Beautiful Strength

Remember when people used to do “calisthenics”? For most of us, the word carries memories of gym class circuits of jumping jacks, pushups, and perhaps some stretching.  And although the phrase has fallen out of frequent use in the current fitness vernacular, its etymology is worth considering: Kalos Sthenos.

Kalos Sthenos is Greek for “beautiful strength.”  Kalos Sthenos is a big deal.  I’ve come to realize it’s probably one of the defining elements of my training philosophy; I want my clients to move as beautifully as their bodies look.

Coach Mike Boyle has been quoted as saying “if it doesn’t look athletic, it’s probably not athletic.” Simple but incisive, and really just another way of saying the same thing.  Humans intuitively recognize the lack of proper technique.   They may not be able to pinpoint exactly why, but if non-strength training aficionados watch two people squatting side by side, they could probably identify whose technique is better.

I think we can all agree this looks like shit, yes?

Please.  God.  Make it.  Stop.

My particular background has probably left me ultra-sensitive.  I may be a meathead(ish) strength junkie now, but there was a time in my life when I would routinely take up to 8 ballet classes a week.  And although I was never the most naturally gifted, I worked my balls off and developed a modicum of technique and proficiency.  Consequently, I had an appreciation for the aesthetic qualities of movement from the beginning of my love affair with moving iron weights from Point A to Point B.

For those of you training for health and hotness (read: PRETTY MUCH ALL OF YOU), I challenge you to prize quality of movement above all else.  Movement MUST precede exercise.  That’s why I believe the Functional Movement Screen is the industry’s premiere screening tool.   If you don’t have certain basic movement capabilities, you don’t have the fundamental mobility and stability to execute good exercise technique, no matter how much your ego may crave lifting big weights.

And lest you think this is purely a matter of artistic sensibility, let me lovingly and bluntly tell you if your technique is shoddy, you WILL get injured.  Period.  Maybe not in your twenties.  But eventually.  Furthermore, if you really do want to move substantial weight and reap the health and hotness benefits, you’re not going to get there unless you’re honoring the laws of physics and proper biomechancis.  The gyms of America are filled with guys and gals doing partial range of motion exercises with brutal form and lifting the same weights for years.  If you want your body to change, you’ve got to PROGRESS your training. Otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels.

Now this isn’t an excuse to lift like a pussy (sorry Mom!) and get lost in your head about technique; a balance must be struck.  To modify Einstein’s famous quote about religion and science, technique without heart is lame and heart without technique is blind.  I want both in my training.  I want both in your training.  And if you need help, ask for it.

Sounds hard?  It is.  And that, my friends, is why there is value in strength training beyond getting rippd abz.  Now as I’ve said before, I’m all for honoring that your primary intention in training may just be to look good naked.  I’m merely suggesting that embracing the concept of Kalos Sthenos will provide psychological and physical benefits beyond chicks wanting to hang out with you. Though frankly… that is a pretty sweet extra benefit.

Snoopy LOVES heavy deadlifts.

And chicks LOVE Snoopy.

(Quick Side Note: I was first exposed to this term because it’s the name of a DVD by Fitness Super Heroes Brett Jones and Gray Cook.  The DVD breaks down an EXCELLENT old timey fitness move, the Turkish Get-Up.   Although I haven’t seen it yet, it’s on my list, and I wanted to give credit where it’s due.  Thanks Brett Jones and Gary Cook!)


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