shape. This has caused damaging trends in an understanding of why lifting load is important for all people ages 8-80, muted the research on the most critical aspects of moving weight in structured ways, and left most of our population rejecting it altogether. Many women still say, “I don’t want to get big” and the 65+ audience thinks it’s “too late to get started.”
Here is a 3-part recipe to shift the trends in the practice of lifting weight: 1) Words, 2) Tools and 3) Facts.
First, we have to introduce new lexicon into the world of “weightlifting.” I have two modest proposals to get us started:
- Forevermore we will not be lifting weight, we’ll be moving weight. This shift in language is important because it engenders important visual cues and concepts. Moving weight allows us to shed the notion of sets and reps and imagine a fluid movement practice incorporating load that invokes interest, change, rotation, mobility and… FUN, among other things.
- I never liked “functional fitness” because it indicates that there would be any other kind than that. It drives me bat crazy. However, this is a useful term, because it has alliteration with 2 Fs, and it’s understood to mean fitness that really prepares us for what we need to do. I would encourage us to consistently connect the practice of lifting and moving weight into the definition of “functional” if this is a helpful word for us. Ensure that the importance of external load over bodyweight strength is constantly infused into our vocabulary.
Second, we have to bring imbalanced external loading tools into the limelight, onto traditional weight racks, and into the hands of every demographic. Many primary, secondary and accessory loading tools are available to create safe, simple and effective to grip, versatile, and durable opportunities for load. We have to show these tools being used in non-traditional weightlifting disciplines including warmups or Yoga, and as an important feature in joint mobility, injury prevention, group training and recovery. Gone are the days when a loading tool can only be incorporated into a repetitive single plane movement. Instead, load should become part of a movement complex itself.
Third, the research is in. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has published research that shows the effectiveness of unstable resistance over stable load, and two critical connections: the tie between Instability Resistance (IRT) and grip strength — and the long-term benefits of strong grip — and the link between IRT and your memory and mental performance. If we can effectively communicate the benefits of adopting IRT practices — living longer, reducing pain, having more fun, doing more of what you want to do, decreasing memory loss and taking care of your loved ones, to name a handful — then we will win this war. Now, we still fight an uphill battle in our clients’ embracing and internalizing this. I find that people “know they should strength train” but if they have not had a direct experience with strength training changing their lives — such as my mom being advised that her full recovery from her stroke was possible only because of how strong she was going into the event — then they do not prioritize it as they do brushing their teeth.
Our North Star for 2023 should be to deploy the Words-Tools-Facts (WTF) methodology for our clients not only when they come to work with us but imbued into their everyday lives. It’s our job to ensure they genuinely understand what moving weight means (and how much fun it is), that they have the best tools to facilitate their learning and education, and that they believe in the facts to an extent that they’ll shift lifelong beliefs and behaviors.
Sarah Apgar is the Founder & CEO of FitFighter, a global strength brand that delivers a transformative strength system rooted in her own innovation, the Steelhose. She is an Iraq Veteran, All-American Athlete, Fitness Professional, Volunteer Firefighter and mom of 2 girls. Sarah and FitFighter have been featured in Muscle & Fitness, Rolling Stone, ESPN, and Men’s Health, among critical acclaim. Sarah promotes the power of teams, women leaders and public service, contributing a portion of sales to the Tunnel to Tower Foundation.