Stronger is Funner (More Fun)

The many benefits of strength training are well established. A quick search will reveal documentation by such organizations as the American Heart Association. Therefore, I won’t talk about improvements in bone density; flexibility and balance; glucose metabolism; blood lipid and lipoprotein profiles; body image; and a host of others. Instead, this is just a personal note on how much fun it has been to almost by accident evolve into That Strong Old Guy.

When at age 30 I first signed up at a commercial fitness center, I did so with three very specific goals in mind: 1) Although my blood pressure had improved significantly from running, it was still not back down to where I wanted. I had concluded that I just could not run often enough to balance out what I was sure were stress factors causing the problem. I was hopeful that exercise was the total solution and that adding weight training to the mix would improve things even more. 2) At the time, we were expanding our greenhouse operation to a geothermal site in Southwestern Utah and we based our marketing guy in Salt Lake City. Since I would usually fly in and out of Salt Lake, I kept my skis at his house. I had expectations that the weight training would help not only my ability to negotiate the challenging terrain of Alta, but that it would facilitate other weekend warrior activities like whitewater kayaking, water skiing, etc. 3) The infamous shot from behind while I was raking leaves. That’s the picture that convinced me that I could no longer eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

At no time in those early days of my gym experience did it occur to me to “get buff.” When the trainer giving me my initial orientation asked if I was interested in “bodybuilding” my reaction was, “Ugh?” However, I was actually thinking to myself, “Is he talking about prancing around in a skimpy speedo and doing all that flexing and otherwise looking like a total dork.” He had to be kidding. Truth be told: At that time, even if I did know anything and had any interest whatsoever in “bodybuilding”, I never would have admitted it.

A funny thing, though, happened on the way to very strong legs for skiing, less goo around the middle, and my most recent blood pressure recording of 108/58: I did get bigger in all the “buff” places. The lifting has led to many fun times; here’s just a few:

About 16 years ago I took my two sons (who would have been 3 and 13) and two of my nephews to an air show. As is the case with a lot of such shows, the various branches of the US military are often present with recruiting displays. On this day, the Marines had a pull up bar and were offering prizes to whomever could do 20 pull ups or chin ups. The few that we saw try did not make it. My 13-year-old tried and was disappointed when he only got 15 chin ups. So, I took a stab at it. I had hardly started when I heard someone yell through the fog of my concentration, “hey, look at the old guy crank ’em out.” I was stoked! I flew through the 20 reps when the Marines had me stop. By then there was a big crowd blocking the aisles in front of the Marine booth and shouting, “hoorah” for the old guy.”

A big benefit that came from both my wife and I evolving into veteran lifters was that we could help our children get started the right way with the lifting that helped them in their high school sports. The little 13-year-old mentioned above (Jay) was very young for his class. Like me, he was a late bloomer from a physical size standpoint and wrestled at 112 pounds as a freshman. He was an absolute butt-buster in the gym, though. By the time he was a senior only one guy on the football team could beat his 265 pound bench press, and that was by only 10 pounds. My son played football at 168 pounds; the guy that beat his bench weighed 300. Moreover, when you figured in the other commonly performed “football training” lifts, Jay was by far the strongest guy on the team.

At the first wrestling meet of his senior year, we were sitting in the bleachers. As Jay walked out to take his place at center-mat, I overheard this women in front of us tell her friend, “Oh, watch this kid, he is such a beast! I leaned over and proudly whispered to his mom, “Hey, Gloria, your kid is such a beast!” Maybe you had to be there through the years as a parent, but it had been a very long journey for the beast from the little guy years before who had looked up at me in total frustration as he asked, “Dad, why do I suck?”

A year ago last summer, the US Army had a recruiting booth at the county fair where we were holding our company picnic. I had just overindulged in a fine free meal and my wife and I happened to walk by the board where they had listed the best continuous (without stopping or resting in any way) push up performance of the fair. As I recall,  some 19-year-old had done the best to that point at 72. Naturally, I was challenged a bit; just as naturally, my wife rolled her eyes as she so helpfully reminded me that I did not need to do that.

Well, yes, of course I had to do that! Especially after my social director told me how dumb it was! After walking around for an hour letting my food settle; and after sneaking in a few warm ups in the bleachers, we headed back to the event venue. I dropped to the sidewalk and cranked out 90 strict push ups as people gathered around and helped with the count. Of course, the Army guys had to make a big deal of it. It was kind of comical the way they so delicately asked how old I was. They wanted to know if it was all right to list my age next to the big total of 90. Even the Army has to be sensitive so as not to offend.  The thing is, they wouldn’t let me enlist. When I asked, they hemmed and hawed before finally admitting that I was too old!

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