Generally when you read an article about fitness, we often talk about losing weight, reducing body fat, or fighting back the epidemic of obesity.
But losing weight is not the only reason to go to a gym.
In fact, if you are an older adult (think 60+) then it is very likely that obesity is not your biggest enemy – but Frailty.
Frailty is the other end of the spectrum from obesity, but believe me when I say that left unaddressed the consequences of Frailty are even worse than the consequences of Obesity.
In 2018, everyone wants to be “skinny.” Many women especially are afraid of “bulking up” and so a conversation about the importance of gaining weight for an older adult is often scoffed at. However, it’s a conversation worth having for many of you reading this article.
There is such a thing as being underweight and a lighter body weight is not always better. As we age our body starts to shed muscle mass and bone density. It’s been estimated that adults over 40 lose as much as 10% of their muscle mass per decade if they do nothing to interrupt the process. It’s a natural process. But it can be devastating and we need to be doing all we can to halt the loss of muscle and bone mass.
Most of the current prescribed industry methodology will tell you that older adults should stick to a machine based approach for strength training and perhaps some light aerobic work.
The unfortunately reality is that strength training on machines does not offer the same results as does strength training with barbells. It just doesn’t. That is why athletes who are serious about competition at any level train with free weights and not machines. Machines just don’t build muscle and strength the way free weights do.
Here is the reality about strength training machines – they are very easy to learn and do so people tend to gravitate towards them in lieu of free weights. Free weights are harder to learn how to do correctly and generally there needs to be a qualified coach in place to teach people how to use barbells correctly.
So here is another reality – qualified coaches are expensive to hire. It makes more business sense for a big commercial gym to use mostly machine based strength training equipment and then hire less qualified people for less money to teach their members how to use the machines.
The only people that really lose out on this deal are the people whose lives may literally depend on their ability to get strong and build more muscle.
And unfortunately having the 20 year old kid show you how to use the machines isn’t going to get you there.
The most significant loss in physical capacity with advancing age is strength – the ability to produce the force of muscular contraction. Your ability to interact with your environment effectively is predicated upon your ability to exert the force of muscle contraction against the system of levers that comprises the skeleton, and therefore to control your own body’s mass.
All the other physical problems associated with age – the loss of muscle mass and balance and bone density, the increased risk of diabetes, and the much higher risk of physical injury – are related to either the loss of strength.
Balance, endurance, power, and speed are all aspects of strength. And the things we do to remain strong – the use of our muscles to do physical work and the associated use of carbohydrate as the fuel for muscle contraction – keep our metabolism functioning normally, thus preventing the acquisition of Type II diabetes.
I am aware that this seems like a rather lavish statement. But the facts are rapidly emerging, and those of us who have been in this business long enough to see the patterns already know that the opposite of sitting on your butt is not running – it is lifting weights. Walking is the way you get from your car into the store – it’s not really exercise unless you’re already two-thirds dead. Running is fine; it keeps your heart and lungs working pretty well, but so does strength training. More importantly, lots of older people simply cannot run, and running absolutely fails to convey the other benefits that strength training enjoys as a monopoly.
The solution to the Frailty epidemic is not machine based strength training simply because it’s easy. And it isn’t running. It’s getting under a barbell and learning how to lift weights correctly.
Think you are too old? My oldest client is 85 years old and she is doing better now than when she was 80. She’s under the bar every week.