Health Drives Performance: A Holistic Approach to Strength Training

Written by Andrea Joseph

When we think of that person we know who is fit, seems to have more energy than most, maintains a consistent workout schedule and regularly makes healthy food choices, we tend to assume that what they possess is extraordinary willpower or superior genetics. That may be true, but more often than not, they’re just healthy. They prioritize sleep and manage stress appropriately. They take a holistic approach to training and they collect the data and information needed to make good decisions about nutrition and supplementation. After all, health drives performance.


Research funded by the National Institute of Health has found that adults who regularly get 7-8 hours of sleep a night have a lower risk of obesity and high blood pressure. This makes sense as we also know that the hormone responsible for the repair and growth of muscle tissue (HGH) is secreted mostly at night while sleeping. With low muscle mass being a precursor to high body fat percentages, and high body fat being a risk factor for high blood pressure and heart disease, you can see why lack of sleep can easily create a vicious cycle.


In the same way that sleep impacts our health and training outcomes, so does stress. Chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can cause a whole host of health issues, from cardiovascular, to reproductive, to… yes, metabolic. Cortisol levels are meant to rise and fall throughout the day, which stimulates HGH production. However, when levels remain high, the inverse happens and our bodies are unable to produce enough HGH to build and maintain muscle tissue.  


Three meal containers with beans and fresh vegetables

In a discussion about health, I’d be remiss if I left out how nutrition plays a vital role. The average American diet is high in calories, processed foods, sodium, and added sugar. Studies in humans and animals have proven how this kind of diet directly leads to chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. Even armed with that information and with the best intentions, we can fall short of giving our body what it really needs. Eating to perform is key. We need to be consuming an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein in order for our bodily functions to work properly. Not only do I expect my clients to come to me well rested, but I also set the expectation that if they want to see results or meet their strength goals, their nutrition has to be dialed in first.


As a coach, where my clients’ health really comes into focus for me is when it comes to how we train. If someone comes to me chronically stressed with high blood pressure or an elevated heart rate, we won’t be training for high intensity. Often it’s these people with the most stressful lifestyles who also choose the most stressful workout regiments and wonder why it’s not working for them. We need to slow down, develop better habits, train to improve mobility and movement patterns, and prescribe more low-intensity cardio outside the gym. Once we build that solid foundation of healthy habits, strength, and consistency, we can progress from there.  

In short, at ASF our focus is on the overall health of ourselves and our clients, and ultimately that’s what drives performance. We train to gain strength, but first and foremost our goal is to improve health.