by Robert Maxwell
A reader recently asked:
"I'm 56 and in pretty good shape for my age. I don't do barbell training, but I jog three times a week and eat healthy. Why should I bother pumping iron since I'm doing fine without it?"
To put it bluntly, because you’re probably weak, and weak is a bad thing for a man to be. Sorry to sound harsh, but if you don’t do any sort of resistance training, chances are this is the reality. Your physical strength is defined as your ability to exert force on an external resistance, according to strength coach and author Mark Rippetoe. This ability is one of the most important factors in determining your quality of life on Earth. This is the case whether you want it to be or not. The ability to run long distances is all well and good, but unless you’re going to revert to a hunter-gatherer society or become a competitive marathoner, it’s not going to serve you all that well in everyday life. Strength, on the other hand, will. Being able to push, pull, and carry heavy objects strongly has always been and always will be a universally useful human trait. Short of lying on a hospital bed hooked up to life support, every lifestyle will at some point involve the need to exert force. If you never get any practice, you’re going to suck at it when the need arises. You may even get hurt, as many weak, untrained men do when they try to exert themselves for the first time in 30 years. This is not a fun situation in which to find yourself. You can avoid it by making barbell training a regular habit.
Another reason you should start lifting post haste has to do with the aging process. As a man, aging means gradually decreased testosterone – the hormone that makes you masculine. This process includes muscular atrophy – the gradual shrinking and weakening of muscles. But don’t despair. You can do something about it. You can lift. Barbell resistance training sends a signal to your body that the muscle you’ve got is needed, and should not be atrophied away. If you train and eat optimally, you’ll send your body a signal to actually add more muscle and increase strength. Your body will figure that you have a strenuous life, and do its best to adapt accordingly. That’s how training works. Now, you might look at hard-core bodybuilders and weightlifters, and think “ there’s no way I want to look like that.” Don’t worry – you never will. Even with optimal training and nutrition, gaining muscle and strength is a hard, slow process. Unless you’re taking steroids, there’s no way you’ll overshoot the mark and accidentally add more muscle than you want. The process is simply too slow for this to be a concern. The huge, extreme guys that you see in magazines and movies didn’t get that way by accident. They did everything they possibly could to achieve this look, because that’s what they were after. For regular guys who pick up a barbell, this isn’t the case. Mostly, they just want to gain some reasonable level of strength so that life isn’t a painful, difficult ordeal. I don’t know many men who are content to let their bodies shrivel away with the passing of the years. For many years, my mother worked as a nurse, and she told me more than once about caring for people who suffered from terrible, muscle wasting diseases. The harsh reality is that in the absence of resistance training, life itself becomes a very slow acting muscle wasting disease. Running is great, but unless you want to gradually lose what strength you have and then some, you should start picking up something heavy three times a week.