Getting Stronger Forever
Ron HarrisIs it possible?
When we start training, a magical thing happens. Our bodies, struggling to adapt to the new challenges posed by hefting unwieldy iron, grow bigger and stronger as a result of just about every workout. A weight we could hardly budge in the beginning is an easy warmup months later. Nothing, of course, lasts forever, and after a couple of years progress slows considerably.
Eventually it becomes exceedingly difficult to use more weight. After about five to 10 years most trainees find that they either have reached their full potential or aren’t willing to make the herculean effort necessary to make any further progress. Training systems like DC have stirred interest with the theory that no matter how long you’ve been training, you must still make strength gains your main goal if you want to keep growing. “A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle” sums it up pretty well.
There’s a lot to be said for that idea, and thousands of bodybuilders have applied the concept successfully. One question, however, has always nagged the back of my mind: Is it truly possible to increase strength forever? Wouldn’t there be a lot of guys handling 300-pound dumbbells for presses and squatting 1,500 pounds for reps? But let’s set that aside for a moment. The real reason I’ve been pondering the issue is that I’ve been plagued by several injuries that make it impossible for me to make progress on some free-weight movements.
Back in the day, full squats with 500 pounds and rack deadlifts with 700 were no big deal for me. Now I wonder if I’ll ever be able to hit those numbers again. Twenty-five years of heavy lifting have taken their toll on my lower back, shoulders, hips and elbows. Fortunately, being no stranger to injuries, aches and pains, I know just how to work around them so I don’t miss any training—God forbid! Techniques like preexhaustion, drop sets and slowing the rep speed to focus on the contraction go a long way toward making a moderate weight feel heavy. Wonder of wonders, I’m still able to make progress. Considering how long I’ve been doing that, my age—39—and the fact that I gave up performance-enhancing drugs in February 2006, that ain’t too shabby.
Here’s what I’m getting at: If you can continue to increase your strength, assuming you’re using more moderate rep ranges and not the one-to-three range favored by powerlifters and other strength athletes, go for it. If injury or other limiting factors prevent you from adding a little more weight to your exercises on a consistent basis, however, you don’t have to give up hope of making progress with your physique. A stronger muscle is a bigger muscle, but getting stronger isn’t the only way to stimulate muscle growth.