This post is first in a series called "Athletes of Aging".
Nancy and I used to be huge fans of the TV series "Star Trek:The Next Generation". In the second season we were introduced to the Borg, a seemingly unstoppable collective of cybernetic organisms (how's THAT for displaying some ultra-geekdom?) whose phrase "Resistance Is Futile" has become a catchphrase in pop culture for any force which is deemed to be unstoppable.
But I am here to tell you that for those of us who want our best health and fitness, resistance in not only not futile, it is the best and most impactful of all.
The resistance I am referring to, is of course resistance training - training for power and strength.
I have often shared with our expecting clients that being pregnant and delivering a baby is the hardest event many women will ever train for. It ain't for sissies, which is why they don't let men do it. 🙂
I have come to believe that while pregnancy is indeed one of the toughest events, there is one that is even tougher, for women and men.
You see we are all going to get older, until we don't. But there is a big difference between being alive and living. Between having more days and making the most of the days you have. Between taking breath in and breathing life to those around you, for as long as you can.
I am going to do something that is not very popular these days. I am going to contend that there is a best way for the aging adult to train, and its foundation is by becoming stronger.
This isn't just my opinion. In the past few years there has been a virtual explosion of evidence, published biomedical evidence, that resistance training - training to get stronger, is key to slowing and even reversing many of the effects of aging. We don't have to get weaker, lose mobility and balance, and get fatter. We can actually gain muscle in our 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond, and reap the benefits that come with it.
Dr. Jonathan Sullivan, in his book "The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After 40", co-authored with Andy Baker, likens "every bout of strength training as a prudent deposit into a 'Physiological 401 K': saving strong muscle, hard bone, and full mobility for your retirement."
As we all know when it comes to our retirement savings, the earlier you start and the more consistent you are, the greater the benefits. It is absolutely no different in the "strength training bank of life".
I am the first to recognize that strength training, more colloquially known as "lifting weights" is not the only form of exercise. And again I will contend it is to be the foundational modality of exercise, the "mother modality" if you will. We start with strength training, and we remain focused on strength training, now and forever. All other forms of exercise rely on this simple fact - you must be strong enough to actually do them. Yes, even walk. We strength train so we can do the other activities we enjoy doing, because when we are stronger, we can do them better.
It's also why I like the term "resistance training", because we can create resistance in many different ways and with many different tools. Bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, leveraged bodyweight resistance with a tool such as a TRX suspension trainer, and many others. But there is another word we need to add to the equation - Progressive.
As in "Progressive Resistance Training". In other words we must consistently be seeking to increase the resistance - the load we are working against - as our body adapts to the load we are currently putting it under. Put simply, to get stronger, you gotta keep lifting heavier. At some point some modalities that may initially increase strength when you start doing them; yoga, pilates, biking, swimming - all wonderful things mind you, will no longer be able to add to the strength and muscle you already have, and certainly as not as efficiently as progressive strength training.
You will also note that I use the word "Training" very purposely. There is a huge difference between "Working Out" and "Training". "Working Out" refers to what you do for exercise, but that is not training. Training encompasses so much more than that.
Training is exercise that manipulates training variables (load, speed of movement, time under tension, rest periods, to name a few) as part of a long term program designed (purposeful word) to improve one of more of the general fitness qualities - Strength, Speed, Power, Endurance, Flexibility.
Training also includes what happens outside of the gym - recovery, sleep, stress mitigation, nutrition. We call this "The Other 165" - the hours you aren't in the gym exercising. You must treat those hours as seriously as the hours you are resistance training if you want to remain healthy, injury-free, and continue to progress.
What do you think of when you think extreme sports? The X-Games? BASE jumping? Cave diving?
Extreme all, for sure.
But it's those brave souls who take on the ultimate challenge against an unbeatable foe (for who among us will ultimately cheat death?), who daily take up the mantle of training for their best life by continuously seeking to learn and improve, and to strengthen body, mind and soul, who are the most extreme athletes of all.
These are the Athletes of Aging.
Make no mistake, when you train, you are an athlete. You may not feel like one, or think you act or look like one, but you are.
Posted right in front of me is a note card that is titled "My Why":
To be as useful as I can
To as many people as I can
For as long as I can
I'm not going to accomplish that sitting on my tail feathers all the time, and neither are you.
It's time to join the resistance.
Get after it!