Author: Bryan Lang, PT, DPT, MHA, CSCS, Cert.DN: Doctor of Physical Therapy, Business Owner, Associate Professor, and Blog Contributor. Explores common client questions, helps find solutions for every day functional health concerns, and interprets difficult theories in healthcare rehabilitation. Committed to life-long learning and education. Learn moe about Bryan on Google+ .
Since I was 13, I have weight-trained with my dad. Sometimes, it was more “guy time” than serious weight lifting; a way to have quality one-on-one time with father and son. Some years were harder than others. When I was off in undergrad and graduate school, I didn’t live close enough to my dad to work out with him. However, during the holiday or summer break, I would be back in the gym I started working out in, working out with the same gym partner I had when I first started. I’ve watched my dad through the years adjust his exercise routine based on his abilities. As he’s become older, he’s had to lift less and less weight. I know it bothers him, but I also know that he realizes that this is a normal process. For him, weight training isn’t about having huge muscles and breaking records anymore, it’s about continuing to live a full and active lifestyle without be limited by muscle weakness.
Last week I was over at my parent’s house (they have a small gym with weights) working out with my dad when he said something in passing that I found completely profound. His quote went something like this, “I like to say weight training is for geezers because I believe it’s the only thing that’s kept me doing as much as I can do, now that I’m older.” On the surface, that statement doesn’t seem that odd for me as a physical therapist. I’ve read numerous evidence-based, scientific articles that state not only that older individuals should weight train, but also that, most times, physical therapists don’t push elderly clients hard enough just because they’re “older.” The reason why this message was so profound for me was that it came from my dad, a 72 year old man, who has dedicated his life to being a college counselor. His feelings about exercise come from personal experiences and what other individuals he’s worked out with have told him. The statement “weightlifting is for geysers” threw me because this is the exact opposite mindset that I deal with every day. Most people I talk to about weight training believe they are too old to start or that it doesn’t make a difference because as we get older, we lose muscle. However, here was a guy who was saying the exact opposite, very casually, without giving it a second thought.
I think that the main reason why my dad continues to work out is because it has become a habit in his life. It’s ingrained in him and it has become almost second nature. While a majority of this may be true, it doesn’t compute with other people I have treated in physical therapy. I have countless reports of clients telling me how strong they were “back in the day.” They tell me about the records they had broken and how they used to be “gym rats” dedicated to exercising consistently. When I dig a little deeper and ask them what sort of exercises they are doing now, many of them tell me they are doing little to nothing. In my head, that makes me think, “what happened?” What changed to cause this person to go from regularly exercising for many years, to next to nothing? I think the answer lies in value.
I use my dad as an example to clients in physical therapy a lot as someone who is a “perfect client.” I’m not biased. In fact, most of the time I don’t like treating family because they aren’t perfect; far from it. They don’t always follow the routine that I lay out for them and that can be frustrating, especially when it’s your family. Any physical therapist reading this can relate with me. My dad is a “perfect client” because when I give him an exercise to do and how often to do it, he does it exactly like I tell him to. Not only does he do them, but he continues to do them, even after he isn’t in pain anymore. He builds it into his lifestyle, so he can keep doing it without making it a “big deal.”
My dad has actually restored my faith in some of the exercises I’ve given to other people. Sometimes, I would give exercises that I know in theory should work to get back the strength or range of motion that I am looking for, but the person doesn’t get the results that I am expecting from the exercise. I’ll change the exercise and do manual work on them myself and sometimes that works, but other times it still doesn’t. I’ve given some of those same exercises to my dad, sometimes just in passing. He’ll come back a couple weeks later and show me that he can complete the exercise the way it should be done, even if he doesn’t like doing it.
What makes my dad different from those clients I treat, who no longer exercise, lies in the fact that my dad understands the true value of exercise and weightlifting. That’s not to say people who don’t exercise don’t know that it’s important, it’s that he sees the deeper value in it. My dad raised two children, worked a full-time job where he had to drive 50 minute both ways to get to work, and drove both me and my sister to a variety of sporting and social events after school and on weekends. He had all the normal reasons to stop exercising. He’s busy with work and family. But he still didn’t stop exercising, because he understood its overarching value. The quote that sums this up is “it’s not about having time, it’s about making time.” We make time for things that we consider valuable. A person can exercise, recognize that it’s important, but not really consider it truly valuable to him or herself. Maybe exercise was once valuable to the individual, but their values changed and exercise was no longer an important aspect. Maybe people think that they’re already strong, and that strength will carry them through the rest of their life. I can tell you, it will not.
My dad used to compete in power-lifting and as I was I growing up, he was the strongest guy I knew. Now, his routine has changed and the weight he lifts is less. I see him now as someone who is even stronger than man I knew as a child. The truth is, there will always be someone stronger, faster, or bigger than you. What makes my dad a superhero in my eyes is how he exercises now. He exercises they way it should be done at a critical time in his life. At a time when other people give up, they stop, they can’t keep going. My dad has never wavered, and in my eyes, that’s exactly what a superhero is. “Exercise is for geezers.” I’ll keep that in mind when I’m 72 and considering if I should still go to the gym or not.