We Are the Opposite

by Ray Gillenwater, SSC | October 02, 2019

training at starting strength austin

It’s time to get shredded. Eviscerate belly fat. Burn calories. Work up a vicious sweat. Feel that sweet sense of post-workout exhaustion, or better yet, feel the coveted muscle soreness that tells you you’ve sufficiently punished yourself for the indiscretion of eating carbohydrates, or whatever macronutrient is currently out of fashion.

This sort of nonsense is the status quo in today’s $87 billion global Health and Fitness Club market. It’s an industry built on misunderstanding. The confusion being proliferated is that fitness means leanness and therefore one must orient their exercise regimens around burning calories.

We are attempting to right this wrong in our own segment of the market, one that we’ve only just begun to carve out: being specific and clear about what we do and why it’s important. We focus on making people stronger because strength is the most important fitness metric and because there’s a specific process that can be followed to attain it. More importantly, strength can be accumulated for weeks, months, years, and decades – and it can be measured.

This distinction is the primary reason for our entrance into the gym business. There are zero national gym chains where you can send your 62 year-old aunt and trust that she will gain muscle mass, build denser bones, and won’t be subjected to a “trainer” instructing her to do burpees, box jumps, medicine ball crunches, leg extensions, balance ball dumbbell bench presses, or anything else that fails to carefully consider the risk/reward equation of someone with hardening connective tissues, deteriorating joints, and diminishing bone density.

Take Kathy Grace, for example. She is 62. Prior to joining Starting Strength Austin, she followed a HIIT program and counted her steps. I don’t blame her for this, and neither should you. This, or something like it, is the de-facto course of action to get “in shape” in 2019. Fortunately, Kathy is a smart woman. She’s data-driven, she’s thoughtful, and she keeps track of her results.

Kathy’s efforts resulted in six pounds of body fat loss at the cost of 2.2 lb of muscle – blood-sugar managing, hormone regulating, skeleton operating, body protecting, lean muscular body mass. Kathy, being aware of the need to get stronger as she ages (and most certainly not weaker), did something that only a tiny fraction of women her age might consider. She signed up to train for strength with barbells.

After ten weeks under the guidance of a Starting Strength Coach, Kathy took her deadlift from 85 lb (having never touched a barbell) to 195 lb. She, like everyone else, responds to carefully measured stress that can be rapidly recovered from and adapted to. She built 2.6 lb of lean muscular body-mass throughout this ten week process. But her aesthetics suffered, right? She became “bulky,” didn’t she?

Although I personally believe that vanity should take a back seat to capability, especially in one’s seventh decade, I realize that my opinion isn’t what stands between someone’s decision to lift weights or not. What is? The unfounded fear that picking up a barbell will turn you into an obese powerlifter? Good news: Kathy lost 3.7 lb of fat mass in those ten weeks. Phew.

Kathy isn’t the reason for this article. We’ve featured her on a YouTube video because she’s smart, she’s a clear communicator, she’s a badass, and more people need to be exposed to and inspired by people like her. The purpose of this article is to draw a clear distinction between Starting Strength Gyms and every other national gym chain. We don’t care about your genetic endowment, and we don’t imply that it can be changed by marketing at you with photos of fitness models. Things like how lean you are naturally or how easy on the eye you are have no bearing on your ability to become a more useful human. Your usefulness is not a function of your physical beauty, especially at 62.

What we care about is helping you achieve your own physical potential, however vast or limited that may be, and we realize that the way to achieve it is not to accumulate box jumps, it’s to accumulate muscle mass. Yes, even for women. Yes, even if you’re past middle age – scratch that, especially if you're past middle age.

We don’t have models on our website. We don’t promise fat loss (although we can assist you with it if necessary). We don’t ask you to twist, jump (unless you’re doing a power clean), put your joints into unsafe positions, or move weight with anything but a perfectly flat back. We don’t ask you to do these things, because they would be ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.

What we do instead is ask you to show up three days a week at your set training time, follow your coach’s instructions, and lift the exact amount of weight that’s been prescribed for you. If you follow our recovery guidelines, namely eating enough protein and getting adequate sleep, you’ll come back 48 hours later able to lift a little more weight than you did last time. Your body will have adapted. You will have become stronger.

Strength is a metric that you can track in your training log, via your blood-test results (the derivative health effects of becoming stronger), with a DEXA scan of your body composition, a bone density test, or by simply noticing that your work-set weight from three weeks ago is now a light warm-up.

Since there are a limited number of hours each week that can be dedicated to fitness, they ought to be used productively. More importantly, since one week of exercise is irrelevant to the quality of your life, it’s wise to instead consider the limited number of months, years, and decades that each of us has to accumulate strength, instead of running in place chasing fat loss.

If within the next ten years popular culture begins to understand that stronger means that the weight on the bar went up, and that strength is far and away the most important physiological adaptation, then we will have done our jobs. The challenge? It remains to be seen if logical arguments supported by empirical data will be relevant in the 2020s. We hope they will.

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