On Bodies and Strength
Acclaimed strength coach, Mark Rippetoe, begins the first chapter of his book Starting Strength like this:
“Physical strength is the most important thing in life. This is true whether we want it to be or not”.
Now, I’m seriously bought in to having physical strength. But, even I found these bold first two sentences a bit much to take. However, before the first first paragraph was over and he explains the entire view, my eyebrows come back down and I find myself nodding slowly in agreement with what Mark is saying.
Having been someone who’s always loved activity throughout my life, but not necessarily in an organized sports manner or having any real structure in gaining strength, I’ve run into injuries. This usually comes from overdoing something that I love . Recent years, it’s been shoulder injuries from surfing or elbow injuries from rock climbing.
The consistent theme is overuse and especially repetitive strain, especially when you’re not using your body appropriately. I’ve learned a lot in experiencing these injuries and the result of going to a slew of different practitioners — chiropractors, physical therapists, and folks with other disciplines. What’s been great in this journey is the education of understanding anatomy and how the body is actually supposed to work. I’d be lying if I said that I have it all figured out, as the learning continues in books like Rippetoe’s Starting Strength and others that we own and read continually.
However, what I’ve experienced time and again through personal experience is that physical strength is critical. I also like to joke that “strength is the answer, regardless of the question.” While some of this would seem logical to anyone that strength is a good thing, things quickly get interesting when you carry out to build a lot of strength. It quickly appears to most people that you’re engaged in something extreme and risky.
Here’s another short passage from the beginning of Rippetoe’s book that starts to explain the view:
“Our strength, more than any other thing we possess, still determines the quality and the quantity of our time here in these bodies.”
As he continues to build his position, I wander from thinking “wow, this guy is a meathead, of course he would say this stuff” to being strongly drawn into reading the rest of his work and agreeing with everything he’s presenting. It’s a funny paradox, that especially if you are older (and a female), it is critical to make sure strength is a key element of what you do to keep yourself young and slow down the aging process.
I’ve had some minor stretches of time in the past, where I’ve done some strength work. All of it was pretty unstructured, with minimal knowledge, and spread out sparsely over a few decades. Around the mid 2000s, we got involved in Crossfit, when it was still an underground kind of thing. One of our coaches took us through some strength progressions in the basic lifts, like squats, bench press, and deadlift. This was somewhat short-lived and I only came back to strength again just about 2 years ago, after suffering some injuries or otherwise knowing that strength would be a benefit.
At that point, I looked around at some benchmarks online to set a goal to motivate myself to work hard. What I found was reference to the “1,000 pound club.” This is, essentially, when you add the total weight you can pull, as an aggregate of the three main lifts (backsquat, bench press, and the deadlift). So, I set that out as the long-term goal of what I wanted to achieve.
More recently in late summer of 2017, we started a structured program based on what Coach Rippetoe teaches in Starting Strength. I lift three times a week and for the past 8+ months have gone through a novice linear progression. What that looks like is basically adding weight to each of your training sessions until you can no longer make gains. When that happens, you can reset by lowering the weight, building a base again, and then continue to ramp up the weight and see if the previous barrier is eliminated. As well, you can tweak the characteristics of the work by changing the sets and repetitions of the work for the same effect.
At some point, you’re physically done with the novice program and your body needs different programming to achieve further gains and take you to the next steps. This gets you into the intermediate program and that’s just about where I am going next. Last night, on March 19th, I had a training session that hit a great milestone for me. It was the first session, where my normal working set weights combined to be greater than 1,000 pounds. My work weight for backsquat was 360 lbs, the bench press was 225 lb, and the deadlift was 440 lb. This combined for a total of 1,025 lbs.
So, even though these numbers are nowhere near my 1-rep max (1RM) or personal record (PR) territory, I was able to achieve the 1,000 pound club in just normal training. That was pretty cool. Here are the training lifts from that session:
Backsquat (360 lbs)
Bench Press (225 lbs)
Deadlift (440 lbs)
I’ll be transitioning to more of an intermediate program in the coming weeks to start training differently and getting ready for the next phase of learning, refining, and setting the stage for further gains. It’s been a great journey in that I feel fantastic and more integrated and solid than anytime in the past.
Lifting has been a worthwhile focus these past 8 months and the time spent has also been great for my overall focus. There’s a great cycle of high intensity in producing the tension and contractions necessary for the lifts, followed by a meditative state to recharge and prepare for the next effort. Looking forward to next steps and may start thinking about competing in an event, potentially, sometime down the line in 2018. It would be a good way to stay motivated and work hard towards a goal.
I’ll keep you updated on my training journey and hope it influences you to continue or start your own. Feel free to chime in with your questions or share your own results.