The Skill of Strength

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andy Fossett.

The word “fitness” is thrown around a lot these days, usually in conjunction with a new fad or product. We hear the word so often, that it’s easy to overlook its definition:

Fitness – The degree to which one is fit for the task at hand.

Since being fit to watch TV is different from being fit to run a marathon, play a game of soccer, or do a back flip, most people have varying personal definitions of fitness. In fact, we each define fitness personally as the ability to perform the specific tasks we choose.

When you look at things this way, it becomes clear that fitness is a skill – the skill to move your body as you desire. But if fitness is really just a measure of skill, why do most fitness programs focus exclusively on work capacity?

Rather than a mindset on improving weight/volume/time/reps/insert your metric here, what if we judged progress by our ability to perform a certain maneuver? It’s nice to push 10 more pounds overhead than you did a couple weeks ago, but how much cooler would it be to pop into a handstand in the office whenever you are bored? Or be able to hop over a fence if that mean neighborhood dog is chasing you?

For many goals, skill is the real key to achieving the particular type of fitness that you are after. These movements take time and practice to develop. For a prime example of how skill training effects the attribute of strength, we need look no further than gymnastics.

Gymnasts continually work to perfect movements of greater and greater difficulty. They start with the basics and add variables – a step, a twist, a less stable base. Though they may perform many repetitions of a particular movement, it’s always done with the goal of perfecting the skill. Quality comes before quantity; there is no gold medal for “the person who can spin around the pommel horse the most times.”

Instead of working to improve our skill in just a few movements that we are going to do over and over again, let’s try thinking like a gymnast. Let’s try working to improve our skill level in a basic movement, then move on and work at improving skill in a more difficult movement. It’s the opposite of most exercise routines, where the key word is “routine.”

It’s refreshing to train this way – mentally as well as physically. We change our goals from more/longer/faster, to better and more skillful. The kicker with this mindset is that training with a focus on skill also brings pretty impressive levels of strength.

How’s that for a side benefit of having fun?

A lifelong martial artist, Andy Fossett began studying fitness and physical training so he could teach his students more effectively. It became a bit of an obsession, and he co-founded Gold Medal Bodies to develop the skill of strength in 2010.

Related Posts:
Exercise Vs. Skill
Assessing Your Strength
Training for the Planche

16 thoughts on “The Skill of Strength

  • By Jim Arkus -

    Good article. I actually started practicing pull ups precisely because I got chased by a dog when I was out for a run. It was a small dog that time, but I figured the next time it might be a pitbull and I needed to be able to climb a tree!

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Haha I love that story, Jim! Keep up your training and one day you might be able to take out that (hypothetical) pitbull with your bare hands!

    • By AndyFossett -

      That’s hilarious. Next time I do pull-ups, I’m going to visualize a crazed pit bull chomping at my toes – I’m pretty sure that’s good for a couple extra reps at least.

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  • By Chad McCullough -

    Great article! I’ve been commuting by bike for close to 20 years but never really “exercised” until I started following you on Twitter and Facebook, Al. Now, I love trying different exercises on the bar, doing lunges, knocking out some push-ups, etc. I went from being able to “almost” do 10 pull-ups to passing the 10 mark without breaking out in a sweat. :) Lately, I’ve been lifting my knees to my chest while on the bar. Awesome! I’m 44 but feel like I’m in my 20’s again (well, except the balding spot and grey hair). :-)

    • By AndyFossett -

      A lot of people I work with are in their 40s up to 60s, and they seem so much younger. I really think there’s something to that curiosity and willingness to try new things that keeps people young.

      One of the great things about working out is that there are so many options and variations, you can never really say youo’ve done it all.

      • By Al Kavadlo -

        I agree Andy – learning new things keeps both the mind and body sharp.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Glad to have had such a positive influence on you, Chad. Exercise is the fountain of youth!

      • By Chad McCullough -

        People like you and Andy are great influences, Al. I love the articles that you write, as well as, articles from your guest authors like Andy! Keep them coming!

    • By Chad McCullough -

      I’m really amazed at what I can do, now, just after a few months of working out. I tell people that I’ve been working out and most will say things like, “but you commute by bike, why do you need to work out?” or, “You’re so skinny. Why do you need to exercise?” I tell them that “just” commuting by bike isn’t enough and just because I’m skinny doesn’t mean I’m in good shape. I’ve been loving the past few months! :)

  • By Ilan Vardi -

    This video is impressive proof that skill is a key aspect of strength: http://www.ironscene.com/videos/1454/pyrros_dimas_training

    Pyrros Dimas training, he weighs 175lbs and looks completely normal, does not have bulging muscles, and is doing power cleans up to twice his body weight. No bodybuilder of any weight could do what he is doing. That shows that it’s not the size of the muscle that counts, but how you teach it to do the right thing.

    -ilan

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Nice video, Ilan. I wouldn’t say that guy looks “completely normal” though – he’s clearly in better than average physical shape, but yeah, he doesn’t look like a bodybuilder! It’s obvious that his technique rather than his raw strength is what allows him to perform such an impressive feat.

      • By Ilan Vardi -

        Yes, you’re right that he does look quite fit. However, you did classify this under “rants and raves” so I was ranting and raving at the time I wrote it (actually, I do that all the time). Anyway, maybe his looks is why Pyrros married a beautiful Greek TV personality?

        Keep up the good work!

        -ilan

        • By Al Kavadlo -

          Haha thanks, Ilan. We all need to go on a good rant now and again!

  • By William -

    When I was working my summer job as a lifeguard, I actually just held handstands and gymnastics moves when I was bored! LOL

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      I bet you got pretty good at it by the end of the summer.  That’s the specificity principle in action!

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