Whatever the movement in our daily life, our body requires us to use our musculature. Strength training keeps those muscles strong.
By Kyle Kercher
When I climbed Lone Pine for the first time this year, it was a wonderful experience, as usual. There was fresh air, clear skies, mountainous scenery, peaceful sounds, and warmth from the highly anticipated sunshine. I felt thankful for being able to walk up, striding every step and staying balanced. Jogging down slowly was enjoyable too — synchronized arm swings, on the balls of my feet, and a whole chain of muscular actions coordinating every step from head to toe. The number of muscle and joint actions required to do this is incredible. From ankles and knees to hips and shoulders — not to mention all the small spinal flexions and extensions — everything needs to be working together. Our bodies’ musculature supports us every step of the way.
When it comes to physical activity, we have a plethora of choices each day. We can choose to walk, jog, spin, or climb, and we can also choose to squat, lunge, bend, push, and pull with our body weight, free weights or even with pulley-based machines. Whatever the movement in our daily life, our body requires us to use our musculature to make those movements happen. And if we stop strength training, then those muscles will get weaker and weaker as we age at an accelerating rate. Bone density will decrease, and soon we’ll be what one of my clients used as a trigger to get her into a consistent habit of barbell training: Her physician said she was going to become “frail.” Gasp.
To be most effective, we should choose to perform movements that are as close to our Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) as possible. We need to do movements that are going to keep our muscles especially strong and mimic those ADLs. You can’t expect to carry heavy groceries, push a lawn mower, or work around the house without hurting yourself if you let yourself get weak. That’s why free weight or barbell training is so appealing. The barbell requires you to constantly stay balanced, engage your whole body (head to toe, including your core), and coordinate movements using every muscle in your body — just like all the activities we perform every day.
Strength, which is our body’s ability to generate force, is the key. That presence or lack of strength will have a huge influence on our quality of life. It is required to move our bodies up and down mountains or trails, to lift objects off the floor, and to push and pull the countless objects on a daily basis. Free weights like dumbbells and barbells allow us to continually make improvements (progression or maintenance) in strength by continually adding small increases in load. These tools are the most similar to our ADLs and will make them feel easier for longer periods of time. For those of us who want to continue performing similarly in our 60s, 70s, and 80s compared to our 30s and 40s, I would highly recommend picking up some dumbbells and barbells at least a two or three times each week.
In most circumstances, the muscle and joint actions required to confidently walk up and down a mountain don’t appear or disappear by chance or just because of our age — they’re a direct result of the behaviors we choose to do (or not do) as we age.
Kyle is a husband, author, coach, and leader in Kalispell. He leads the Competitive Edge program at the Summit Medical Fitness Center. His book, “The Mental Game — Grit, Growth, and Mental Toughness in Athletes,” is available on Amazon or at kylekercher.com/shop. Contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.