woman exercising

Strength Training for Longevity

The other day I was working out at a large commercial gym with a few other people around. After finishing a grueling set of dumbbell bench press, I glanced to my left. There stood a bronze, lean, grey haired man. His triceps were more defined than any other person in the area. He had a calm look on his face. No headphones. No smart phone. Just him, and his weights. He approached the rack, and grabbed two, 80 pound dumbbells. At this point I was starting to pay more attention. He laid down on the bench, kicked the weights up to his chest, and repped out a smooth, controlled 10 reps. Once he was done, he brought the weights to his chest, sat up, and re-racked the dumbbells. To me, this guy looked like he was about 65 years old. I think he caught me admiring, because he gave me a little “didn’t think I could do that” kind of glance. I gave the nod and also told him that was quite impressive – I had to ask how young we was because I had seen him there many times. He is 72 years young.

When I asked him what the secret was, he told me, “Been doing this same-ish thing for 40 years now”.

That’s the secret. Consistency of the fundamentals of strength training.

Strength training is often considered the fountain of youth – when done correctly. Yes, cardio is important for our heart, but strength training keeps us functional, fit, and agile.

So how does one properly strength train for maximal benefits – strength, joint health, independence, improved blood glucose, burning bodyfat, improved metabolic markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol – and increased metabolism?

Just like my friend at the gym.

First, a proper warm up. The sequencing itself is enough to warrant an entire dissertation, but basically the goals should be to loosen up tight areas via mobility drills, and dynamic stretching, activate stabilizing muscles via priming exercises and fire up your central nervous system via some explosive exercises such as medicine ball slams, jumps, jumping jacks, or anything else that is “quick and twitchy”.

On to the strength training.

The most basic, but also one of the most effective workout programs is a full body plan, done three times per week, covering all the fundamental movement patterns each session.

These are: squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling.

When lifting weights, you should be able to control the weight, but also challenge your muscles via appropriate loading. How do you assess this? Let’s say you are going to do a dumbbell bench press. Your goal should be that on your final set, you can still get all of the desired reps, but not many more.

Don’t just jump in with the heavy weights, you need to warm up. If you already know that you can lift the 50 pound dumbbells for 10 reps, here is how a proper ramp up/warm up would look:

Set 1 – 25 pounds x 10 reps – rest 90 seconds
Set 2 – 35 pounds x 8 reps – rest 90 seconds
Set 3 – 40 pounds x 6 reps – rest 2 minutes
Set 4 – 50 pounds x 11 reps

Awesome! You rested properly, and got one more rep than you thought you could do! Keep track of this somewhere – either in an old school notebook, your notes on your phone, or a training app.

Tracking is key. Because to consistently improve, you need to improve. This is called progressive overload – and this is one of the pinnacles to building long lasting muscular strength. This can be done in many ways, including adding more weight, doing more reps, slowing down the tempo (creating more muscular time under tension), or changing up the style of a lift slightly.

Speaking of “changing things up” , here’s the deal… you don’t need to be doing something different every single week. Strength training is a skill that needs to be repeated over and over again. Instead of changing things up every week so you don’t get bored, focus on the results that will come, and try to beat your previous week’s lifts. Did you squat 100 pounds last week for 10 reps? Cool , try to get 105 this week, or 11 reps! You are getting better; that’s what matters most.

Now, you want to make sure you are doing all of this under the supervision of a trained professional if possible, because if done incorrectly, like many other things, this can backfire and lead to some serious injury. If anything, find some reputable YouTube instructional videos for guidance on form.

If you know your muscles can handle it, but maybe your joints have taken a beating over the years from various other things – have no fear. Using some extra support like knee sleeves or elbow sleeves are great ways to protect your joints while allowing you to challenge your muscles appropriately.

So next time you work out, don’t get fancy, don’t get sloppy – and just execute the routine basics, over and over, and one day you might find yourself being admired by someone more than half your age – which must feel pretty dang good.