Vail Daily column: Getting up for longevity
I have been swimming upstream for several years educating the public on what fitness is. The longest standing battle I fight on a daily basis is the definition of what strength training is. I’ve gotten into heated discussions about the poor state of strength training and how fitness apparently correlates exclusively to aerobic development. The vast majority of health enthusiasts still place far too much emphasis on cardiorespiratory exercise at the expense of movement therapy and quality strength training. I read an article that was recently published that may once and for all put a nail in the coffin against these flaws in exercise design.
Finally, a good study has been executed in predicting longevity. Researchers followed 2,002 adults ages 51 to 80 for an average of 6.3 years to assess their ability to get down and up off of the floor. At the outset, each study volunteer was asked to sit down on the floor and then get up, using the least amount of support from hands, knees and other body parts. During the course of the study, 159 of the volunteers died; the vast majority of the deaths in this group had the most trouble getting up and down. A person’s score matched well with risk of death. People who needed assistance getting up were seven times more likely to die during the course of the study, compared to people who could get up unassisted.
“Just two subjects that scored well died in the follow-up of about six years,” said Claudio Gil Soares de Araujo, a professor at Gama Filho University in Rio de Janeiro who worked on the study. If someone between the ages of 51 and 80 scored well, “the chances of being alive in the next six years are quite good,” he said.
Even though I have stood on the hilltops preaching the necessity for people to practice get-ups in their exercise program, this isn’t an article confirming my bias towards this great exercise. The purpose of this message is to once again suggest that people must focus on movement health and strength training as they age as it appears this could be the key to living a long productive life.
WHAT IS STRENGTH?
Furthermore, getting up off of the floor has nothing to do with anything else but mobility and strength application. I make no apologies either about what isn’t strength training. Pilates isn’t strength training. Curling 5-pound dumbbells for 15 repetitions isn’t strength training. Skate skiing, as much as it fires your legs and activates your glutes, isn’t strength training. Barre classes don’t do a darn thing for strength acquisition. This isn’t a knock on these programs by the way. I sincerely admire these practices and they absolutely have merit for what they are. But these programs don’t address strength, which is the productive application of force through a large range of motion for an extremely short period of time.
Curling 5-pound dumbbells might be a strength exercise for someone who is unacceptably weak. But if you can perform 15 repetitions during an exercise, the weight just isn’t heavy enough to cause a strength adaptation. It will make your arms sore and give you the feeling of accomplishment, but it won’t necessarily make you much stronger. When a weight is light enough to perform several repetitions, you aren’t recruiting your type 2 muscle fibers that are responsible for producing high levels of force. You end up recruiting your type 1 muscle fibers that are needed for endurance as they have a higher red blood cell and mitochondria count to assist in longer duration efforts. Very well established research has noted that if a weight is light enough to perform as little as 6 to 8 repetitions, the weight is too light in recruiting the powerful type 2 muscle fibers. The one to five repetition range is where strength acquisition occurs. It’s that simple. If there is a pose in Barre class that you can only do one to five repetitions before absolute muscular failure, I’m all ears.
All of this being said, do you need to train in the one to five repetition range to produce enough strength to get up off the floor unassisted? Absolutely not! I’m merely making the point that if you cannot get up off of the floor unassisted, it’s unquestionable that it’s because of a mobility and strength dysfunction. If we know that the most efficient training methodology for strength adaptation occurs using heavy weights in the one to five repetition range, why waste your precious time training with light weights in the hopes you magically become stronger? We must not play the age card here either. I have seen people well into their late 70s, picking up very heavy weights effectively producing high levels of strength without hurting themselves. For the record, I have a client who is 156 pounds, 59 years old and can pick up 385 pounds from the ground. That’s not a typo.
This article has some in-your-face comments that might be offensive. That’s fine. I’m just a professional fitness enthusiast that is tired of swimming upstream. It’s time to put aside the nonsense and understand that from my experience, mobility and strength is always the gap in people’s fitness. Especially here in the Vail Valley, it’s never endurance or the ability to impress your friends with how many watts you’re putting out on your bicycle. Get into a good yoga class and get moving well and start lifting some heavy weights and maybe you’ll have a better chance sticking around for a while! Let’s keep talking.
Ryan Richards has a B.S. from Ohio University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is the personal trainer at the Sonnenalp Golf Club and the owner of R2HP, a personal training company. Contact him at http://www.r2hp.com or 970-401-0720.