Weight Training or Moving Furniture: Which is More Challenging?

There are a lot of reasons why a regular fitness program is beneficial, regardless if you are a 20-year-old or someone who qualifies for senior citizen discounts. Resistance and aerobic exercise helps build muscle and stamina, improves general physical and emotional health, helps you lose unwanted weight, and particularly for older people, increases the quality of life, fending off the effects of aging.

But another reason why I workout is so I can move furniture. Actually, it’s so I can do more and help more as I get older.

Last weekend, my son David and I helped my other son Michael move out of his place. That involved schlepping lots of boxes and furniture from his basement apartment up a long driveway to David’s truck and my van. Most of it was a bit of a chore but nothing I couldn’t manage.

But Michael also had two big, heavy recliner sofas he wanted to donate to a local charity.

These two pieces of furniture were probably 20 or more years old and because of the metal hardware that goes along with recliners, they were particularly heavy. They were also odd-shaped, making them difficult to hold and angle in order to get them out Michael’s front door. This involved not only lifting and carrying but holding and gripping while maneuvering the furniture.

older weight trainerIt’s times like this that test what I’ve actually accomplished in my gym routine. It’s one thing to chart your progress by how many reps you can do in a set of bench presses or lat pulldowns, but the true challenge is to see how you perform in “real life” lifting.

Fortunately, David backed his pickup down the driveway so we didn’t have too far to carry the sofas. But the effort of holding them for so long as we struggled to get past the front door and then my holding up my end while David lifted his up into the truck took its toll. After minutes holding up whatever amount of weight this monster represented as David tried to angle the bigger of the two sofas into his truck bed, I was about ready to lose my grip, and Michael, who doesn’t work out, had to give me a hand.

Together, Michael and I were able to muscle the sofa into the back of the truck as David guided the weight.

But this example, plus repeating the performance with the smaller of the two sofas, taught me a few things. The first is that David is still stronger than I am by far. David hasn’t been to the gym with me in quite a while, but he still works out at home doing calisthenics and body weight workouts such as those illustrated in this book.

I’ve mentioned before that David served in the U.S. Marines and much of what he knows about fitness and working out, he learned during his service. But his time on active duty also resulted in a number of physical injuries that were no doubt aggravated by what he did helping Michael move.

Another thing I learned is that working out at the gym is no guarantee that I’ll become “Superman” or “the Incredible Hulk”. What I get out of my exercise program is what I put into it. If you want to be stronger, you’ll have to work stronger…that is, up to a point.

As I mentioned above, I learned that a younger man doing the same sort of routine in the gym will still probably be stronger than an older man, although I can hardly compare what David does to my workout since they are so different. Like it or not though, age matters.

This isn’t to say that I can’t get stronger or build up more endurance, but sooner or later, I will hit a practical limit. Just as I did when I was walking, the law of diminishing results will come back to haunt me.

pushing rockBut not to be such a “gloomy Gus,” there’s also the thought that I have no idea of how I’d have performed if I wasn’t going to the gym five or six days a week. I have to remind myself that I was holding up that end of the couch for several minutes at a time, both in carrying it and just standing still and keeping it off the ground while maneuvering it through the door or into the truck bed. Without being as fit as I am (for whatever that’s worth), maybe I wouldn’t have been able to hold it up for as long or even at all.

In the video of Gus I posted the other day, it said one of the results of her weight training was that this 91-year-old woman was able to put her walker away in a closet because she didn’t need it anymore. She got strong enough to be able to stand up and walk without assistance.

Most people would probably assume that a person her age who needed a walker was always going to need a walker, that she couldn’t get stronger or better because she was so old.

But her amazing example shows us that anyone can get stronger, maybe not as strong as a younger person, but stronger than what we are now. Moving my son over the weekend showed me that I’m strong, maybe not as strong as David, but I can do stuff. By persisting with my program, sticking with it and continuing to challenge myself, I know I’ll hit a limit at some point, but who knows how far I can still go and how far away that limit is? The next time I’m called upon to be strong outside the gym, maybe I’ll be able to do more than I did just a few days ago.

Oh, and no, I’m not saying I can lift anywhere near the weight you see displayed at the top of the page. I just liked the visual effect. Maybe I never will be able to lift something so massive, but if I keep setting goals and shooting for them, there’s no telling how far I can get. The same goes for you.

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Mark Twain


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