I like to say that movement is comprised of four pillars: strength, flexibility, power, and control. These four pillars form the foundation of a well-rounded movement practice. Some can exist without the others, but not to their full potential, or not without becoming detrimental after standing alone for too long. Others simply cannot exist without their counterparts.
One example of strength is your ability to hold a static position like a plank or handstand. A more dynamic use of strength would be weight-lifting or push-ups. This occurs via a signal to your brain to create force by the contraction of your muscles. Why do we need strength? All throughout your daily life, you need functional strength to perform tasks - from the simple to the more involved. You will need strength in any activity ranging from something as simple as picking your child up from the floor to helping a friend move their furniture up three flights of stairs. And on the more adventurous end of things, you can develop strength for the purpose of seeing what you are able to do, not just with your environment and the things in it, but with your actual body. What patterns do you know that will allow you to create more strength? This delves more into the realms of disciplines like martial arts, calisthenics, dance, and so on - and of course, all of the areas beyond and between them.
The benefits of strength training are numerous. Just a few of the areas that strength impacts include your flexibility, likelihood of injury, muscle tone, body composition, immunity, and anxiety. Strong muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments will be able to bear more load, meaning you are less prone to injury. Building muscle around common “problem areas” like the knees and back, which typically do a lot of the “grunt work” in our bodies, will insulate them from injury and can actually reduce pre-existing pain. Building muscle, which happens when we develop strength, boosts our metabolism by burning more calories than we otherwise would - sometimes even up to 15 percent! This will shift your body composition to lose fat and gain muscle. After puberty, you lose approximately 1 percent of your bone and muscle strength each year. One of the best ways to prevent or even reverse this loss is via the addition of strength training to your routine. Studies have even shown that strength training can be offer similar effective benefits as medication in decreasing arthritic pain. Not to mention, for the millions living with Type 2 Diabetes, as a complement to other healthy lifestyle choices, strength training can support glucose control.
Beyond these benefits, strength training feeds into your balance, coordination, body mechanics, posture, and more. Greater muscle mass tends to correlate to higher athletic endurance, physical stability, and mental concentration.
Timing is what differentiates pure strength from power. Strength is simply the ability to perform a task at all - regardless of the time it takes you. Power is the explosiveness that produces a result instantaneously. Jumping is a prime example of power. Not only do you go to the end range of your muscles (as you do when strength training) but then you have to lift from that place. This is relevant in performing daily errands and tasks, such as running around playing tag with your kids or quickly jogging up the stairs to avoid being late for your Monday meeting.
Power is often overlooked in this day and age. It was a survival mechanism, allowing us to outrun a threat in old days. Moving with power is necessary whether we are about to "fight" or "flight." But because we no longer have to engage in such primal actions, we no longer have the capacity to generate such force. In situations where we need to generate power, it triggers a stress response that leads to unnecessary anxiety. Creating scenarios where we learn how to generate power on demand prepares us for the unexpected life circumstances that demand it.
An example of this would be your ability to touch your toes with your hands, to be able to bend the legs and go into a squat or to sit cross-legged. A well-stretched muscle can more easily achieve its full range of motion (ROM.) This means that you will prevent injuries, pain, and balance challenges. A flexible body is more able to interact with the environment with a larger and smoother ROM.
Increased flexibility has many benefits including improved posture, muscular relaxation, increased blood flow and nutrients to the soft tissues, and overall improved athletic performance in things like aerobic training or muscular conditioning, as well as daily functional activities. Studies have shown that the incidence of injury decreases when people include flexibility training in their routines. Flexibility training is a form of active relaxation that improves physical and mental recovery simultaneously by reducing stress in the exercising muscles, releasing tension developed during a workout, and calming the mind. More pliable muscles reduce the risk of injury during exercise and make daily tasks like getting out of bed, lifting your children, or sweeping the floor easier.
The fourth and final pillar of movement is control.
Control is willpower. It is the ability to sustain the body in a given shape or form. This could be holding something in your hand, like a grocery bag. A simple action that many of us take for granted without a second thought. Yet this action is using the pillar of control. Without it, no matter how strong you are, you would drop the bag and spill the groceries. Control is the brain telling the body to keep holding. It is the continuation of an electrical circuit between the two.
Beyond the basic functions of being a living human performing functional tasks, if you identify as an athletic or physical person, in particular, this aspect becomes even more central. It is what will get you your pull-up. It is what guides you through a Vinyasa practice. It is what will bring your legs over your head and down to the ground instead of the other way around when you try a cartwheel (see our other article on why everyone should learn a cartwheel for more on this!)
You likely harness these in different proportions. The most common example is strength and flexibility, which often come at the cost of one another. Think of the advanced yogi who can bend himself into a pretzel but can barely complete a squat, or the gym rat who can't even lift her hands over her head. There are as many unique combinations as there are unique individuals.
It is a worthy pursuit to strive for balance in your body. The middle path will take us safely where we aim, with less injury and setback along the way. Training with a well-rounded practice, informed by the four pillars will allow us to take two steps forward and possibly one back (every once in awhile) rather than the other way around. Take a look at your own practice and body today. Where do you stand? What can you start today to create more balance? Enjoy the process and remember that is what it’s all about - learning, growing, adapting in response to new inputs and information. Be gentle and patient with yourself, all while holding high standards. But most of all, love - you’re built for it.
The 10 movements in our Movement Fundamentals program combine all four pillars, so this is a great way to start moving towards balance. You may find some very easy and others more challenging. If you struggle with power and control, Cartwheel will be a big challenge. If you are strong but lack flexibility then Pistol Squat may be easy but you will struggle with the flexibility required for Monkey and Frog. Your body will have unique challenges, so we're always here to answer your questions or provide feedback as you go through the program.