Old man strength.
It’s a thing.
If you’ve ever shaken hands with an older man and your hand comes out all crumpled and possibly broken you know what I’m talking about. It always amazes me how strong people can be and yet not look like it.
How does that happen? It’s pretty simple really. Hard work over many many years.
Most of the strong older men I know didn’t spend years in a gym. They spent years working manual labor or living on a farm. The repeated gripping and turning of small hard objects built their grip strength to that of a vice.
Then there is the lifting and moving of heavy awkward objects like hay bails. 10 hours a day, 365 days a year for over 50 years. I’ve heard people complain about not getting stronger fast enough after just a couple of years of working out in a gym for only 3 days a week. Some perspective here is really helpful.
If you want to be strong you need to get comfortable with the fact that it will be a lifelong pursuit. A life long journey of gradually increasing the weight of the things you lift. Strength is an adaptation to a stimulus, but not all adaptations are the same.
CNS vs Muscular Adaptation
When it comes to lifting really heavy loads your central nervous system (CNS) plays a huge role. Your CNS consists of your brain and spinal cord. Nerves branch off from the CNS carrying signals to and from your body and the brain. Some of these signals tell your muscles to get to work, but if you’re picking up a penny off the ground the number of muscles needed is significantly less than if you're trying to deadlift 700 lb. Even if the movement is performed in exactly the same way.
With proper training and progressively increasing loads, you can relatively quickly get your CNS operating at peak efficiency and you will be able to recruit all the necessary muscles to lift the weight off the ground. But what if you go on vacation for a couple weeks and don’t lift? Your CNS settles down a little bit and if you tried to lift that same weight when you got back it may not go as well.
Did you lose strength? No. But your body just wasn’t ready to use all the muscle that you have. This is an overly simplified explanation of CNS adaptation. There is much more to it and it changes over time.
At some point, you’ll need to actually increase the number of muscle fibers your body has in order to lift heavier weight. This is the process that takes years. It doesn’t have to be the same style of training over all those years but it will take time. As long as you are lifting heavy (for you) weights and constantly trying to increase the amount you lift either in the number of reps or the amount of weight you’ll get stronger.
Depending on training style, genetics muscle growth differs from person to person. Some people see growth in the size of their muscles. Another adaptation is that the muscle fibers become denser or there are more fibers packed into the same space. This would explain why some older men are really strong but don’t look like it.
Density does have a limit though and to see increased strength you’ll have to increase the size of the muscle but you don’t have to look like a body builder to be as strong as one.
Just take your time
For most of us, we have no need to be strong as soon as possible and the good news is that the best way to create true lasting strength is to lift heavy things for years and years. To get the best results to perform compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and presses. It's also a good idea to add in some heavy carries from time to time. You don't have to follow and specific sets and reps just keep pushing yourself to try and lift more even if it's just 1 more rep.
If you want to get strong and you don’t know where to start we’d be happy to help you reach those goals. Settle in and enjoy the lifelong journey of being strong.
Now go live better.