Doctors understand aging as a loss of one’s reserves. Here, reserves means abilities – physical and mental. To a doctor, then, we age when we lose physical ability or mental capacity. While we all, of course, get older with the passage of time, we are not aging unless our bodies and minds deteriorate.
At some point, such deterioration is inevitable. No one lives forever, and eventually, our muscle mass will decline, our bone density will diminish, and our memories will get fuzzy. There are, though, certain measures that we can take which, in theory and practice, ought to delay the onset of aging. One of these measures is strength training, and in particular, a program in which the squat, bench press, and deadlift are the centerpiece movements.
Strength training builds muscle, increases bone density, and per recent studies on brain health, even slows neurodegeneration. This might sound counterintuitive to some, because there exist misconceptions that the squat, bench press, and deadlift are dangerous movements. There is a fear that squatting will ruin your knees, that benching will ruin your shoulders, and that deadlifting will ruin your back.
However, the source of fear is often the unknown, and the people who fear these movements tend to be the ones who do not know how to do them properly. While these movements look simple, each one is actually quite technical and if they are performed correctly, these movements are not only safe, but they diminish the risk of injury and, ultimately, slow the aging process.
[We counted 13 undeniable benefits of the deadlift. Did we miss any?]
Amassing a Reserve of Strength
It might seem like a bit of a leap to suggest that the “big three” – squat, bench, and deadlift – slow the aging process. But, let’s go back to our original premise: doctors understand aging as a loss of reserves, in large part as a loss of physical ability. The beauty of a reserve is that, although it is, by definition, a limited quantity of something, a reserve can, nonetheless, be amassed. And, the greater the amount of a reserve, the greater the likelihood that the reserve will last longer.
Let’s take money. There is a greater likelihood that a cash reserve of $1 million will last a lot longer than a cash reserve of $100. Similarly, a large physical reserve of muscle mass and strength is more likely to last longer than a meager one. Why? Because, all other conditions being equal, just as it generally takes longer to burn through $1 million than $100, it will generally take longer to lose your muscle and strength if you have more of it.
Similar to earning and saving money, people can train and build strength. Strength is the foundation of physical ability. Strength enables us to walk to work, go up and down stairs, carry groceries, lift children, perform myriad mundane but essential daily activities and, ultimately, remain able and independent.
Nothing, arguably, trains strength more effectively, efficiently, and safely than a sound program of squatting, benching, and deadlifting. There is extensive literature and evidence to support the notion that these lifts are supremely effective given their ability to progressively load resistance in an efficient and mechanically ergonomic manner.
[Powerlifting is one way to boost your growth hormone, a powerful anti-aging protein, but it’s not the only way. Learn more about how to increase your HGH naturally here.]
[Every form of exercise can help slow the aging process. Check out the best treadmills for walking!]
What Strength Training Doesn’t Involve
Strength training in general, accomplished in particular via the squat, bench and deadlift, is not merely effective because of what it involves. Strength training is effective in slowing the aging process because of what it does not involve: contact, impact, high repetition, or fast movements. Strength training does not involve getting body checked or tackled. It does not involve pounding the pavement with thousands upon thousands of steps during daily and weekly runs. It also does not involve high repetitions of movements per set in which such high reps lead to fatigue, then poor technique, and then a higher risk of injury. And, strength training does not involve fast movements, where a sudden acceleration or change of direction could lead to a greater likelihood of pulling, tearing, or rupturing something.
Rather, strength training involves lifting progressively heavier weights over time, in a slow, deliberate, and technical fashion. It even elevates one’s heart rate as anyone who ever squatted a moderately heavy weight for 8-10 reps will attest. Although it certainly won’t turn you into an endurance athlete, it will still constitute cardiovascular exercise.
It is also noteworthy that training strength does not mean foregoing speed, or worse, becoming slow and sluggish. Quite the opposite. Although strength training does not typically involve fast movements (outside of Olympic lifts and their accessories), it can play a role in intelligently building speed and power, which is important for retaining fast twitch muscle fibers. The reason for this is that there is a significant positive correlation between strength and speed.
Stefi Cohen, a phenom in both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting, illustrated the correlation perfectly in an interview she gave last June: a weightlifter who can deadlift 650 lbs will have an easier time power cleaning 300 lbs, compared to a weightlifter who can only deadlift 450 lbs. To be sure, for the general population, just as strength training won’t turn you into an endurance athlete, it also won’t turn you into a sprinter. However, it will put some zip in your step and help you pop up out of your office chair or favorite recliner with more ease and power.
Strength training, then, is relatively low risk but high reward. Relative to other sports and exercises, strength training lacks the risk of injuries that may be caused by being hit by other athletes, by pounding the pavement, by incurring a repetitive stress injury, and by suddenly accelerating or changing directions (as in tennis or basketball). On the contrary, strength training leads to strength development. And, strength development enhances and prolongs our physical abilities.
Logic would have it that you are far less likely to get winded while climbing a set of stairs if you are able to squat twice your bodyweight. After all, if a 200 lbs man can squat 400 lbs, then how taxing would it be for that man to carry his own bodyweight up a flight of steps? Likewise, if you are able to bench as much or more (or significantly more) than your bodyweight, then chances are that you will have an easier time putting your hands out to catch yourself if you trip and fall. And, if you can deadlift more than double your bodyweight, then carrying bags of groceries should present relatively little challenge.
Putting It All Together
Physical strength is foundational. Although we cannot stop time, we can stay youthful. Building strength enables us to stay active, and staying active enables us to keep strong. Powerlifting is particularly effective here.
Squatting and deadlifting load the hips, and it is well documented that the “big three” help to build and preserve bone density. This is key, not least because of the severe danger of breaking a hip in our elder years. There is a striking connection between hip fractures and mortality. Breaking a hip often has fatal consequences for the elderly, at least in part because of the severe downward spiral that follows from the resulting lack of mobility and loss of ability. It is for these reasons that many older individuals who suffer a hip fracture die within a year of the injury.
Squats and deadlifts train the core in a functional manner, and the big three essentially train every major muscle group, particularly in a way that conditions these muscle groups to work in a synchronized fashion and enable the body to function as a well-coordinated unit. This is really important for balance, stability, and mobility, and it decreases the likelihood of a fall in the first place. However, anyone can trip on a shoelace or slip on a patch of ice, and should this occur, the higher bone density that powerlifting produces will make an individual more resilient to suffering a fracture.
Powerlifting is a mindful sport. It is the product of a deep understanding of physiology and biomechanics, and it is a brutally effective approach to safely and thoughtfully amassing a wealth of strength. The biggest barrier to entering powerlifting, arguably, is knowledge: the knowledge of how to perform a technically correct squat, bench press, and deadlift, and the knowledge of how to design a proper powerlifting training program.
Taking the time to acquire this knowledge, however, is a truly worthwhile investment. Why? The more strength that we build, the longer it will last. The longer that our strength lasts, the longer we will maintain our abilities. And, the longer that we keep our abilities, the longer it will take us to age. Indeed, that seemingly elusive fountain of youth might be as close by as the nearest squat rack.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Featured image via @steficohen on Instagram.