Sunday, April 27, 2008

Strength -- What is it good for?

What's the purpose of training to get really strong? That was a question posed to me recently by several of my friends.

In my local circle of friends, no one lifts weights. At least not with a program or plan. ...or any real weight to speak of. My friends typically run, cycle, swim, yoga, walk, and "go to the gym." Those who "go to the gym," tend toward ellipticals, treadmills, step machines, and the cycles. In this group, we've got a couple of marathon runners and a triathlete. A few are in decent shape.

I don't think any of my friends thinks it's strange that I lift weights. But, recently, they've become aware of my shoulder pain and have seen my hands with torn calluses. These things shine more of a light on my activities in the gym and bring up some questions.

The shoulder thing is easier to dismiss, since even sedentary people can get shoulder pain. Plus, golf, tennis, and inline skating are all good ways to end up with pain in the shoulders; it's unlikely that they'd question why I was doing those activities.

Bandaged hands are harder to explain away. "Why don't you wear gloves?" is the first thing I hear. Well, my first ripped callus was while wearing gloves, anyway. Repeated heavy dumbbell snatches ripped the callus right off, right underneath the glove. That was actually what made me finally decide to try gloveless for a while. If the gloves weren't keeping my hands blood free, why bother?

Outside of the weighlifting community, no one buys the idea that you can lift heavier weights without gloves. I'm not sure I buy it 100%, either. But, I have used that response, nevertheless. I get rolled eyes and things like that.

That answer, though, sometimes leads to the question of why I'd want to keep lifting heavier and heavier weights, anyway. A weight like 400lbs is an amount that means nothing to most of these people. They don't know how much they can lift, themselves, so that's a fantasy number, at best. To some, that is an awful lot. But, isn't that more than enough? Not if I want to keep getting stronger and/or compete in something.

That's my second response to the lack of gloves, actually -- If I ever want to compete in something, I have to be able to lift without gloves. That brought up a while different line of questioning that actually more interesting...

After they get over the surprise that I'd even want to compete in something like that (Why don't they question my friend Jeff about running his marathon?), the tend to ask roughly the same things, so I'll paraphrase, once again. "What good is it to be that strong?" and "What's the attraction to being that strong?" are the two basic questions.

Let me say that no one questions the impressiveness of being strong. Most just think it's useless. "What do you do with that strength in real life?" Nothing, hopefully. Other than being a furniture mover, what's the real life usefulness of great strength these days? I can't think of too much in the modern day. Of course, I can't think of a lot of uses for running a marathon's distance or being able to finish a triathlon, either.

There seems to be a ranking system as far as fitness, training, and sports activities and athletes go. The more perceived skill involved, the higher the ranking. The more agility and "talent" involved, the higher the ranking, too. Gymnastics and figure skating are up near the top, while Powerlifting, Strongman, and Sumo rank pretty low. Olympic lifting seems to get a pass, somehow.

Talk about useless skills! I have pushed a stranger's pickup out of the street and moved my whole condo worth of furniture, both without help, but I can't think of a time when being able to snatch something overhead would have saved the day, much less have I seen the need for some of those crazy gymnastics or skating moves.

So, what is the usefulness of all that great strength? Despite the fact that it's all physical, I think it comes down to a mental and emotional thing. Building and using great strength is something now useless in modern society and civilization, but some of us were bred for it. There are no blacksmiths anymore. And farmers are using machines for the heaviest lifting. Warriors can be any size and strength, as long as you have eyes to aim and a finger to pull the trigger.

The strength sports are a necessary outlet for those people who might have once been looked to to hold the enemy back on the battlefield, help with the big barn raising, the tree felling, and the removal of a unfortunately located bolder in the middle of farmer Jones's field.

Also, in the olden days, most men had something physical that they had to do around the house. But, modern society has eliminated the need to sweat. Speaking for myself, I have someone to mow my lawn and remove my trees, my roof was fixed by someone else, and we all know how easy it is to just get in the car and drive, rather than hoof it to the store. Does not doing these things leave a whole in your life?

I've never been very athletic, so it's been a new experience to use my body for something purely physical. Lifting heavy weights and doing hard work has become satisfying. I helped my friend move her house the other day, for instance. I used to hate moving days, but not so much, anymore. Moving my friend's bed and dresser didn't exactly feel primal, but that's the closest I'm probably going to come to that "hero" feeling, lacking some sort of natural disaster or cataclysm in my lifetime.


  1. Nice post Roland. It doesn't matter that getting stronger might not have many real world applications, I agree. It is fun, and satisfying to get stronger, set goals, achieve them and the like.

    As for gloves, well they technically increase the diameter of what you are gripping, making it harder.

  2. Uhm, strong does so have legitimate desirable real world applications....

    Who do you think is gonna carry the loads of stuff you have to buy for me through the mall? You didn't think *I* was gonna carry it did you? And if you *can't* carry it? Well, what good are ya then?

    Seriously though, genetically speaking, strength, the ability to protect the female and offspring, is required for survival of the species. Quite a useful trait I'd say.

    That male V shape women are attracted to indicates genetic "superiority" or strength the same way the waist/hip ratio indicates fertility and/or the ability to produce offspring does in women.

    So, redlefty is correct.

  3. It will come in handy in old age, too:

    - Weak old person: trips, falls, breaks hip, homebound, depressed, miserable, hip replacement, rehab... and so on.
    - Strong old person: trips, falls, gets up.

  4. hey - you have a daughter who will be dating in a few years - think marathon man will give any of the boys pause? but Built Dad ...


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