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Saturday, 2 February 2019

The urgency of strength

By Pete Ryan

There are many attributes a human needs to thrive, one of the most time consuming to develop is strength, although strength is not the first physical attribute to fade with age (that honour goes to power – strength with speed), strength can begin to decline not too long after we reach our physical peak (mid-20’s) if we do not work to maintain or build it. There are good points, we can add to our strength at any age, but there are also bad points, strength only develops slowly, with humans often taking decades of training to reach their full potential. This can be bypassed somewhat using drugs, but for virtually all drug-free trainees 10-20 years will be needed to reach their maximum strength output. So technically an untrained person could start in their 50’s and reach their peak strength in their 60-70’s!
However there is a darker side for those who do not strength train. The body is not static, it has 2 states, anabolic (building) or catabolic (breaking down). Everyone goes through these 2 states many times each day, but generally the body is either growing, or shrinking overall. I am simplifying here as you can be losing fat and holding as much muscle as possible, but here I am talking about someone who stays about the same on a daily basis. If the muscles are worked then they tend to breakdown during the intense activity and regrow a little larger and stronger, or they are slowly removed as unnecessary if they are not used. As well as the aesthetic of looking less muscular you have countless hormonal changes[i], changes to bone density[ii] and even gut biome[iii] that all negatively affect your robustness, your feelings of wellbeing[iv], your overall health outcomes and even your likelihood of death[v].

Let’s get down to the basics, the older you are, the more important the need to begin some form of resistance training.  The older you are, the longer it will take to reach your peak strength and the lower that peak will be (assuming you started after your hormonal peak around the mid-20’s). However, it is possible you will obtain more benefits by continuing exercise into old age, than you would achieve by just getting really strong in your 20’s then stopping and relying on your previous strength levels to maintain you as you age[vi].

So, now we can agree you need to increase your strength, the question is how? I cannot answer that for you. For me I enjoy using weights and so weights are the way I add to my physical and mental wellbeing. There are people who prefer using their bodyweight, using machines or similar. It does not really matter what you choose as long as you enjoy it. Sure, one way may be better, but pick the one you enjoy and will continue with.

Ideals of strength and power differ between sexes, between sizes of humans and how old that person is. A 100 year old deadlifting 50Kg is probably a good lift (I do not know off-hand the records for the 100 year old deadlift, or if there is one?), however for a healthy 80Kg 25 year old male, 50Kg is not very impressive (assuming there are no issues that limit the lift, for some people it could be exceptional). So, although I cannot, nor would I, offer the definitive exercise programme, what I can do is offer you a general programme and allow you to change or even discard it in favour of one you prefer.

Before starting do a proper warm-up, the older or less active you are, then the more important a warm-up is ( ). My personal method is:
Foam rolling (you can check out the myofascial release book here )
Warm-up - I follow the idea of a more intense warm-up than many. For some people my warm-up could be their first workout if they are not conditioned. I will put together something about a correct warm-up soon. I try to move in most planes of motion and go from the floor to standing in a variety of ways.
Basic starter routine:


  •       Squat 3x10
  •       Overhead press 3x10
  •       Bent over dumbbell row 3x10 (each arm)
  •      Stir the pot on a stability ball 3x5 (each way)



  •      Deadlift 3x10 
  •      Shrug or high pull 3x10
  •      Bicep curl 3x10 
  •      Tricep extensions 3x10

This is a beginner routine, if some are too easy or too hard it is fine to progress or regress them to suit your current fitness levels and of course if anything hurts drop it and replace with something else. If you need any advice on changes, videos of the exercises etc, let me know in the comments and of course always consult with your health care specialist before starting any new fitness programme.

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