Strength training: External Weight vs. Body Weight
We often hear about the importance of strength and resistance training: it helps to build and maintain our muscles to prevent atrophy, boost our metabolism, and prevent bone loss. For many of us strength and resistance workout translates into weight training. While it isn't the only way to increase our strength, it is certainly the most popular method. Yet for many of us weight training connotes lifting an external weight such as a dumb bell, barbell, or using some machine and equipment at the gym. In reality, the simplest and safest way to weight-train is to use our own body weight.
We carry our body around everyday and rarely notice how much we are lifting. The moment we sit up in bed, we have to lift and hold up our torso - or about half of our total weight - using our back and core muscles. When we stand or walk we are lifting and moving the weight of our entire body. Think of the times when we have to drag ourselves out of bed, or drag our tired feet and legs up a flight of stairs - our flesh and bones can be quite a load!
It follows that our body is the most natural tool for weight and resistance training, and some common exercises such as pushups, planks, and bridges are classic examples. Essentrics takes this body weight concept much further, by weight training the muscles and the bones of our entire body while staying in smooth, rotational, and continuous motion. This allows us to strength-train our muscles evenly while also stretching to improve our flexibility and range of motion.
Changing the Path of Our Body Weight to Stress and Strengthen
To understand how we use body weight to strength-train in Essentrics, let's start by thinking about raindrops. When it rains, water droplets fall vertically. Some might hit a leaf, where they slow and weigh it down before dripping off its tip. In other words, the leaf carries the weight of raindrops along its slanted, angled path.
Now think of our body as raindrops and consider how our thighs feel during Essentrics plies.
When we turn out our legs and position into a "tai chi plie," most of us find it challenging on our thighs. Why is that? When we stand tall and straight, the weight of our body flows vertically straight to the floor. During a tai chi plie, however, the weight of our torso hits a slanted, angled path when it reaches our thighs, just like raindrops falling on a leaf. Our body weight gets loaded in our thighs and thigh bones, where it slows down before "dripping" from our knees straight to the floor. Thus our quads and thigh bones (the femurs) strengthen from carrying this weight.
Similarly, when we do a side lunge, the weight of our torso falls into our bent leg. As we lunge from side the side, we volley the weight of our upper body from one leg to the other. This is some dynamic weight lifting! Also, when we bend our body sideways, we further add to the load on the bent leg because gravity means the weight falls more on that side.
When we bend our torso sideways, or forward, or arch back, we are also loading the spine and the muscles around it. Again, when we stand tall, the weight of our torso simply flows down vertically along the spine. When we bend sideways or forward (or arch), the load of our upper body travels at an angle before reaching the hip. This loads the spine and also our upper body muscles (especially the core), which work hard to keep the body from falling over.
Lifting Our Body Weight Against Gravity
Side leg lifts in Essentrics require us to stretch and lift the weight of our legs. This stresses and strengthens the muscles on the side of our hip, our lateral leg muscles, as well as our waist and our core. We work against gravity as we lift our legs off the floor. Those of us who have done this movement can certainly attest to the delicious feel of this challenge !
Moderate Tempo Requires Muscle Strength, Not Momentum
The moderate speed of Essentrics' continuous movements is also a key to weight training. It is easy to rely on momentum and swing or sway the weight of our body around, but when we slow down instead, we expend more effort. This very effort contributes to stress our muscles and bones.
Lengthening to Create More Weight
Essentrics arm exercises often require us to lengthen our arms and then press with resistance to tone the muscles. Most participants are surprised by how challenging this is! Each of our arms actually weighs about the same as a medium-size watermelon. That is some considerable weight to manipulate as a start. Then there is the physics behind: the longer the lever, the heavier the load. To understand the concept, try this: lift both arms to shoulder height, with the left elbow bent while the right elbow stays straight. Hold them up and feel which arm tires out first. Even though both arms weigh the same, the elongation creates a heavier weight to carry, which in turn creates more strength.
Similarly, we use the same technique to strengthen our legs, by extending each leg and pulling it out of the hip joint, lifting while lying on side on the floor. We apply structural mechanics to turn it into its own convenient equipment!
Eccentric Training is Faster and More Effective
By elongating our limbs we aren't just creating heavier weights. We are strengthening our muscles in lengthened position, stretching and improving flexibility. This is the essence of the eccentric technique behind Essentrics. Compared to pulling or lifting external weights towards our body (concentric training), the eccentric technique requires 10% more effort and therefore delivers more strength. In fact:
No Soreness and Pain Free
There is nothing wrong if we really enjoy lifting external weights and feeling sore after. Otherwise, by stretching our muscles and staying in motion while weight-training them, we enjoy a looser, stronger, functional body at all times. Which would you prefer - feeling so sore from weight training you have to cancel your appointments after, or feeling more powered through the rest of the day and next?
*K. Meyer, R. Steiner, P. Lastayo, K. Lippuner, Y. Allemann, F. Eberli, J. Schmid, H. Saner, and H.Hoppeler. "Eccentric exercise in coronary patients: central hemodynamic and metabolic response," Med Sci Sports Exerc, July 2003: 35(7):1076-82. PubMed PMID: 12840625