A few weeks ago, I was helping Coach Dave move equipment into the gym when we saw two people who must have been in their 80s, hunched over, slowly walking across the parking lot. I thought in that moment that it was so appropriate that I was there moving equipment into a new strength gym because of all of the reasons that I lift: to spend time with a treasured hobby, to become the best athlete I can, to maintain a competitive spirit, and because I just love barbells, the chief reason I lift weights at the age of 30 is to avoid ever becoming a hunched over, slow walking version of myself.
The thing is, I am selfish. I love living life. If I am lucky, I am going to get 85-90 years of this life. And I want each and every one of those years to be awesome. I want to be full of vitality, health, strength, and usefulness until my last day.
I am giving myself the best odds of doing that by consistently strength training.
That is quite a thing to assert when most people do not really strength train at all. Most people, if they work out at all, hang out on the elliptical while watching television, run, or if they are really impressive, take several spin classes a week. So who do I think I am to assert that strength training is the key to being a rockstar grandma?
Mark Rippetoe, author of “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” has covered in excellent scientific detail why you should lift instead of run but the best evidence for the science he discusses in his article is the vast amount of older people that not only strength train but compete in powerlifting and thrive. If you want to see them, you can. Just go to any strengthlifting meet. They’re there.
At the end of October, I competed in the Starting Strength Fall Classic. I was impressed with every single lifter but it was the older lifters who inspired me.
This guy is 79 years old. You read that right. He has been on this planet for 79 years. Yet here he is squatting more than 40 pounds above his body weight. He deadlifted over 286 pounds at this meet, the same weight as me, a healthy, decently competent 30 year old lifter.
Check out Herlinda. Herlinda is 56 years old. She deadlifted over 300 pounds at the Starting Strength Fall Classic. Herlinda holds state records in powerlifting and several members of her family proudly attended the meet in shirts that they had made to state that fact.
Do you think Herlinda is more likely to slowly shuffle and be hunched over when she is older or to be an independent grandmother who can effortlessly launch her suitcase into the overhead bin on the plane?
How about a lifelong marathon runner?
The science looks good for Herlinda.
According to a study presented at a Canadian cardiovascular conference, training for a marathon increases your cardiac risk-seven fold. Other studies have shown that half of men who have run over 100 marathons have some heart muscle scarring, especially those who trained the hardest and longest, and that long-term endurance athletes have been found to have decreased right ventricle function after endurance events. Even if you’re not a long distance runner, running does not seem to improve your chances of living a long life. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, running harder and more frequently won’t really make you live any longer than someone who spends their time on the couch.
As a result, doctors are now increasingly flat out giving advice to stop endurance activities after the age of 40. The mayo clinic’s leading orthopedic expert says people should not even run at all after they turn 40 and cardiologists have specifically singled out competing in triathlons after the age of 40 to be potentially deadly.
Yikes! Heart and bone problems do not sound like the way I want to enter old age.
If engaging in an activity causes heart scarring and is potentially deadly in people over 40, it probably isn’t worth doing at all, no matter how young you are. The way I see it, I should begin training for my 80s while I am in my 30s and the way to do that is to lift heavy things.
Nothing makes me sadder than seeing a young man pulling an old woman out of a car because she is too weak to get out of the car on her own power. I never want to be a burden to my family or to society, no matter how old I get. When I am an old woman, I wish to stand tall without the slightest hunch in my back and keep pace with my grandchildren as we walk across the grocery store parking lot. And then when we get home, I hope I can confidently lift my grandchild out of the car while I help carry the groceries inside, even the heavy bags with the milk inside of them.
That’s why I train with barbells as a young woman and if this is the vision you have of your future, it is why you should be training with barbells too.