I’ve never been a “gym rat” and, like most people, until a few years ago I had no clear idea of exactly of what I was trying to achieve in the gym or how to most effectively go about it. That all changed about four years ago when I read the book Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe.
Just a couple of weeks ago I attended a three day advanced workshop with “Rip” at his gym in Wichita Falls, Texas, and learned some of the finer points of coaching the the four essential movements — the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press. They were very intense 12 hour days but very much worth it, and I was able to get extra instruction on how to coach older, debilitated people who are currently being helped by Mark and his staff.
Rippetoe argues that strength is the most important thing in life, and although on a philosophical level I would disagree about that (I would argue that cognitive integrity is probably more important), he makes a very valid point. We also differ a little about how important it is to be lean and how that affects metabolic strength/resiliency.
I see patients coming in to my clinic every day suffering from pretty severe frailty, meaning they have issues with balance, strength, or both, and many are so weak that they are using a cane or pushing a walker. Bone loss leading to osteoporosis and fractures is also rampant among the late middle age/elderly population. If you are elderly and break a hip, your chances of death within the following year approaches 20%.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Proper care of your body including the maintenance of good muscle mass and bone mass is achievable with proper resistance training (with free weight lifting being the best form of this), along with a proper diet, and maintenance of a favorable hormone status. This can keep you strong, balanced, and appropriately lean as you age, and markedly reduce your risk of fractures. This is what I call movement health, for lack of a better term, because your ability to move through your environment is critical to maintaining your happiness and your independence as you age. It is virtually never too late to start a program of strength training.
I very strongly encourage, almost to the point of insistence, that my preventive medicine patients commit to a program of weight training for the above reasons, and I train them to do it correctly. It is truly amazing to see the changes that occur and once an individual sees and feels that strength and balance are increasing, he or she becomes a believer.