FITNESS OVER 50: Why I Like Weight Training

Steve Maxwell with weight plateAs far as I can tell, the height of my physical fitness happened in November 1982 when I was 19. Or at least that’s one time I noticed a particular pinnacle of fitness. I’d been going to college for a few months at the time, and I’d been in the college gym lifting weights three times a week. My pinnacle moment happened when I was on a hike in the countryside 4 or 5 miles from my parents’ suburban home where I was living. I’d asked a local farmer if I could walk his land and forest, and he’d  given me permission to cut firewood, bringing it back to burn in the fireplace at my parents’ house. Even back then, living in the city as I was, I needed rural experiences.

On the day I’m telling you about I was wearing a heavy canvas knapsack,  walking back to the car to drive home after several hours in the forest. It was getting dark and I was already late for a dinner date when I remembered I’d forgotten my axe in the forest. That’s when I started to run back to get it.

The thing about weight training is that you don’t expect it to help you run better. It makes you stronger, sure, but not necessarily for running, right? That’s where I was wrong and why I was surprised. I ran and ran and ran with the heavy knapsack on my back and I almost didn’t get tired for the half mile or so to get where the axe was lying on the ground. I ran all the way back to the car and I felt like a super hero on a good day. It was great. My legs did what legs are supposed to do. My arms and back and shoulders hardly even noticed the knapsack. All this wasn’t just because I was 19, either. I’d run before and it hurt. I was surprised how strong I was. The training had paid off. If no one ever got tired running, would anyone ever walk?

Steve with stoneFast-forward 35 years and I’ve been reminded again about the value of strength training with weights. My life here on our Manitoulin Island homestead has plenty of built-in exercise, but there are two reasons it’s not as good as intentional weight training. First, a lifestyle of exercise doesn’t always happen regularly. I might work hard outside for a week cutting firewood or doing stonework, then spend most of each day at the computer the next week. Fitness goes up, fitness goes down. Also, the exercise of work doesn’t necessarily cover all the muscular bases.  Fixing cedar rail fences or building a corral for cattle provides good overall exercise, but it’s not going to work your arms or legs hard.

So what has reminded me of the value of intentional weight training? My son Robert. He’s 27 now, he lives in a house he built in a forested corner of our homestead property with his wife, Edyta and their daughter, Lily, born in August 2017. Robert has taken weight training seriously for years now, and he’s gotten pretty good at it. He’s huge and strong and knows all the right techniques. He even coaches people professionally in person and online by video with the barbells and equipment we’ve got in the limestone basement I built back in the late 1980s. This is the same weight equipment that his brother, Joseph, used to get strong enough to set new Canadian records for shot put before he went to the University of Tennessee to throw for that school. I happen to be one of Robert’s coaching students now, and I’m impressed to feel what 30 minutes of weight training four times a week can do for a guy over 50. I didn’t think I needed exercise, but I see now that I did need the right kind of exercise.

I’m told that the older you get, the more important weight training becomes. This is especially true for men. Testosterone levels can start to decline significantly after 50, but weight training is the most sustainable and effective way to keep the good stuff flowing through your veins. I’ve lifted weights before, but there’s something especially valuable about having Robert as a coach and lifting partner. He keeps me consistent in my workouts when other tasks might distract me away from the weights. Robert is also really good teaching what he does. It’s both satisfying and humbling to have a child of your own get better at something than you are. Besides, it’s good to spend time with Robert in our homestead gym. Years ago we started calling this place “The Man Factory”, and that’s the name Robert chose for his online strength training business. Click here and you can see what he’s up to at Sign up for Robert’s free newsletter and get lots of tips on making the most of yourself physically.

If a doctor handed you a bottle of pills that would make you feel like a fit 20 year old, would you take them? “One pill, four times a week”, the prescription would read. “Just know that it takes 30 minutes to swallow the pill.” That’s the way I look at my weight sessions. Open the bottle, take half an hour to gulp down the pill, then enjoy the benefits all week long. Everything in the world you need to pick up gets lighter. Everywhere you need to walk becomes easier. Every time you flex your arm you feel something good between your elbow and shoulder. And to be honest, I even find there’s something deeply satisfying about swallowing the “strength training pill”, too. A little bit of lifting is a good way to spend time, especially when you’ve got a good coach.