Living Your Best Life (Through Strength Training)
Despite a myriad of consultations I’ll host throughout the year, there’s always one that holds the most impact for me.
Visitor: “I want to get in better shape and lose a little bit of weight.”
Me: “But what do you want to be able to do?”
Of course, many of these sit-downs have answers like, “I want to run a mile,” or “I want to be stronger.” I have a job because of these answers. I get to do what I love every day because of these answers.
But in this particular meeting, I’m met with a longer-than-normal pause. This is usually the moment the script is gone and the person sitting in front of me lets me in. It’s also where I can leave the most impact, and truly do what I’m passionate about.
Visitor: “I’d love to ride the Capital Trail.”
Visitor: “I want to go hiking on my honeymoon in Hawaii.”
Visitor: “I want to be able to play with my grandkids.”
In other words:
“I’m not doing what I want to do because I can’t.”
Our lives are filled with decisions. Filled with actions. And many of these decisions and actions are demanding, time consuming, stressful, and for the well-being of others. We work tirelessly so our kids can have the things we didn’t; we pick up a side-gig to bring a little extra Christmas money home; we squirrel funds away for retirement and put off the things we want to do now, for the things we need later. Of course, some of those things are our personal health.
My medicine of choice is Strength Training. Not isolation machines, not mundane cardio equipment, but the reality of lifting heavy things. That means squatting. That means deadlifting. But how will these things help you live pain-free or help you avoid injury? How will they help you maintain your independence? The ability to do the things you love?
Through strength training, I aim to alleviate some of the common physical setbacks that often occur with aging:
- Strength Training helps improve body composition.
As we get older, we experience sarcopenia—or muscle loss. Our hormone levels change, our activity decreases, and we slowly lose the ability to exhibit and develop strength and power.
Because muscles pull on bones, their ability to withstand forces are greatly dependent on how strong our muscles are. If our muscles lose strength (either through age or through inactivity), our bones accommodate a lifestyle of low-impact living. The resulting loss in bone density can impact the overall health of the spine, pelvis, knees, and shoulders, and over time, can result in easily avoidable fractures, sprains, and tears.
- Strength Training improves bone density and balance.
After a point in one’s life, it’s not uncommon for falls to break hips. Such falls result in a total loss of independence—requiring around the clock assistance, or even admittance into a care facility.
One of the reasons these breaks occur is due to a loss of bone density as we age (osteopenia/osteoporosis). We have a tendency to be less active as we get older, eat less, and lose muscle mass and strength. This combination of things leads to fewer nutrients for our bones, less shearing forces on our bones, and less of an ability for our muscles to support our joints. Pain is the most common symptom of the above.
Another reason these breaks occur is the loss of balance. Balance is a multi-dimensional skill, deeply rooted in our proprioceptive ability (awareness of our bodies in space), and the ability for muscles to respond to stimuli. A fall occurs when we either lose awareness of ourselves in space (foot misses the step), or when we don’t have the strength to catch ourselves (knees buckling).
Maintaining both bone density and muscle mass can significantly reduce instances of falls, and injuries during falls. Very few other activities provide these benefits as safely as strength training does (swimming and cycling are fantastic cardiovascular exercises but place very little shear on the bones).
By adding axial-loading training in our programs (exercises that place forces on the spine and pelvis) into the training routines of clients 40 years and older, we can greatly improve body composition, lifestyle-ability, and the maintenance of joint integrity.
What does this mean for you?
It means you will be able to ride the Capital Trail. It means you will be able to hike in Hawaii.
It means you will be able to play with your grandkids—in your own home, on your own two feet.
Joel is the head coach and owner of Freedom Fit Gym, just north of Richmond, VA.