Strength versus Athleticism

Physically and fitness-wise, I continue to feel better now than in the years when I was seriously training/racing. I mentioned last week that I gave myself the freedom to follow the literal seasons here in Michigan. Now let me offer you a peek into the window of my physical activities, at least in this summer season:
I’m still doing some yoga and pilates and some suspension strength training when it sounds like fun (I’m talking 20 minutes here and there) but not hitting up the gym. I’m running more frequently (joined RunGR again, which has been terrific), and I am paddle boarding as often as I can. Both running and paddling end up being 3-4 times per week. I take my dog for a walk at least once/day, anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple hours if I have the time to drive him out for a hike in the woods or out to the beach. And I swam a grand total of 3 times within the last year (again, about 20 minutes each time and in a lake). I may up that a bit more… If I want.
So, I’ve been pretty active. But it’s not much over an hour per day; more if I include the dog walks. And the vast majority is all for fun… not just training to get faster (yeah, the RunGR stuff is more along the lines of training, but I’m really enjoying it). And this is stuff that I WANT to do… beats sitting on the couch watching another episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine any day (though I am kind of obsessed with that show). Let me say it again, I feel better physically than I have in awhile.
Sure, some of it may be due to the mental release, that freedom that I mentioned before. But I believe a lot of it also has to do with switching from a focus on strength to that of athleticism, however unintentional.
In his book, The Cool Impossible, Eric Orton describes this difference between strength and athleticism. Here is part of his definition of athleticism:
Athleticism is many things that come together at once. It’s about moving well and efficiently. It is about controlling this movement through an awareness of what your body is doing in space and action, and how its individual parts are working together (32).
To elaborate, athleticism is a balance and correct timing of the different (both large and small) muscles of the body. Can this be trained in the gym? Yup. Is it “fun” to do this training in the gym? Uh, I wouldn’t describe it as such. But athleticism can be developed (and developed quicker) through activities not viewed as traditional strength training.
Look at the example that Orton gives:
Now, you want to see athleticism, true strength. Take a look over there at the bouldering park; watch those climbers, their hands dusted with chalk, straining for the next hold. Notice their sinewy arms and legs. Watch how they use leverage, balancing from one side of their body to the other, always aware of where they are, where they’re going. They’re precise in their movements, yet still at ease, actively realizing that perfect balance of power and relaxation (32-33).
We were created to move. We were created to move with balance and grace. In our striving and “training,” could it be that we actually have done damage to that muscular balance that we originally possessed? And I wonder, by simply allowing ourselves to move in the various activities that bring us joy, could that athleticism be reinstated, further developed, and maintained? Seriously, just wondering…
So maybe we should PLAY more. Go out and climb, whether it be a mountain or monkey bars. Maybe it would be cool to try kite surfing. Go skiing (water, downhill, skate, whatever). Take a trapeze class. Dance (and not just the shake-your-hips dancing, but the wild and crazy on-the-floor-now-hands-jumping-in-the-air dancing). Maybe this will create an athleticism in you that you forgot existed… while having a darn good time in the meanwhile.
I do know this: our bodies are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Psalm 139:14).
Now, who wants to join me for a paddle?
Orton, Eric. The Cool Impossible: the Running Coach from Born to Run Shows How to Get the Most from Your Miles– and from Yourself. New American Library, a Division of Penguin Group (USA), 2014.
Kattie Carpenter considers herself a “retired” triathlete with a background in nothing.  With such a limited background, I became the best student possible. I studied anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, best training practices, sports psychology.  I took my degree in secondary education for physical education and health and expanded it into a NASM and ACSM certified personal trainer.  I was my own guinea pig, and I learned about what worked and what was just a training fad.  I taught myself enough to improve form the girl who couldn’t even put her face in the water without plugging her nose to racing elite amateur and earning a professional license in triathlon.

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