If you're into weightlifting or have strength training goals, the answer will seem obvious: PRs! But what if you're that weightlifter's mom or dad? What if you just like an occasional group fitness class or a weekend jog? What if you're not athletic at all?
Humans are made to move, and pretty much everything you do in life becomes easier with more strength. Everyday tasks like yard work, carrying groceries and children, or caring for aging parents become less physically taxing when you have more available strength. When these activities use up less of your available reserves, you've got more energy for other activities. Consider this observation from one of my 52 year old trainees: "...lifting and carrying my [aging] dog is easier and I feel more stable, my knees are nowhere near as balky in the mornings as previously, and I carry my luggage and place it in the overhead far easier than before making my frequent business travel significantly less strenuous." What would you do with that extra energy?
An individual's current level of strength and ability can not be taken for granted and must be actively trained in order to be maintained. Inactive people begin to lose between 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade starting in their 30s. The pace of muscle lose speeds up as we age. Sarcopenia (muscle loss) is a leading cause of frailty, which can result in falls, fractures, and loss of independence. Weight training not only helps us maintain and build muscle mass, but it also helps maintain and build bone density. The usual story women who begin strength training tell is that their bone density improves. Rewriting the typical story of aging, fosters a more positive attitude toward one's body. Consider this observation from one of my 70 year old female trainees who began strength training in order to reverse a loss in bone density: "I did what?!!! I lifted 95 pounds?!!! Oh. My. Gawd! I amaze myself!" What if you began your seventh decade amazing yourself with how much more you could do, instead of how much less?
Increased strength also leads to increased self-sufficiency and confidence; it just makes you feel better about yourself. Being strong enough to load bags of pet food or mulch into your vehicle without assistance allows you to work on your schedule without depending on the availability of others. Knowing you have strength in excess of life's everyday demands builds confidence and satisfaction. Consider this observation from one of my 46 year old trainees, who three months into training deadlifted 300# for a triple: "If you'd have told me three months ago, that I'd be deadlifting 300 pounds, I never would have believed you! I've been walking around on cloud nine all afternoon." What would a little more confidence do for your day?
"Weight rooms are so overwhelming!"
Starting Strength is a beginner program. No prior experience needed, although plenty of weight room regulars have gotten even stronger by following the Starting Strength program. I focus on the four most effective and impactful exercises to build general, whole-body strength: squat, overhead press, bench press, and deadlift. No need to get distracted or waste time with single-joint, isolation movements. These four compound lifts will give you the biggest return on your investment of time and energy. I teach the basics of each exercise, find how that works best for your body, and progress from there.
"Barbells are dangerous!"
Studies show that individuals are at no greater risk of injury from weightlifting than from engaging in any other non-contact sport, and at less risk of injury than from most contact sports. The injury rate per 100 hours of participation in weight training is 0.0012. Competitive power lifters have an even lower injury rate: 0.0008. Compare that to some of the activities we often think of as "safer": Tennis 0.07. Physical Education 0.18. Cross country 0.37. Basketball 1.03. Soccer 6.2. (Hamill) Training with barbells can actually help lower one's risk of injury in everyday life and in sports. Barbell training allows individuals to incrementally and progressively overload their natural movement patterns in a controlled environment all while keeping the whole barbell-lifter system in balance. The real-world result of this is that you will be better able to generate or absorb force without falling down if someone bumps into you or your dog suddenly yanks on the leash.
"Barbells are for younger folks!"
Barbells and barbell lifts are time-tested, effective ways to build strength and to maintain muscle mass and bone density at any age. I regularly train individuals in every decade of life, from teenagers to those well into their 70s. One of my trainee's dad's began barbell training in his 90's and recently competed in a meet ~ so I'm pretty sure "too old" isn't a thing! Building and maintaining muscle mass is like making a deposit in a retirement fund for your health and independence. The more muscle mass you have now, the more you will have to spend if life throws something unexpected your way.
"I'm not trying to be a competitive athlete or a weight lifter anyway!"
While college and professional athletes often train with barbells, but that doesn’t mean that everyone training under a bar has the same competitive goals, just as everyone driving a car does not intend to be a NASCAR driver. Most of the people I train are not aiming to compete, but to build stronger versions of themselves. Regardless of whether your goal is a competition or active and healthy aging, building strength through barbell training will increase your durability, independence, and quality of life.
“I’m Not Strong Enough”
Strength is a continuum, and the road to strength has many different on-ramps. Regardless of your exercise or injury history, there is always something you could be doing to get stronger. Each of the four main lifts has modifications for those who are recovering from surgery or injury, and most range of motion (ROM) limitations are less restrictive than people are generally lead to believe. A properly equipped facility will have specialty and training bar options. I have started many individuals with a 10-15# training bar, and we build from there. Weight can be added to a barbell in much smaller increments than is possible with other training modalities, as little as 1/2 pound at a time. In the world of strength one learns straight away that the focus is always on what one can do; not on reasons why one can’t.