When I look at the current state of the fitness industry, I see a lot of good qualities. I am pleased that the health and wellness of Americans and the professional individuals that have devoted their careers to helping others get healthy are being taken very seriously. These are all great signs that we are heading in the right direction. At the same time, we must keep focus on what really works for getting people results regarding their well-being and their bodies.
As a strength and conditioning coach and personal trainer, and having spent half of my life (15 years) training using all kinds of different programs, methods, and systems, I can say without a doubt that there really is no magic program that is hands down better than the rest. There are definitely qualities of a program that may make it better than another program and these qualities need to be remembered above else.
It is imperative to understand that physical strength above all else is the single greatest fitness parameter that affects all other fitness markers: power, speed, quickness, conditioning, agility, balance, etc. For example, if I can help a woman who is 60 years old triple her deadlift strength in one year (which I did: this woman can deadlift over her bodyweight for 10 repetitions) while keeping her bodyweight the exact same, do you realize how much more potential she has to be faster, run longer distances, have more balance, have less joint pain (more muscle means less impact on joints during cardiovascular work), have improved posture, and have a more dense skeleton? Improving all of these fitness markers will help her to drastically improve her quality of life.
There is no other fitness parameter that compares to good old-fashioned strength training on basic exercises to improve quality of life. I don’t care if you’re 13 years old and growing physically or 75 years old and retired – everyone should strength train. And it takes less total time than you may think – the most important factor in strength training progress is not total time spent, but rather intensity. Or, said another way, hard work.
Yes, improving your quality of life through fitness will require you to work very hard for 45-60 minutes, two to four times per week (depending on individual goals) to truly see your mental efforts manifest themselves on your physical body. I am not referring to going to your local commercial gym and using eight different machines that require you to sit and relax while you use the machines. I am talking about the basic human movement patterns that have been proven to produce dramatic results with hard work: movement patterns that any relatively mobile and healthy person can perform.
These movement patterns include:
• lifting things off the ground
• sitting up
If we actually break down these movement patterns into practical barbell or dumbbell exercises and combine them with a limited number of sets done with absolute singleness of purpose and intensity, they can, and will, literally have a miraculous result on the physical body. This is for younger people as well as older people, male and female alike. Our bodies respond similarly.
Examples of these basic exercises include:
• standing barbell press
• pull up or barbell row
• barbell or trap bar deadlifts
• barbell or dumbbell squats
• decline bench sit up
If a determined individual were to commit himself or herself to getting as incredibly strong as possible on these five crucial exercises, with just one or two sets of maximum exertion (possibly up to three sets in some cases), and always made an effort to put a bit more weight on the bar, he or she would require no other exercises to gain strength and would experience drastic progress. But again, the key to it all is hard work.
When I was in college, I worked my way up to 225-230 pounds at 6’1” and about 10% body fat. I was overdoing things though, training six days a week for 90 minutes at a time, doing 10 or 12 exercises per workout. As a 30 year old man with long work hours and a newborn baby to take care of, I don’t have that kind of time to devote to gaining muscle and strength. I now train three days a week for 45 minutes at a time, using four to five exercises per workout for just a couple maximum intensity sets – and am pound for pound stronger than I’ve ever been.
The Takeaway: Just like almost anything else in life, you get out of things what you put into them. Training for physical strength is the best example that I know of this universal truth. It takes good planning, a basic program and exercise selection done with the most intensity a person can tolerate, and a no-quit attitude to achieve drastic physical change with weights. This is for people of all ages and both genders: we all can achieve incredible physical progress and health improvement from less work than we all realize. It just takes hard work on basic exercises to get there.