Are We Weak or Just Gravitationally Challenged?

While I was researching my blog post last week, I stumbled upon an interesting infographic from February 1944, in Popular Science magazine. Now, wartime propaganda and hilarious Pepsi-Cola advertisements aside, there were some key takeaways:

  • 3% of "Young Men" could not do a chin up, while 25% could not do 5 chin ups.
  • 24% could not vault a waist-high obstacle
  • I'm not quite sure what "skin the cat" means (do I even want to?), but 40% couldn't do it...and that sounds depressing.

Now, as someone who used to work with younger kids, I can definitively say that if those same tests were administered to today's youth, the results would be staggering.  More than 50% of kids I used to coach had trouble doing a single pullup, and getting them to run correctly without tripping over themselves was what I called a minor miracle.

I'm not highlighting these claims to make it seem like we're all a bunch of weaklings. In fact, I want to point out the elephant in the room - I couldn't do a decent chin-up until I was in college.  I was also living proof that "white men can't jump" as I'm 6'1'', but could barely touch the net on a basketball hoop.*

Instead, my aim is merely to merge these observations with what I see everyday: lifting heavy weights has gone out of style.

How'd I come to this conclusion? Well, rather than funnel this complaint into the usual circle of Tracy Anderson bashing (and let's be honest, I'm like, really good at that), or blaming our society, I've found that most people usually fall into two categories: either they're afraid of getting "too big" and don't lift heavy, or they do lift heavy, but tell me how their friends are concerned they're going to get hurt.

Ugh. Where oh where do I start?

To the first point, I'm always surprised when people are worried about putting on muscle.  It's almost as if putting on muscle is as much of a sin as eating gluten! (I mean, for Godsakes, it's poison!!!!!1!!!!!!11! Kidding, of course.) 

Ironically, it's usually the people that are most worried about bulking that need to be the least concerned. I've seen plenty of people not be able to do a real pullup, or brag about doing 30 pushups, but get worried about lifting anything over 10 pounds (the irony, of course, is that their "bodyweight" exercises consist of more than 10 pounds..)

Let's be real: putting on muscle has less to do with the amount of weight you lift, and much more with gender, training age, nutrition, hormonal status, rest, etc. And, for what it's worth, I'm still waiting for myself to get "too big."

But moving on, "heavy weights" has always seemed rather oxymoronic to me. After all, weights are weights.  When they're light, it's a waste of time. That means if you're doing an exercise for 10 reps, numbers 8 through 10 should be tough - not like being forced to watch Dawson's Creek kind of tough (sorry, Lindsay)...but "I'm glad I did it because I didn't think I could" kind of tough. If you could have eked out a few more reps than 10, it's time to go up.

(Sidenote: below is my new favorite video - Vladimir, the Father of Pavel Tsatsouline, deadlifting 413 pounds at age 76 during a recent meet this past Father's day. No belt, naturally.)

On the flip side, I'm much more worried for those who don't lift heavy weights, or tend to do the same routine, with the same weights, for the past year. Why? Either way, someone is wasting and losing their fight against father time.  It's anecdotal, but the people that tend to lift heavier weights that have less aches and pains than those who are content with running and being "lean."  

If you want to keep getting stronger, you need to realize that training is built on the notion of progressive resistance - meaning, of course, that it needs to get progressively harder. You don't need to change exercises all the time (in fact, it's one of the worst things you can do if you want to see actual progress) but it means that either the weight, reps, or rest needs to change.

As I like to say, it's not lifting something heavy that can injure's when we haven't prepared for life. 

Move well, move often, and lift heavy.  In that order.

*In contrast, I can now touch rim (and might be an inch away from actually dunking) from a dead stop, vertical side step or running start necessary, thankyouverymuch.