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Strength Is The Glass

over 40 fitness Sep 25, 2023

In today's post I want to talk about an old quote from legendary strength coach Dan John that has always resonated with me because it is a simple statement of truth. The saying is that "strength is the glass for your body." Everything hinges on the glass as the qualities of health, function, mobility, and resiliency are all dependent on the size and density of the glass that contains it. 

Think about it this way. Say you've got a small shot glass and next to it a large 16 oz mason jar. Obviously, the large mason jar will hold a lot more liquid than the shot glass. Think about the liquid being qualities like balance, stability, mobility, endurance, power, deceleration, stamina, etc. The size of the glass determines how much these qualities can be developed or maintained. 

Now it's important you understand I'm not talking about muscular size here or the overall bulk or density of a person. When I speak of strength, I'm talking about absolute strength from a work capacity standpoint. 

If you're going to climb 20 flights of stairs, for example, you're going to need strength in the form that provides muscular endurance, not brute force. In fact, the larger and more muscular the individual, the harder it would be for him/her to climb 20 flights of stairs. 

Strength is the glass...

Everything else (just like the liquid) is contained within the glass. 

Want better balance, build a bigger glass...

Want better stamina and endurance, build a bigger glass...

Want better mobility and movement, build a bigger glass...

Want to become more resilient to illness and injury, build a bigger glass...

You getting the point?

Unfortunately, so many middle age and older individuals get this completely backwards and sadly minimize or avoid strength training due to faulty (false) belief systems. 

The common way of thinking is.....

  1. If I want to get better balance - do a bunch of exercises on an unstable surface.
  2. If I want to get better mobility - do a bunch of static stretching 
  3. If I want to reduce my risk of falling - work on my balance (see number 1)
  4. If I want to improve my work capacity - do a bunch of walking
  5. If I want to lose excess body fat - do a bunch of walking (again)
  6. If I want to build up my resiliency - eat a bunch of vegetables. 

While there's nothing "wrong" with eating more vegetables, walking more, doing some stretching and balance exercises, obviously all beneficial activities, the idea that these practices are an optimal "means to an end" is seriously flawed to say the least!

New research continues to shine light on this subject as one of the most significant indicators related to lowering risk of mortality comes up time and time again to be a measurement of STRENGTH. 

Here's one that was compiled from a very large number of individuals. 

Muscular Strength as a Predictor of All-Cause Mortality in an Apparently Healthy Population: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Data From Approximately 2 Million Men and Women

Now I know you may be scratching your head right now over this, and I totally get it, but it really is true. I've witnessed this correlation in evaluating clients of my personal training gyms for over the past twenty years. The stronger the individual got, the more mobile they became, the better their balance became, the more weight they lost, etc. So much was connected back to the individual getting stronger. 

Here's my big take away in all this. 

I'm not here to soap box against any habit or activity that promotes health, wellness, and vitality, but rather, to speak up for the upmost importance of continuing to build STRENGTH our entire lives. 

You may need to get creative due to orthopedic issues or some physical limitation, but I want to encourage you to persist in finding a way and prioritizing the practice. A knowledgeable fitness coach, physical therapist, or other professional trained in kinesiology should be able to help you with creative solutions.

Strength can be developed in many different ways. The one sure fire way it's not developed though, and worse yet is decreased, is when you do nothing!

There's no standing in the middle of the road or not choosing here folks. I say this all the time and it's so true, regardless of the subject matter. The choice of not choosing is still a choice. Doing nothing when it comes to strength DOES NOT equal a net neutral, it's a decision to subtract from what strength you do have. 

And that decision will have an impact on the quality of your life.

No question about it. 

My advice to anyone over the age of 40 is to prioritize the ongoing building of strength. It's the glass. The bigger the glass, the more of the other stuff you'll fit in it. Stretching until the cows come home and walking a bazillion steps a day won't make up for the lack of applying resistance to your muscles. 

Lastly, I want to also encourage you that it's never too late to get started. Research also conclusively confirms that strength can be increased at any age. Don't let some litany of excuses keep you from building strength and receiving all the benefits that come with it. The "I'm too old to start" <fill in the blank> is garbage and self-limiting negative talk.

Knock it off, if you hear these words come out of your mouth! I say this in love not judgement or chastisement, as I really do want what's good for you and to see you do your best to control your controllables. 

If I can help in any way please don't hesitate to let me know. It's my passion and purpose to educate, mentor, and teach on subjects such as this and help make a positive difference in the lives of others. Be blessed - S

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He has over 24 years' experience with fitness coaching and consulting and specializes in training programs for middle age and mature adults. If you live in the Charleston, SC area you can schedule a no-obligations consultation.


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