by Robert Maxwell
If you’re a regular reader of the Man Factory, you might find the title of this article surprising. Most of the material I write here strongly advocates strength training and presents its many significant physical and mental benefits. Obviously, this article will be different. Most choices in life involve a combination of advantages and disadvantages. If there were a lifestyle available that involved no disadvantages and only benefits, everyone with a brain would choose it. To my knowledge, there is no such lifestyle available. This is as true of strength training as anything else, and presenting a few of its disadvantages is what I’ll be doing in this article. If you’re one of my regular readers, chances are you have at least a passing interest in getting stronger. If that’s the case, it’s only fair that I warn you about the potential costs of this lifestyle. After reading this, you might decide that strength training isn’t for you. Or maybe you’ll decide it’s still worthwhile. Either way, my hope here is to give you a realistic, balanced perspective on what it’s like to become very strong through barbell training.
Disadvantage 1): Getting Strong Requires Sacrifice
If you’re someone who really looks forward to leisure and can’t stand tough, sweaty work, strength training probably isn’t for you. To get seriously strong, you’ll need to invest at least four to six good hours in the weight room every week, sweating and straining under a loaded barbell. You’ll also need to say no to rest and relaxation in favour of working out. That’s not to say that you’ll never get to rest and relax, just that you’ll get to do so less often than non-lifters. Personally, I view this as an advantage of the strength training lifestyle, not a detriment. The way I see it, there’s far too much resting, relaxing, and vegging out going on in our society. We could all do with a little more hard physical exertion, if you ask me. That said, you may see it differently, and view the tough and taxing work of getting strong as a disadvantage. If so, you may decide it’s not worth the sacrifice. In addition to investing lots of time and sweat into your strength gaining quest, you’ll also need to limit junk food, and force yourself to eat lots of the good stuff, permanently. Or at least for as long as you want to keep getting strong. If you love junk food, and can’t see your way clear to following some sort of diet, you’ll most likely have trouble gaining serious strength.
Disadvantage 2): You’ll Get Hurt
In past articles on this website, I’ve written about the many advantages of picking up a barbell regularly. I still stand by these assertions, 100%. That said, there’s a big difference between casually lifting weights now and then for health, and dedicating your life to getting as strong as possible. A very big difference. If you’re in the first category, and have gotten the go-ahead from your doctor, chances are you don’t have to worry too much about injury. Especially if you’ve gotten some good coaching on how to safely perform barbell exercises. On the other hand, if you’ve taken on the more serious challenge of getting as strong as your genetic potential will allow, injury is almost guaranteed. Getting very strong always involves pushing your physical limitations, and that means occasional pain and injury. As a dedicated lifter, it’s not if you get hurt – it’s when. Successful strength trainees learn from experience how to minimize risk of injury, and effectively rehabilitate when it does inevitably happen. On a personal note, I’m currently dealing with tendinitis in both elbows and a strained ligament in my knee. After more than 10 years in the strength training game, this is more or less par for the course. Lest I paint an overly dark picture, I haven’t spent most of the last 10 years injured. Most of the time, I’ve been fine. But be warned – when injuries happen, they stick around for a while, and can easily damage your physical and mental progress in the gym.
Disadvantage 3): Clothes Won’t Fit You
This might seem like a silly or unnecessary complaint, but let me assure you, it’s a bigger deal than you might realize. If you train for strength long enough, you’ll build lots of muscle, and standard clothing just isn’t designed for muscular guys. Up until a couple years ago, I almost never wore jeans for this reason. My thighs had grown thick from lots of barbell squats, and although the waists of my jeans fit fine, getting my legs in and out of them was torture. So was walking. Buying a bigger size freed up my legs, but left me with a waist far too loose, since jean manufacturers assume that bigger legs mean a bigger belly. Eventually, I discovered an online service that custom tailors jeans to individual measurements. I immediately bought 3 pairs, which fit perfectly and I couldn’t be happier with. The only problem is that they’re pretty pricey compared to the off-the-shelf variety. The problem extends to shirts, too. To get a shirt with sleeves that fit my arms, I have to go with a size so large that it hangs way too low over my waist, and flops around loosely across my belly. Again, standard, off-the-shelf shirts simply aren’t designed for powerlifters. Most of the time I spend wearing clothes, I am in mild to moderate discomfort.