3 Arguments For Strength Training As You Age
"So, should I do cardio or strength?"
We are asked that question often and the answer is......both!
Movement and exercise is very important for all stages of life from childhood through late adulthood. However, it has been our experience that basic and fundamental strength training is overlooked, and in many cases improperly executed. After 12 years in practice and quite a few years of being involved in fitness I still find it perplexing that the fitness industry is one of the only industries that gives the customer exactly what they want, regardless of whether or not it is an effective long term strategy towards reaching the individuals goals. Internet searches on fitness are filled with results related to the latest fad exercise program, 60 day crash diets, pop up gyms, and other unsustainable programs.
When we mention the importance of strength training, people's minds conjure up images like this:
These two people did not end up looking like this by mistake. They didn't venture into a gym to begin strength training and accidentally turn into body builders. Gaining muscle like these two takes years of incredibly difficult strength training, precise dieting, and a lifestyle that is 100% dedicated to achieving this aesthetic. Simply picking up a barbell 2-4 times per week WILL NOT cause you to gain bulk like this. Read that last sentence again.
Let's face it. Baby boomers are entering their senior years, Gen X is looking at being 50 years old, and even us older millenials are staring our forties directly in the eyes.
As we age we will lose muscle mass. It is estimated that a 30 year old will lose a quarter of their lean mass by the time they reach 70. This is a normal aging process referred to as sarcopenia. Interestingly enough, lean mass (muscle) becomes more important as we age.
The first argument for strength training deals with functionality. There are activities we perform on a near daily basis that require strength, but we often over look. Have you ever picked up a water jug to put in the office water cooler? Then you have done a dynamic movement that combines upper and lower body. Have you ever carried a suitcase through an airport? That is a farmers carry. Ever stand up from a toilet? That is a squat. These are all examples of compound movements that involve strength and coordination from multiple parts of your body. Many recent studies have looked at elderly people's ability to execute these actions and correlated them with their continued independence into their older years. In short, the more capable someone is to perform these actions, the more likely they will be able to live into their elderly years free from dependence on others.
The second argument deals with actually living longer. Along with functionality, researchers are looking at simple measures of strength and one's potential lifespan. Simple acts like a grip test, rising from a seated position, and the ability to do pushups have shown correlations with a longer lifespan and lower risk of relative all cause mortality. Keep in mind, there are a great deal of variables that go along with fitness, health, and longevity, so it isn't fair to say that strength is the primary determining factor, but there is a very interesting correlation.
The final argument for strength relates to improving a plethora of other health related metrics as we approach our middle age and elderly years. Strength training increases not only strength but will add lean muscle mass. The presence of muscle is correlated with improved insulin sensitivity, increased bone density, higher resting metabolic rate (faster metabolism), and improved cardiovascular health.
Where to begin?
In our PHP program we will be walking participants through a well rounded strength program that begins with what we call bodyweight competency. We recommend developing the ability to hold a plank position ultimately progressing to executing a pushup with impeccable form (yes, everyone can do it). Before introducing free weights we will ensure that participants are able to squat their body weight and use proper form to pick a light weight up off the ground. Once we develop bodyweight competency, we will introduce compound free weight movements. Machines are great accessories, but to reap the benefits touted by strength training advocates it is incredibly important to move dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells.
Along with strength training we will teach participants how to develop a training program that is not only fun but also periodized throughout the year, meaning that different times of the year will prioritize different types of training. I'll use myself as an example. During the spring and summer months when the weather is nicer, I will get outside and run, bike, swim, hike etc. And spend less time indoors lifting weights. When the weather gets a little colder, it's only feasible to get outside 1-2 times per week so I spend the bulk of my time in the gym lifting. This is a simple example of periodization. Simply prioritizing different aspects of fitness through the year.
Keep an eye peeled for the launch of our PHP in the springtime!