Here's Why Strength Training is an Underrated Youth Elixir

Strength Training: The Youth Elixir We Often Forget About

Lifting weights may not be the most accessible form of exercise, but it’s one that, when done right, can have more benefits than you realize.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a strong father. Anyone who knows Hercules Callanta can also attest to his strength. He was a national team Olympic weight lifter and one of the first strength and conditioning coaches in the country. He has been a mentor to a lot of other strength coaches as well, including myself.

He is also turning 65 this year.

Although, if it wasn’t for his salt and pepper hair it would be hard to tell. He has pretty much kept the same physique and after a few diet changes, looks a lot slimmer and fitter. When it comes to role models, you can say I didn’t have to look far growing up. He was the one who taught me how to lift weights and encouraged me to be in sports and make exercise a lifelong habit.

Looking at how he stays healthy and more importantly, functional, as an older adult, the one constant he has always had was some form of resistance training. Sure, it started out as an intense kind of training when he learned Olympic weightlifting as a teenager, but he has also made it a point to have some form of strength training up to this day, a habit that has helped him look the way he does and feel the way he does.

I am always amused when I see the many anti-aging ads for creams, elixirs, and procedures that promise to make you feel and look young. A lot of these things may and do help but we are conveniently forgetting one simple thing that can help us: just be stronger.

The importance of strength training
Here's Why Strength Training is an Underrated Youth Elixir
(Photo credit: Victor Freitas on Unsplash)

Strength training has been widely researched to have some sort of a delaying effect on aging. Several studies have shown that, in particular, lifelong strength training is beneficial in countering the age-related loss of neuromuscular function. This simply means that if you strength-train and have been strength-training from an early age, you will most likely retain your muscular function as you age.

Now, if you are an older adult and have missed the boat on starting strength training early, that doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from it by starting now. As we age, our body tends to lose muscle and bone density. This is due to our cells not reproducing at the same rate as they used to when we were younger. Strength training can reverse these effects which will make you more stable as you grow older.

Strength training also greatly reduces the risks of hypo-kinetic diseases, a group of sicknesses that have been related to lack of movement on a daily basis (thus the name “hypokinetic”). Examples of these are diabetes, hypertension, and other cardiovascular diseases.

There is even research that strength training can help rejuvenate aging skin by reducing circulating inflammatory factors and enhancing dermal extracellular matrices. This means that your skin will be firmer and more supple. Formerly this was taught to be only an effect due to cardiovascular training but this study proves that strength or resistance training can have an even bigger effect because it produces an increase in dermal thickness which makes the skin healthier.

Reading all this, I’m sure a lot of you are nodding your head because yes, it is pretty obvious that strength training can help you stay fit and healthy. The main issue really is unlike running, where you can do it basically anywhere and it’s easy to progress, it gets quite tricky to start and continue strength training, especially if you’ve never done it before.

When running, you can easily start tomorrow with a slow jog. Maybe go for about ten to fifteen minutes and build gradually from there. Strength training can be a bit more complex than that. In fact, a lot of people say they do strength training but at one point or another, have decided to stop because of varying issues and concerns. Some find it too challenging, some can’t seem to progress properly, and others are just simply too scared to even try it.

Believe me, as a trainer, I’ve heard all the reasons. But still, I have made it my mission since I graduated from college to influence as many people as possible to take up strength training because I have seen firsthand the benefits that it has for somebody who picks up the habit. What I see from most people are two common errors when it comes to strength training: Trying to do too much, and not doing nearly enough.

The right way to strength train
Here's Why Strength Training is an Underrated Youth Elixir
(Photo credit: Andres Ayrton on Pexels)

Some people decide to get into strength training, enroll in a gym, go hard on the first day, and then wake up the next day feeling like they’ve just been hit by a truck. This, in turn, gets them demotivated and they end up missing their next session and the habit never sticks. Some people commit to a once-a-week routine, usually on the weekends, and then wonder why they haven’t seen any results even after years of sticking to it.

The problem in both scenarios is that they are just not maximizing how our body adapts.

Strength training is stressful to the body. True, it is beneficial, but it is still a stressor to our muscular and cardiovascular systems. However, we need this stress in order to adapt. Without it, why would the body even try to adapt if there is no stimulus that will force it to adapt?

On the flip side, if you push it way past its limits, then the stress will be too much to accommodate and your body goes into protective mode, which can feel like a truck running you over so that you are forced to rest and recover.

Therein lies the trick in strength training and making it a continuous habit: stressing it just enough so that it adapts while you rest it, and then progressing that stressor properly so that the adaptation becomes constant.

Here’s how that works.

You go to the weights room and do a 50-pound barbell squat for 10 repetitions. Your body now knows what that feels like. It learns and adapts so that when you go back the next training day and experience that 50-pound squat, it’s nothing new. It actually becomes easier even by just 5%. So what do you do? You try adding weight, now you’re squatting 55 pounds. It’s a new challenge to the body, but then it learns that, and then the next time you do it again, it is something familiar.

That really is what adaptation looks like. And if you constantly challenge the body even by just a little bit more at a time, it will continuously adapt and this is what we are after especially when it comes to aging gracefully.

Now how do we put this into practice?

As a general rule, for adaptation to take place, we have to challenge a specific body part at least twice a week. This means that at least you should be doing a strength training session twice a week, building gradually as the routine becomes a habit. Investing in a coach and a program always helps especially if you are just starting out and have never done strength training before. It keeps things safe and these professionals know how to progress programs properly.

But the fact remains, it has been proven again and again that lifting weights and getting stronger is something that more people should get into, and hopefully develop into a lifelong habit.

All you have to do is start.

Banner images from John Arano and Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash.

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