This summer I have spent more time than usual away from the land of nerdy meatheads. I know, you didn’t think meatheads could be nerds, but they can get pretty nerdy about all sorts of things, especially physiology. I was traveling around and getting nerdy about other things like writing and trauma. And while it is by no means unusual for me to find myself explaining, “why trauma informed strength training” I have never had to do it as much as I had to do while at a narrative healing workshop. Narrative healing attracts folks who are also on a healing journey and their main modality of choice is to sit, and put pen to paper or pads of fingers to keys and write. I want to sit and write too - but I cannot without adding movement before and after - and so we begin to talk about how to use movement for healing too. And I invariably say, “I love strength training, it resonates with me, I do believe you can do any movement practice in an embodied way.” Sometimes I add, “the type of movement I am drawn to changes over time and I honor that.”
As I reflected on these conversations I realized that I had been minimizing the power of strength training in the name of making people feel more comfortable talking to me. The last thing I want to do is make a new friend feel like I am “shoulding” them. But strength training, which can be used to build joint stability, strength, and power, prepares your body for any and all movement which you desire. Staying strong enables us to pursue new movement practices safely.
I started strength training because I wanted to walk without pain. I had just moved back to New York City and it took me 30 minutes to walk to work - twice what it should have - and it hurt the whole time. The movement practice I wanted was to walk. Forget being able to walk mindfully given how much pain I was in because of my back. Simply walk.
Living with back pain is hobbling. Feeling hobbled is awful for anyone. If you have a history of surviving situations that felt inescapable, feeling hobbled can transport you to the past and level your spirit. I started to strength train so I could walk without a limp and without pain at 27 years old. That’s it. I never imagined chasing a goal of lifting two hundred pounds, and then three hundred pounds, and then some. That came after years of preparing my body to move in new and exciting ways - pain free.
These days, I am less focused on how much weight I can move and more interested in how fast I can run, how quickly I change direction, and how proficiently I can catch a ball while I am moving. Rather than staying within the boundaries of a squat rack, platform, or yoga mat I am looking to move in a multitude of directions - that is what resonates with me. But in order to keep my joints safe as I learn how to sprint, hip shift, and pivot I need to keep my muscles strong, because learning to move in new ways can lead to movement mistakes that can then lead to injuries if you are not resilient.
A couple of months ago I was working on sprint mechanics and I was learning how to transition from a low starting position to a more upright position a few yards in. But my first few attempts involved some missteps which I felt in my SI joint, aka around my tailbone. Because I have been keeping my joints healthy and resilient through reliable old strength training, what would have leveled me in the past was not a problem. In fact I was fine and made significant progress during that session.
Strength training for strength training’s sake is not going to resonate with everyone and possibly not anyone forever. And while there is so much that makes lifting weights ideal for healing work, the boring and practical truth is that strength training keeps you healthy as you try new movement that you aspire to do whether that is run, bowl, garden, yoga, bike, gymnastics, a cartwheel, or carry your sleeping children upstairs, and it helps you live the rest of your life pain free.