Build Strength For Longevity
If you’re interested in longevity, you need to be interested in strength training.
But let’s get one thing clear right away: When we say “strength training,” we don’t mean pumped-up muscles and endless grunting in a gym. Of course, strength training will give you a leaner physique and increased bone density. But it's so much more than that. We mean mastering your body’s ability to control movement, generate power, and regulate other physiological systems. Let's break that down.
Movement is a skill that can be learned no matter what your body looks like. It is all about doing more with less. It is all about connection and coordination. Think Mr. Miyagi from the original Karate Kid. A bodybuilder with huge muscles may have good control when pushing a barbell above their chest, but that “strength” means nothing when life asks them to balance on one leg while trying to avoid a fall on black ice. Having big muscles can look nice, but they can also make movement sluggish and one-dimensional. Instead, coordinating hundreds of smaller muscles connected in adaptive patterns makes movement nimble and three-dimensional. It helps you handle life offensively and defensively. It helps you have fun with gravity as well as your grandkids. However, these chains can only operate if you have enough mobility to access them. If strength was a river, a stiff area in the body is like a dam: It dries up everything downstream. Thus, developing mobility goes hand-in-hand with developing coordination. Together you have masterful control of movement.
Once coordination and mobility are established, it is time to add power to the patterns. Power is a term used in the science of physics to define the rate of work done over time. Work is another physics term that defines the product of force and displacement. If you’re not much of a physics buff, here’s how that plays out in ways that you have personally experienced. Think about the difference between walking a mile and walking ten miles. Even if you are traveling at the same speed, ten miles took more “work” than walking one mile. If you can relate, you understand work. Now think about the difference between walking one mile and running one mile. The distance/displacement is the same. The work is the same. But the rate at which you accomplished the work was higher. The difference between what you experienced when walking a mile versus running a mile is power. If you can relate, you understand power.
Increasing your power involves increasing the work you can do while reducing the time it takes to do it. If you have ever said something like, “There just aren’t enough hours in a day!” then learning how to increase your power may be just the thing you are missing.
“Regulate Other Physiological Systems”:
Want better digestion? Strength train. Want better circulation? Strength train. Want a boost in mental clarity? Strength train. Want better sexual health? Strength train.
Most folks don’t realize that strength training isn’t just for your muscles and bones. It's for your whole body. Remember that the human body is more liquid than solid. Depending on where the liquid is and where it is being moved, a body can be at the pinnacle of health or the verge of death. Whether you are looking at the absorption of nutrients out of the small intestine and water in the large intestine, the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, or the precise release of hormones and neurotransmitters, the movement of fluids in the body is arguably our most important physiological function. Think of a fast-flowing river versus a stagnant swamp. Moving water is a cleaner environment. The forceful contraction of muscles through full range of motion provides the displacement that helps to clear stagnant fluid, improve filtration, and introduce new materials throughout the body. These functions are just like the oil changes and fluid flushes in your car. Want to get your car to last 200k miles and beyond? Better change the oil regularly. Want to get to your hundredth birthday with aplomb? Better strength train!
So, why don’t people strength train?
Could it be that the thought of strength training conjures up images of 1970s Arnold Schwarzenegger clad in spandex, sweaty, grunting, and comparing lifting weights to having sex? Or maybe it’s the drudgery of doing the same machine circuit at Five Dollar Fitness while they play the same ten classic rock songs on repeat. To make matters worse, there are fallacies like “strength training is only for bodybuilders,” “women who lift weights will get bulky,” and “weight lifting makes you more likely to get injured.”
There is so much information out there in the fitness world that we often don’t know where to start. In a world of Instagram fitness celebs doing deranged exercises clad in very little clothing, it’s tough to know what strength training really is. Add to that the bevy of different fitness approaches out there that all claim to be the right way and you’ve got a recipe for confusion. So, what to do?
First, know that doing something is nearly always better than nothing. Even though there are better ways to strength train, which we will discuss, going to the gym and doing the machines is certainly better than sitting at home watching Tiger King.
However, the fast track to making strength training a part of your life is to get a coach. Hire a reputable personal trainer or join a small group training studio (like ours), and have all the mystery removed. Even if your coach has an unnecessarily dogmatic approach, having someone to cut through the noise and provide clarity on what to do is empowering.
Strength training can be anything from bodyweight exercises like pushups and squats, to weighted exercises like dumbbell chest press or kettlebell swings. You can also use resistance bands, suspension straps (like the TRX), or even things lying around the house like a milk jug or an unruly toddler.
Just get started. As you start strength training, you’ll learn what works for you and what doesn’t. You’ll start to find which exercises are most important to helping you do the things you want in life. Continually tweak and make your strength training program better and build strength for longevity.