IT DOESN'T GET EASIER,
YOU JUST GET STRONGER
Perspectives on Long Term Dedicated Strength and Fitness Training on Health and Longevity
BY COACH NATHAN CHARPENTIER
"How did you make that look so easy?"
"Will I be able to (enter athletic skill or feat here) easier if I keep doing this?"
Sound familiar? We hear this all the time, especially from novice functional fitness athletes going through strength or Level Method testing for the first time. "Wow, this is so hard, I don't think I will ever be able to do this!" etc.
The interesting part is, it never gets easier, it just doesn't.
We can't kid ourselves it does. Sure, objectively, this may be true, the barbell may have felt super heavy, cold, and maybe even slightly insulting and discomforting in your first days of classes. After a few years, it may feel much different, empowering, rejuvenating, harboring an excitatory element. It is totally relatable.
If I had a penny for every time I have said "it doesn't get any easier, you just get stronger", well, I say it pretty often. It could afford me some burritos possibly. Science shows this: athletes who are novice and elite, when attempting maximum effort strength movements, report the same levels of perceived effort.
In other words, no matter what the weight, "if it feels heavy it probably is". The same experience of "this is really hard" gets felt.
We are going to segway this sentiment to long term training, keeping this long game perspective in mind.
Our bodies decay with age, through a multitude of physiological processes including immune function, organ capacity (liver and kidney metabolism), a general slowing of metabolism (fat burning an energy utilization) and sarcopenia (muscle wasting). Pretty grim.
The good news is, you can dramatically slow this process through athletic training.
The Level Method guides us into associating different athletic abilities with a correlative means of those abilities on a spectrum of general human performance. Keep in mind, as we age, we lose these performances. Even though the Level Method was developed with age in mind, it doesn't take away from the fact the older you get, the more difficult it will be to achieve the more advanced levels of athletic performance.
It does not mean it can not be done though. To generally achieve higher levels of elite performance (black and red overall levels) we are looking at an average of 10 years of dedicated training, and that would be minimum if you are starting from square one (white/yellow).
As you may or may not have noticed, we have a new poster in the gym next to the Level Method MAP (see image above). This poster ("Spectrum of Health") goes over what levels are associated with improved wellness and health (improved biomarkers like blood pressure and body fat percentage) and also fitness.
In general, we are focused on getting everyone into the "wellness" spectrum (somewhere between Orange III and Brown - levels), as this correlates well with improved health.
Increasing beyond wellness into fitness requires great efforts and possible drawbacks, such as possible reduced quality of life (via being less social, more restrictive in diet, requiring more sleep and recovery modalities, etc) and maybe by increased risk of injury. The latter (increased injury) is relative, the movements are more technical and complex, and so injury risk from these technicalities and higher intensities and volumes of training are by default when pushing the limits of high level athletic performance, not just individual athletic development to improve general fitness.
Granted, there is also science showing people who are stronger in squatting (up to double body weight) have a correlative decrease in injury risk with improved strength, with almost zero chance of injury comparatively to those who squat much less. The same sort of diminishing returns can be seen with increased squat performance past double body weight, in the same principle, we are now pushing beyond what is relatively achievable with dedicated training devoid of "enhanced supplementations (the illegal kind)".
Big picture, things in life are parabolic. It is much more unhealthy to be sedentary than it is to be an elite level Games CrossFit athlete; yet, the elite level athlete doesn't live a "normal healthy" life.
Instead, it is a life surrounded by their immense and intense training. Everything they do is factored in.
There are studies looking at outside activities like taking the stairs and drinking a beer and how it can significantly change athletic performance. The efforts to be at this level of training are extreme in themselves compared to what someone might experience in the category of wellness where we see the most benefit with the least amount of drawbacks.
All and all, using the Level Method and functional fitness training brings us to the fountain of youth. It does absolutely help improve your physiological metabolism and biological age (not chronological, sorry, that is something we can't control).
Age does play a significant role in performance ability though, and if you are older, it is much more difficult to advance in the Level Method. We usually get asked "I'm XX age, I thought I was too old to gain muscle and get fitter?"
What they mean is that since you are older, you're not able to achieve the peak of athleticism that you may have reached back in your 20s or 30s if you were constantly training in sports or doing functional fitness frequently enough to be in an advanced level...however you can still gain muscle and increase or maintain bone density if you start training.
The leap from complete novice to an intermediate athlete in the Wellness portion of the spectrum is very achievable by the majority of people if they just started.
The amount of effort that might take you to achieve an Orange or Blue, if you're a "masters athlete" or above 50, may be equivalent to the effort someone in their 20s or early 30s would need in order to achieve a Red or Black level...and this is a direct relationship.
The older you get, the more meaningful your level status is relative to your age.
There is not any data we are aware of correlating age adjusted levels to the Level Method. However, if you are over 50 years old, you can at least consider your level one up from your younger self as athletic performance decreases with age in a linear fashion. Keep in mind, it decreases relative to your ability, so KEEP TRAINING!
The more you train, the better you will be able to stave off this performance loss. We have seen science where people in their 80s have increased their athletic performance upwards of 200% so it really is never too late to start.
In conclusion, age is just a number. However, your overall level is a direct measure of your athletic ability and something you can work towards improving. With that improvement is a direct and measurable improved correlation with your health and longevity. The further you go, the stronger and more resilient you get.
"It doesn't get easier, you just get stronger".