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I can remember as an early teen lifting a barbell at one of my friends’ house — an exercise designed chiefly to identify the wussiest of our pack based on the amount of iron he could raise over his head. It was not a comfortable moment for a scrawny kid like myself, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that real strength training is a good deal more sophisticated — and quite a lot less intimidating.

Of course, that’s not to say I have much of a clue about this stuff. Take last night at the gym, for instance. After 25 minutes on the new elliptical machine (much easier on the knees than the treadmill), I shuffled over to the weight room and, as is my habit, surveyed the machines to see what was available. Rather than move from one machine to the next in an orderly fashion, designed to strategically work specific muscle groups, I tend to just wander from one machine to the other based on which one is open — sort of a half-hearted version of circuit training — but without a real plan.

Creating Muscle Energy

What I have noticed in the year since I started doing this stuff semi-regularly is how good my body feels after each session, how the muscles I’ve been working seem to be generating their own kind of energy. I’m as vain as the next geezer; it’s gratifying to see a little bit of definition here and there on my formerly floppy triceps and sagging pectorals. But, what really keeps me coming back to these machines is the knowledge that strength training is vital to your overall health in a way that simply bicycling — or even walking — isn’t.

All those activities are helpful, of course, but strength training does stuff at the cellular level that can boost immunity, build bone density, and even ease stress.

Plus, you don’t really have to lift hundreds of pounds of weight in order to have a good result. So, when I set the lat pull-down machine to 70 pounds and do three sets of 10 reps, I know I’m doing myself some good — even if it may not look that impressive to the guy yanking 150 pounds on the machine next door.

Sure, I’m a piker compared to most of the young bucks in this room, but this isn’t really a competition — unless you count the battle between the sort-of-healthy guy I am now and the really healthy guy I’d like to become.

Thoughts to share?

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