What is Strength?


 The definition of strength has changed dramatically in the last 10 years! It has expanded! The way we use the word strength today would not have been recognizable 15 years ago. It is a true paradigm shift. The old meaning has largely disappeared, while simultaneously, people use the word strength in more and more creative ways.

What is the old definition of strength?

  • buff
  • tense - stiff
  • bulky - thick
  • six-pack
  • insensitive
  • weight lifting in a static environment
  • working out on a machine
  • a big grin
  • nutritional supplements
  • steroids
  • aggression
  • pushups, sittups, pull-ups and jumping jacks

Some of these keywords may seem like strawmen. But before blogs and video sharing (2005), people who had transcended these limited notions of strength didn't communicate with each other much. To the degree that these "strength transcendents" did know about each other, the general public was completely out of the loop. 

Let me give some examples. I was a great skateboarder in the 1980s when it was mostly illegal. I was one of the very best. At my peak, I wasn't aware of anyone who was as good as me. Of course, in those days, to know such a thing, I would have had to meet someone better than me face to face. That's all ego under the bridge now. But the key point here is, I was not considered strong. No one would have said, oh, your a great skateboarder, that's a type of strength. People would say I had great balance, or fearlessness, or coordination, or even endurance. But no one would have called it strength. Now there is a name for the kind of strength great skateboarders have. It's called "whole body pre-activation" strength. I actually coined the term "gnarly, dude,"  to refer to the qualities good skateboarders needed to have, but it never occurred to us to call that strength.

Olympic Swimmer Mark Spitz

Olympic Swimmer Mark Spitz

Ten years ago, joe public did not know there was a substantive difference between body-building, working-out at a gym, and olympic-style weight-lifting. But now articles like this on the history of the 'press' are written every day.

Dancers were not considered strong. Certainly not in the modern dance, jazz, tap, or ballet worlds. We would talk about finding our center, but the concepts of core-strength and stability were inventions of the late 1990s. Pilates was done almost exclusively by ballet dancers in the beginning. In that little microcosm people started to think about types of strength unique to dancers, but the conversation had not spilled across disciplines. Swimmers swam, bikers biked. 

There was a similar split in Chinese martial arts between the two terms li and jin. Li was bad strength or "ox-power," and jin was good strength or "underground-streams-power."  In traditional Chinese art, the only figures with muscles are demons! (In a "zero sum" moral universe where there is famine every 10 years, a person who does nutrition based muscle building is considered immoral/demonic because they are taking food out of other people's bowls.)

Generally speaking, athletes were seen as fast, or agile, or talented, but few people would have used a term like "strong" to describe swimmer Mark Spitz. 

In certain situations, one might have said that a particular move required a lot of strength; for instance, the iron cross in men's gymnastics. But male gymnasts did not think about training strength, they just trained the iron cross.

What is the new definition of strength?

  • pre-activation
  • Gyrotonics (an outgrowth of Graham modern dance technique I think)
  • Pilates
  • connection
  • integration
  • Ido Portal
  • core strength
  • Exuberant Animal
  • Evolve, Move, Play
  • Ancestral Movement
  • Parkor
  • Free Running
  • American Ninja Warrior
  • Shift Gymnastics
  • Mind-Body-Centering —applied yoga
  • Steve Morris — posture shape holding, sudden explosive speed etc. 
  • hour and a half handstand training classes
  • Strength and Stretch, with little to no passive stretching!
  • Weighted power-stretching -- Stretching loaded muscles, not joints! 
  • Cross-Fit
  • Rock Climbing
  • Pandiculation!  (Somatics/Thomas Hanna)
  • Tree climbing
  • Conditioning for impact (like pre-activation)
  • Scottish Games
  • Animal walks, groundwork
  • Dance
  • Stability under stress
  • Acro-Yoga
  • Acrobatics
  • VO2 Max
  • Fighting of all kinds
  • Adaptation theories
  • Society for Creative Anachronysm
  • African Drumming
  • Please keep adding to this list...which is surely incomplete

Blog title explained...

In 2007, I titled my blog "Weakness With A Twist." I did this partly because I was trying to get people to think about the full range of movement possibilities human beings are capable of. In order to understand where I was coming from, I thought people would need to drop their limited notions of strength,  to abandon the cult of strength if you will. So I tried to valorize "Weakness!" But in the last 10 years, the definition of strength has changed so much that my original point is completely obscured.

Over the last 10 years, I've created many different types of body orientation, action, and perception practices which all now fit under the new expansive definition of strength! I'll try make a list of my contributions in a future post.