When Strength Training is too much
When Strength Training is too much

If you have been in the fitness industry for some time, you may be able to relate with the following scenario. Written more as an opinion piece, your experience may differ, however you may still find truth within these paragraphs.

The young “Arnolds”

The general consensus suggests that when we are young (ie. teens to early adulthood), we fall in love with the idea of strength training and being full of visibly defined muscles (ie. the bodybuilder physique). We tend to show little concern for the warm up and the need to stretch because we’re eager to jump into the meat ‘n potatoes portion of the workout. As young adults we are still growing, full of energy and over confident, and so we don’t pay attention to form. Our sources of information may be questionable at best and any resulting injuries, if not
severe, we brush aside and assume that the discomfort will wear off with time. Our obsession with muscular gains is further amplified by the never ending flood of supplements marketed our way and we are too easily sucked into the promise that the answer lies in the form of a powder or shake.

Once these years are behind us, assuming we haven’t given up and moved on to new passions, the momentum has worn off. As working adults and family caretakers, we are now better informed about fitness, we have a better understanding of how the body functions, as well as the need to protect it with the long term in mind so that we can last at work and in our day-to-day living.

The “late bloomer” athlete

This person still considers strength training important but may not practice it with such high volume, largely because it’s exhausting to sustain that sort of training regimen within the constraints of family and work responsibility. This person understands that he/she is not an athlete, and it is probably too late to become one at this point. Nevertheless, they adopt a more performance based, athletic mentality by pursuing a specific training discipline with which they can connect, whether that be crossfit, obstacle course racing, boxing or other. This
renewed focus gives them new found drive to become better in that pursuit and in doing so they discover the need for stretching and recovery in a way they couldn’t as teens. Excessive supplementation hopefully takes the backseat as people realize that wholesome nutrition is by far the healthier and more sustainable choice.

The persevering senior

As we age, we come to realize how difficult it is to keep up with the training intensity with which we once trained. Due to no fault of our own, we shift our training focus from strength and performance to endurance based, lower impact activities. These people have prioritized exercise their whole lives and continue to seek an active lifestyle that offers the same benefits without the stress and high impact nature of heavy lifting and explosive training. They opt for cycling, swimming, rowing, less intense sports like badminton, or even long distance running, provided there are no joint issues. These individuals may still strength train from time to time but at this point it is likely done as a preventative measure to slowing down muscle degeneration. Sports supplements become less important and the need for essential vitamins and minerals takes greater precedence.

Summed up in one line, we could say that this is the training pattern for the average person:

Strength/Hypertrophy –> Performance/Athletics –> Endurance/Corrective

Is there anything wrong with this pattern? Not necessarily. If this is the pattern you adopt in order to continue living an active lifestyle, and you are not suffering from injuries and are enjoying the life stage you’re in, then this is fine.

However, if you consider this pattern symbolic of a deteriorating journey because you find yourself unable to do what you once loved due to past training mistakes, then it matters.

Why does all this matter?

When it comes to training correctly, if your foundation is not firmly established, you are robbing yourself of a pain free, activity filled future. Sporting injuries make up a large percentage of total injuries that occur in gyms all over North America, and the culprit for this is typically heavy weight training done incorrectly or begun at too early an age. Estimates suggest that as much as half a million people get injured every year due to negligent use of weight training equipment and out of those people, nearly a million ended up in emergency rooms between 1990 and 2007. 114 were reported to have died from injuries sustained and nobody knows how many are dealing with the consequences of incorrect or excessive strength training. Massage, chiropractic care, pain killers and regular medical check-ups are just the tip of the ice berg.

When is strength training too much?

As Alpha Company OCR athletes, we disclose the fact that injuries are always possible and when they happen, it is important that you know how to deal with them correctly.

Strength training remains an important element in developing that capable obstacle course racer within us, but because an outdoor training environment makes heavy weight training highly impractical, you will find that your strength training session rarely exceeds the weight of a sandbag or two. On occasion, you may be flipping a truck tire or carrying a teammate on your shoulders, but when it comes to strength gains, the primary focus will always be on stability and mobility, two crucial elements to overall fitness that can get compromised when too much weight is added on too quickly.

Stability and mobility: The foundation of functional training

If you are strength training just for the sake of getting stronger, you may discover that you are not as fit as you thought, while at the same time placing yourself in a position where an injury can leave you with life-long consequences. That is not to say that other training forms are injury proof, but if your focus is functionally rooted, sustainable training, then you need to focus on your stability and mobility. These areas can be developed in every person without the need for excessive weight, ensuring you conquer that next obstacle course race with ease.

In dealing with beginner level athletes, my recommendation will always be to establish that foundation first by losing the excess weight and thereby improving stability, mobility and flexibility. Core training would make up a good portion of the overall plan, and since core strength is crucial to stability, it would be emphasized early on. The lighter, already stronger version of you would then be introduced to sports conditioning, after which we would begin cycling between strength and performance (ie. plyometrics) based training throughout the year.

Deal with these areas first, and I would argue that you will not need to follow the typical training blueprint described above.

Have you had a different experience? Feel free to send in your story.


1 Legal Match 2019, accessed 21 July 2019, https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/gym-accident-statistics.html

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