The Truth about Strength Training

Here it is. In order to reap the full benefits of strength training as a means to greatly improving your quality of life, it needs to be a lifelong commitment. Anything short of this and the perks decrease by orders of magnitude.

When it comes to the development of strength, or any other lifelong habit, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture when day-by-day your just trying to make it happen and focusing on the necessary short-term goals.

With that said, I implore you to keep the following in mind when you’re in a training slump, offering advice to others, and making decisions about programming.

1. Aging is the loss of lean muscle mass. Developing strength and muscle mass while maintaining a low body fat percentage is the key.

Body composition is significant because too great a proportion of strength training enthusiasts, advocates, and practitioners treat good body composition as purely an aesthetic and seasonal goal but in reality, it is just as important as the weight-bearing stimulus of training. Art Devany summarizes this well:

A male who stays healthy does not lose testosterone as he ages; mine has not declined. Stay lean and muscular and avoid becoming fat, and your testosterone will not fall with age. Far too many ills are assumed to be caused by aging. What is aging? In the world we know now, aging is a loss of lean muscle mass and other lean tissues combined with a loss of metabolic fitness and growing obesity. Retain your healthy body composition and you avoid these ills. Hunter-gatherers do not age this way because they remain lean and muscular.

In summary, excess body fat will decrease testosterone. Low testosterone will decrease muscle mass. Once you lose about 40 percent of your muscle mass you are likely close to kicking the bucket.

2. Change is requisite for long-term success.

There are two primary dimensions to this. The first is the physical aspect. Strength training progress comes down to our ability to stress the body with load and adapt to the damage done. Over months/years there are diminishing returns to stressing the body to too similar of the stresses. Generally, you don’t see a guy who purely does bodybuilding or powerlifting for 60 years. Over that span, they’ll move in-and-out of various focuses while maintaining a large proportion of their strength and muscle mass.

The magnitude of the change is correlated with the time spent. For example:

  • Week-to-week: Increase total load.
  • Month-to-month: Increase total load and cycle in and out of accessory movements.
  • Year-to-year: Cycle into new training programs as you plateau and adapt. For example, if one is training for powerlifting they’ll move from one powerlifting routine to another based on plateaus, injuries, and periodization plans.
  • Decade-to-decade: Cycle into new fitness avenues while maintaining a large portion of gains from your last sport. For example, if you’ve been primarily doing powerlifting your can still work your primary lifts while participating in a new sport such as rock climbing, rowing, swimming, bodybuilding, cross-trainingting, or things that are fun and enjoyable that aren’t too great a detriment to strength.

The secondary dimension to this is psychological and lifestyle components in relation to long term training. In all honesty, I have limited exposure to this because my primary focus has always been the physiology of training rather than psychology. With that said, I have a few anecdotal things to say that have kept me training for over a decade now:

  • If for weeks or months you are ALWAYS lacking interest and vigor in training then something needs to change so that you start having fun again. This issue is usually caused by long-term fatigue coupled with low motivation.
  • Your best training partner is your significant other.