Mark Rippetoe:My Biggest Regret as a Strength Coach

“I had begun to suspect, but didn’t yet know, that older people respond to the systemic stress of correctly designed barbell training the same way everybody else does: they get stronger. The muscles that move them through the day, the connective tissues that keep their skeletons tight and efficient, even the bones themselves— everything gets stronger under the bar.

So, read carefully my important lesson: The most significant loss in physical capacity with advancing age is strengththe ability to produce the force of muscular contraction. Your ability to interact with your environment effectively is predicated upon your ability to exert the force of muscle contraction against the system of levers that comprises the skeleton, and therefore to control your own body’s mass and the masses of the physical objects you interact with.”

1. Barbell training is the best way to get strong.

It allows everyone to make improvements in strength, power, and general physical capacity, regardless of age, sex, and current ability. It works the whole body, it’s more effective than running, and it’s much safer than the constantly varied popular fitness Craze of the Day, neither of which are doable by most people after a certain age.

2. Barbell training is basically normal human movement patterns which are loaded with a gradually increasing weight.

In the same way that picking a load up from the floor, shoving a load up overhead, and squatting down and back up with a load is safe when you do it without a barbell, barbell training is a safe way to gradually increase the strength of these normal human movements. Your knees, back, and shoulders are designed to work under a load — barbells allow the loading to gradually increase and to remain biomechanically efficient.

3. Since you’re standing on your feet while you lift, barbell training teaches balance.

Too often, a broken hip is the first in a series of events that lead to death. Learning not to fall down as you move the load is the first step in barbell training. For example, a squat is the same motion as sitting down and getting up from a chair — a thoughtless given when we’re younger, but often a great effort for the elderly. Barbell training dwarfs the ability of a machine-based program to make changes in general physical capacity because machines don’t allow you to fall. If you learn how not to fall while you get stronger, you improve much more than just your strength.

4. Barbell training is the most effective way to increase bone density.

One of the key features of living organisms is their ability to recover from stress in a way that produces an adaptation to the stress, so that next time it happens the organism is prepared for it. The gradually accumulating loads used in the primary barbell lifts strengthen not only the muscles, but the bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and recovery systems. Quite literally, every part of your body adapts more effectively to systemic stress than to a piecemeal approach, since heavier loads can be lifted and greater stress can be applied.

5. Old age should not be a holding pattern for death.

Perhaps someday it won’t be. None of us should be parked and left to die. Our gyms have worked with people who have diabetes and its associated pathologies, like blindness, neuropathy, heart disease, dementia, and profound frailty. When we improve their strength, we improve their lives, and sometimes we can make their final years more productive than their wasted youth.

My big mistake was made before I learned these lessons. I allowed Cardell to take a less-effective approach with one of his clients, and the client paid the price. My gym, my fault.


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