Change: Strength, Strength, And The Difference Between The Two

Pound Control To Major Tom

I enjoy being strong.  I love that in the 15 times I have moved my residence in my adult life, with each new move involving increasingly greater quantities of crap, I have acted as my own moving crew.  I can count on one hand, the number of instances when I have required help moving an object from one home to another.  This includes furniture, appliances, overloaded boxes of books, and those dreaded potted trees.  Yes, I love being strong, and it has served me well through all of my moves – and beyond.

My quest for strength began as a bodybuilding teenager in the 1970s.  Really my quest was for cute girls by way of a better looking body; my new strength would just be a functional by-product of that quest.  Over the years I would gain a lot of strength and learn to enjoy it, and even exploit it at times.  Strong became my synonym for control; the ability to control my body in a time of genuine need. 

Trying hard at 13...

A Slow Transition

At some point, after years of eating countless egg whites, after thousands of squats and bench presses performed, it occurred to me; I was never going to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger. And even if I were to become the next him, how long could I sustain all that meat upon my bones?  It was this tipping point, when I chose to accept that I was no longer a bodybuilder.  Rather, I began to classify myself as a fitness enthusiast.  This “tipping point” however, was really an arc 20 years in the making.

Was still trying at 47...

Bodybuilding, Growth, And Sustainable Fitness

Bodybuilding is not necessarily fitness, and fitness is not necessarily bodybuilding.  Though the concept of fitness and the act of bodybuilding have many common threads and similar requirements, one need only to Google the term, dead bodybuilder to appreciate some possible disconnects between the two. 

This is not to suggest that all bodybuilders are on a road to early death.  It is more an illumination on what goes wrong when things are taken to extremes.  I eventually came to see bodybuilding, at least in the hardcore sense, as extreme and not sustainable.  Fitness, I came to reason through this 20-year arc, could be sustainable for a lifetime.

The brothers, Mentzer. Pro bodybuilding's two-dead-young-bodybuilders-for-the-price-of-one scenario...

Greed For Life

I’m not much for letting go.  That is, once I take possession of something, I will relinquish it only to that force which can pry it away from me.  This personality defect has forged a supreme decision making value within me; I pursue only that which I believe I can keep forever, and I avoid anything which I feel I might be able to obtain, but not hold on to.  Fortunately, my fitness – my ability to control my body in a time of need, falls into the former.  Bodybuilding fell into the latter and was very hard to let go.  Despite leaving the concept of bodybuilding behind, as well as the gym-strength which went with it, I have managed to keep my everyday-life strength as a fitness enthusiast.   

Strength & Control, In And Out Of The Gym

At one point in my mid-twenties, I bench pressed nearly 400 pounds, did squats with 500+, and even did bicep curls on occasion with 135 pounds. Because of this strength, I was a lead player in many of the gyms I frequented. And despite the popular edict to the contrary, all that gym strength did translate very well outside the gym; moving dressers, sofas, and the like.

Today I seldom put more than 150 pounds on the bench press, squat with my bodyweight plus maybe an extra hundred or so pounds, and I do bicep curls with the equvialnt weight of a small Pug in each hand.  Still, I move dressers, sofas, and the like just as well today as I did in my Hercules days.  My strength outside the gym is as good as ever.  This strength has little to do with how much weight I lift, and much more to do with how well I lift it

Hard Words Which Contradict Prior Hard Words

I would destroy Stephen Hawking in a cage match, and only the village idiot would bet against me.  Still, my contributions to mankind have been weak by comparison.  What I do have though, what I can offer is my strength.  And while I may not be able to solve the problems of the world, I relish being able walk a flight of stairs with my bike in one hand and a 25 pound back pack in the other.  More to the point, when a client recently fell in my studio, I was grateful I could help him back to his feet.   

To many, physical strength doesn’t seem to matter much – it’s an afterthought, something to be considered or even (occasionally) addressed in order to placate inadequate feelings of one’s lack of conditioning.  Okay, so here come my hard words:  So long as we are able to do so, developing and maintaining our physical strength is our responsibility. 

Owning one’s physical strength benefits us, not just as individuals in the case of carrying one’s own bike, but in many other ways.  Cultivating and sustaining our strength may not be helping mankind on a Stephen Hawking level, but can help on a level which is much more local and much more personal; such as helping up a fallen spouse, or helping someone less able move one of those dreaded potted trees.  Be well, be able.  rc

11 responses

  1. If you pulled 1,000 people, I wonder, if they answered truthfully, how many would say they lift weights to gain/sustain strength. Like you, my motivation for weight training in my twenties was to look my best. Now that I am 45, my motivations, like yours have changed. I don’t want to have to rely on other people. I don’t want to wait for my husband to come home from work if I want to clean behind the refrigerator, etc… To me, that makes the hours I spend with my trainer and at the gym well worth the effort.

  2. This strength has little to do with how much weight I lift, and much more to do with how well I lift it.

    Roy, of course I love that quote above & so true!

    I loved your 13 year old pic.. quite a pose! 🙂 But the whole meaning behind this post is CRUCIAL! Strength is so important & the older I get, the more I realize that I am lucky I found weights! I see myself doing things that people 30-40 can’t do.

    Yes, being able to help others, keeping osteoporosis away, making sure when we fall at an older age (or just don’t fall) that we survive it & so many more important things as well.

    I did the amateur bodybuilding thing in my late 30’s. I won BUT I realized that it was not sustainable long term & of course I was NOT going to do drugs. Even at the amateur level, the dieting & some of the other stuff – not great for the bod. BUT I did it, I felt a sense of accomplishment & moved on.

    Roy, my mom was very active as she aged. Before her death, she was walking up a VERY STEEP hill to classes at a local junior college, just to keep her mind active too. The only way she knew something was wrong with her was when what used to be a good workout for her up that hill became a walk thru mud.. she could not make it up & knew something was wrong. That started the doctor appts that lead to her cancer diagnosis. I know, a sad story, BUT many might not have even realized something was wrong.

    Thx for this post Roy!

  3. Jody: I had planned a lengthy response to this comment, but I am currently in Las Vegas, visiting my father who resides here in a nursing home. I will leave tomorrow smelling like smoke. Coming from Vegas, that is not a surprise. What is a surprise is that the smoke is not the result of my hotel room, but the result of spending my day on a nursing home patio with a handful of 90-year-old smokers in a nursing home. I am overwhelmed.

    I know this has noting to do with your comment, but I knew you would be willing to listen — thank you.

    Drugs in bodybuilding = bad. Yes, been there, no drugs for me, therefore no trophies. Starvation in bodybuilding = worse than drugs. Craziness. Yet at the time, it seemed so right.

  4. I don’t know how I missed this post previously, but I am glad I found it today.

    First of all, cool pictures. Secondly, I love your mantra on perfect form. So much of the time you hear about how much so and so can lift, you get asked how much you can lift during various exercises. It’s always “how much?” Why not “how well” or “what form”?

    I didn’t realize how important form was. I mean really, really realize it until recently. Thank you for opening up my eyes to that importance.

    Lastly, I would beg to differ with you on your contribution to mankind. What you are doing here with your blog and your advice is changing lives. It’s quite simple. One person reads here, really “gets” it and then is a good example to others in the gym and in society. Your contribution in helping just a few (or hundreds) on your blog has now turned into helping potentially thousands+. So don’t sell yourself short.

    P.S. Body builders and dying early in life? I had no idea this was more of a reality. Kind of sad, really. Reminds me of all the t.v. wrestlers my brother and I used to watch as a kid that seemed to die relatively young.

  5. Bobbie: You missed this post because it was supposed to be posted next week. Ooops on me, the moron who needs you to create a better website for me. Paperwork to follow 🙂

    Form really makes a difference on many levels; not the least of which is it really does keep risk of injury minimal. Secondarily, but close behind, connecting with good form tuns the workout into art — a creative, though physical release. In the gym, time stands still for me. I think that has a lot to do with my workouts being more of an artistic statement to myself.

    One thing that is being considered more with regard to dead bodybuilders isn’t even drug related. More and more, people are looking to the extreme amounts of protein ingested by serious bodybuilders. This can cause severe kidney dysfunction on levels that a mild steroid regimen won’t approach. Protein yes, but some bodybuilders eat up to 300-500 grams per day.

  6. There was a television challenge show last year where they had the participants try and rescue a loved one from a car and drag them 30 feet. The participants were all a bit overweight but not TOO much! None of them could do it.

    Then the show taught them how to eat, and trained them for 6 – 8 weeks. Then they had them do it again. The participants didn’t lose tons of weight during the time, but they gained a lot of strength. Most of them could do the challenge.

    This post was great!

  7. FIFTEEN TIMES? Goodness. Definitely gotta have energy to manage that!

    I really like this- it’s a good reminder that the emphasis is on making us the best we can be, not trying to “lose weight” or “get skinny” and that kind of thing. It’s about becoming stronger and more physically capable.

  8. Dr. J: I would think being married to one of the smartest, most sought after men alive, and who is unable to do anything for himself, might be prohibitive. A footnote: I think Stephen Hawking would have a hard time adapting to the currently in-vogue single-page resume format 😉

    Diane: I did not see that TV show but it sounds very interesting. Somewhat related to your comment, I prioritize these aspects of fitness in this order: Balance, flexibility, stamina, and strength. I place strength last because you can’t do much with it without the others.

    Sagan: Truly, “the best we can be” . I hate the Army for stealing that from me 😉 I do believe though, that being the best we can be is our responsibility — to our family, our community, or coworkers, and to ourselves.

    Carla: I’m glad the words had meaning for you!

  9. Great post, Roy……..”…Olga, Hand me that Piano!!!”
    I had to move my Steinway and we did it with me (61 years old) and two 30-year-old men HELPING me. Felt pretty good to be so strong and not feel ‘it’ the next day. Thanks to you Roy….

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