I get asked a lot – why I care about being strong? The answer is simple for me – when my body feels strong, my mind feels strong.
A strong mind is more important to me than anything. A strong mind helps you to navigate and mitigate stress – and see it for what it is. It allows you to manage tough situations with greater control and be assertive when you need to. Most importantly, a strong mind gives you the confidence to be yourself and be proud of it.
I have always been quite physically strong, but post my operation it became even more important to me. I know with 100% certainty , that this is because I felt my brain strength had been physically tampered with. I was determined to build my physical strength to rebuild my confidence – confidence in my ‘mind’. Confidence my mind could still work the way it had before the surgery.
I cannot begin to tell you how invasive it feels to know a team of people, along with their ‘Bob The Builder’ tools have opened up the most precious part of your body and literally prodded and pulled at your brain. Until the op, I really thought this was the stuff of a good John Travolta style thriller! I was gutted to work out he gets paid millions for his efforts and I got didly squat!
Building strength and conditioning in the body also supports better function in our daily lives. It improves our balance and our ability to move – hence why you will hear the words ‘functional fitness’ used a lot. As we get older – this becomes even more vital to living the life we want to, preventing injury and feeling more youthful. Dare I say it – as people are having children later in life – strength helps parents of young children keep up with them without constantly being in pain, or incurring injuries. If you have an office based job and sit at a desk all day, strength and conditioning is going to provide you with the foundation you need to keep your body agile and free of aches and pains.
It is one of the reasons I am not a fan of people using the cardio equipment in gyms as their sole workout – or even as a majority of it. There is nothing wrong with running, the elliptical, cross-trainer, rower or whatever takes your fancy…. but I still believe 3 sessions of HIIT training a week, which incorporates some strength and full body conditioning will give you a fitter, healthier body.
HIIT builds a great physical and mental focus too – with its short bursts of energy. This kind of energy and power builds resilience. It builds resilience because it’s groups of different exercises blended together at high intensity and it is varied from workout to workout. For me, this prepares me for life mentally – it teaches me determination and grit. Life is not a treadmill…. it doesn’t allow us that much predictability I’m afraid!
You don’t have to be in a gym for this – you can do this kind of training outdoors by using sprints and skipping , park benches, bars, walls to step up on – I love to use the environment around me sometimes rather than the gym.
The increased muscle mass you gain from strength training also helps boost your metabolic rate, improves fat loss and the amount of calories you burn resting – thats gotta be good! And it is proven that HIIT training burns body fat more effectively than long slow distance cardio as well.
Theres also a greater sense of achievement as you get stronger and see the results on your body. Obviously diet still plays a very large role in seeing results, (you can never out train a poor diet) but the gains from strength training are really empowering – physically and mentally.
It gives the body shape and definition – something cardio work alone cannot do unfortunately. I went through a period of my life where I was running a lot – I loved it. However, I was tired a lot more and my body and face did not look good for it, as my muscle mass was much lower and it caused me to lose a lot of weight from my face. I was injured a lot too- which is a shame, as I do love the odd 8-10km run. I find it really therapeutic, but my body just won’t play ball these days and thanks me much more for the training I now do.
I’ve also read recently that a lot of ‘cardio only’ causes a spike in cortisol levels for women and this is not a good thing. Cortisol, our stress hormone, when spiked, causes all sorts of problems – tiredness, poor sleep and extra weight around our middle, which truly sux!
This is why yoga, pilates and stretching are also key components of your fitness regime. You don’t have to join separate studios for everything, as this is time consuming and also costly. If you can learn some basic principles of one of these, to incorporate 10-15 mins into the end of your workouts, at least 3 times each week, the benefits will be great. If pilates or yoga are your mainstay workouts (I have done this before too) then I believe, you do need to add in some strength and HIIT training on top of this for conditioning and heart health. And from personal experience – the right strength training will only help your pilates or yoga practice – and make you appreciate it and reap the rewards even more.
Being physically strong has prepared me for so many unforseen challenges. Just last week I had a meeting with someone who was truly offensive and wanted to rattle me to my core. In fact, make me feel like a ‘less worthy’ human being for having had a brain tumour. I could feel tears well up behind my eyes, but I switched off and imagined myself digging deep on a physical challenge and how I would overcome that feeling of ‘pain’. Mind over matter – I’ll not be beaten. It actually allowed me to switch off from what he was saying and zone out. I’ve discussed this before – the power of visualisation. Don’t get me wrong -the visual picture did involve me utilising my boxing skills and knocking the bastard out! Thankfully, my calmer, more yoga-like self took over !
Strong body… Strong mind is my mantra. I know it will stand the test of time.