This post was written by reader Joe O’Brien, and it really is one of the most awesome transformation stories you’ll read anywhere. Not only did Joe lose 100 pounds of fat, but he now squats 450 pounds at the age of 52!
Joe did it all using a program that I recommend, namely strength training, a low-carb diet, and intermittent fasting, although I believe that he lost weight and ramped up his lifts before he started reading this site.
I’ve added a few comments to Joe’s post.
Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study
Conclusion Muscular strength is inversely and independently associated with death from all causes and cancer in men, even after adjusting for cardiorespiratory fitness and other potential confounders.
One more time with emphasis:
Men, you are less likely to die if you are stronger!
I wanted to emphasize that point as the “Anti-Dying” benefit of strength is WAY under-appreciated. Readers of this blog would agree that strength training is THE MOST IMPORTANT anti-aging (anti-dying!!) health intervention.
How do we take that knowledge about the efficacy of strength and strength training and put it into practice? My observation is that there are many people who start lifting weights (usually around the start of the new year) but don’t continue long-term due to illness, injury and burnout.
You need more than willpower, grit and determination. If you had a limitless amount of willpower you won’t progress if you are getting sick or injured. You need to have a system.
I have managed to build myself up from morbid obesity in my 40s to someone with a good amount of strength (450lbs. squat) for someone his age (52) by thinking about strength training as a part of a system.
Here’s me suffering from morbid obesity in my 40s (my hair was nice and dark though!):
Me at 51. 100 lbs lighter with my babies:
My system allows me to strength train on a consistent basis, as a result make consistent gains in strength. My system has also made me more resilient to stress and a great deal healthier.
It is important to keep first things first. The most important aspect of the system is getting in the gym and lifting. The secondary aspects aide in recovering from the stress of hard training. I have found that the secondary aspects of my system are more important as I get older.
If I am not sleeping, eating, recovering, conditioning on my off days my strength training suffers.
Please note, I am biased in giving my recommendations. My system works well for me a formerly obese guy in his early 50s. My recommendations at this point in my life skew towards longevity as opposed to absolute performance.
Without further adieu,
The barbell squat, press and deadlift lifts are the best lifts to build strength. You will get the best results focusing on these lifts.
The challenge with these lifts is the learning curve. Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength is the best resource available to learn to the lifts. The book, DVD and online content are all excellent.
I have found that using the same set of exercises exclusively allows you to more accurately measure the stress and progress of your training. The following is my workout “template” (very similar to the Starting Strength Novice program or Stronglifts program).
Squat: Back Squat
Press: Alternate Bench Press and Overhead Press each workout
Deadlift: Alternate Deadlift, Back Extension and Good Morning each workout
Row: Alternate Hammer Row and Hammer Pulldown each workout
Additional Accessory Exercises: Optionally 2 or 3 exercises done with lighter weights and higher reps to promote hypertrophy.
My workouts consist of 3-5 exercises, 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. I know from experience based on the total weights lifted (Exercises X Sets X Reps X Weight) how much stress I have incurred during the workout. A 20,000 lbs workout is an in and out punch the time-clock workout. A 30,000 lbs workout is an ass-kicking. There is some trial and error in and learning how much training volume you can tolerate. Use a spreadsheet to track your total training volume to find your sweet spot.
Your mindset will be the difference between quitting 6 weeks into your new gym membership and being successful long term. The best advice I can give you is to divorce yourself from results and think of your strength training program as a meditative practice.
You are not trying to “go hard as a mother-f’er”, you are simply performing the exercises. Perform your lifts with same emotion as carrying groceries in from the car. You will have great days and not great days. You will make progress and you will stall and feel frustrated. That is OK. The point is to CONTINUE training. Concentrated effort over time will outpace the once-a-week death-march workout that leaves you sick, sore and burned-out.
Two questions to ask yourself:
Am I working out hard enough to make a quantifiable change in my strength and conditioning?
Could I continue with my current workout program for the next 6 months?
The answer to both of those questions should be a definitive “Yes!”. You want your workouts challenging so that you are actually getting stronger but not so challenging that you have to stop due to illness, injury or burnout.
If you are going to squat, deadlift and press with enough intensity to increase your strength you are going to need proper lifting shoes and a true powerlifting belt.
I can’t tell you how many time I have seen people trying to squat in cushioned running shoes and watching their knees cave in (technical term is knee valgus) dues to the soles of their shoes compressing. Proper shoes with a compression resistant heel will prevent that knee cave-in. Weightlifting shoes typically have an elevated heel, which will help if you are lacking in ankle flexibility. A pair of entry level Adidas PowerLift 2 shoes cost about what canvas Converse All-Stars cost.
Just as a good shoe provides stability, a proper powerlifting weight belt assists in stabilizing your core by giving your abdominal wall something to push against. More core stability means more weight lifted and more strength squatting and deadlifting.
There is a concept of human movement referred to as the “Joint-By-Joint” approach . The premise is that each of the major joints of your body requires alternatively either mobility or stability as you move from bottom to top:
Joint — Primary Need
Ankle — Mobility
Knee — Stability
Hip — Mobility
Lumbar Spine — Stability
Thoracic Spine — Mobility
Scapula — Stability
Gleno-humeral — Mobility
If your mobility is lacking you experience injury or loss of performance in the adjoining stability joints. Knees hurt from squatting? Work on hip and ankle mobility. Lower back hurts from over head pressing? Work on thoracic spine mobility.
I work my ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and shoulder mobility as often as possible. I perform the following 6 movements as a warmup before lifting and on my off days to help me recover:
I can’t keep up with the different names for a low carb diet. I think my diet would be called LowCarb Paleo. The goal of my diet is to provide adequate nutrition while keeping my insulin response to a minimum. Eating a nutritionally complete diet supports your strength training program, the added benefit of low carb is that it tends to be anti-inflammatory. These are the basic guidelines I follow:
Dr. Ted Naiman’s Diet 2.0 Infographic summarizes what I eat [Ted Naiman has an excellent approach to fitness, focusing on low-carb and bodyweight exercises, and from his appearance, he obviously follows his own advice. – PDM]:
I know!! It’s 2016 and I am recommending aerobic exercise. Sacrilege! This is something I have added to my regimen in the last 18 months and it has made a world of difference in my training. My work capacity is greatly improved as I am able to recover faster in between heavy set of squats, deadlifts, presses.
I have two of caveats to this recommendation.
The first caveat is that I use an Airdyne bike for all my aerobic training.
The big advantage to using an Airdyne is that the exercise is very low (no) impact. No impact, no wear and tear on my joints.
The second caveat, is that I use a heart rate monitor to administer the correct dosage of aerobic exercise. I use Dr. Phill Maffetone 180 Formula to determine my optimal heart rate for aerobic conditioning. If I was going to list the “one weird trick” for improving your strength training it would be to use Maffetone’s 180 formula a couple times a week. Start slowly and ramp up. I am currently doing 45 minutes 2-3 times per week. (The short “sciencey” explanation of why this works so well for me is “insulin resistance and anabolic resistance are the same things”.)
Turn off the TV, cell phone, tablet and go to bed! What I do is pretty basic “sleep hygiene” but fundamental to recovery:
Nothing extraordinary in this list, other than taking a multivitamin/multimineral which seems like it is out of style these days. [Most of the following can be seen on the site’s supplements buying guide. – PDM]
So there you have it. In my mind these are all simple hacks that help you to get strong.