The other day I received this great question about not becoming stronger for the sake of being stronger, but for the greatest of health.
My most burning question is about how to achieve and maintain strength for health, not necessarily for performance. How strong is strong enough? How little time can be devoted to strength so that the return for time invested isn’t diminishing. I’d like to be strong enough to be healthy with plenty of time and energy left for fun activities other than exercising–dancing, martial arts…
It’s an important question because those things are actually quite different.
Look at a power lifter. Some of the highest levels of strength that allow people to squat or deadlift over 1000 lbs. That is strong. But is it healthy?
Probably not. For a couple of reasons…
Those people are heavyweights. Even if it is all muscle mass, and not fat (which isn’t the case) the more tissue there is the more metabolic demand on the body there is. Obviously a greater than average level of muscle mass is healthy, but bodybuilder size is probably not if you want to live a long healthy life. It’s just plain more work for the body.
Secondly, while they’re great at lifting heavy things, for the vast majority of them, they have overall poor movement quality. Great at the Big 3 but only by sacrificing the thousands of possible other movements the body can do.
For health, yes you want strength but I would look equally at the other qualities of athleticism:
For health I would say you’d want some balance of all of the above, along with strength. What the ideal balance of those things is hard to say, but overall it would probably mean more time focused on movement quality and ability than just on “strength training”.
If you stick to some of the strength basics, such as the powerlifts, it could really be done in probably less than half an hour a week.
But other movement and training needs to be added to that. If you’re doing the fun activities you mentioned like martial arts and dancing you’re certainly going to be moving in useful ways. But even there you’re not necessarily hitting everything.
In my opinion, the most essential things for health is:
1) Full range of mobility across all joints
2) Basic levels of flexibility like doing a rock bottom squat, toe touch, back bridge, etc.
3) Basic foundations of strength and endurance.
I like how Earle E. Liederman put it in his 1926 book Endurance:
“Every man should be able to save his own life. He should be able to swim far enough, run fast and long enough to save his life in case of emergency and necessity. He also should be able to chin himself a reasonable number of times, as well as to dip a number of times, and he should be able to jump a reasonable height and distance.”
I would also add to this list being able to pick up something relatively heavy off the ground (after all someone could be trapped under it). They use to call the deadlift the health lift for a reason too.
Once you can do these things maintenance of them is actually pretty easy to do.
I do believe you’re always getting better or worse, there is no standing still, but you can pursue progress at just a half hour to an hour a week or so.
I just wanted to say thank you!
This is an excellent article that is very well thought out, when it would be VERY easy to inject your own personal opinions, but you didn’t! You kept it very factual while including an antidote from a reputable source. When I first started reading it I was very skeptical and thought that you would belittle him or poke fun at him. I was pleasantly disappointed. Even though your focus is strength I like how you did not dismiss his question when he brought up health, nor did you only focus on only the strength portion. You gave him the additional information that was needed to sufficiently provide a solid foundation to build your answer on. I love your articles and appreciate the wisdom that you are sharing. Keep up the GREAT work.
Thanks Jordan, I appreciate the feedback.
I completely recognize that pursuing super ridiculous levels of strength isn’t for everyone 😉
Great article, I think this is where I have always wanted to be. Spending an enormous amount of time on one topic has always sounded scary to me, because I have never only enjoyed one activity. I’ve always struggled to focus most of my time on one exercise. This is basically what I would like to achieve.
I changed my training a couple of years ago now from mainly strength training with a couple of sports. I was training for the sake of training most of the time. Now I train more like Mark Sisson advises, to be strong & fit enough to do the things I like to do. Less strength training & more speed, hiit, variety & things I love like kite surfing, hiking, skiing, ect.
I’m leaner & fitter at 53 than I’ve ever been. Less injuries as well.