Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Real Life

by Jim Steel | December 17, 2019

start of a deadlift

A lifter begins his pull.

I have had a couple of real-life examples lately of just why it’s so important that I continue to lift weights into my 50s.

I am a duck hunter and have been doing it for over twenty years. It's one of my favorite activities. I usually go hunting with my 13-year-old son, James. He lifts weights also. He really only likes to squat and deadlift, and he does some push-ups. He's always said, “Why would I do anything else to get strong?” And of course, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. 

Anyway, I have some land on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where we duck hunt. There is a boat ramp there, well, sort of a boat ramp. It's more like an opening in the woods that goes into the water. It starts off as dirt, but as it goes into the water the dirt turns into muck, the stuff that if you tried to walk in it becomes very difficult because it sucks you down into it, and it's a bitch to get out of. People have to get rescued when they can’t get out of the muck. So, wading in that area is really not an option. Since we can’t wade in it, we use kayaks. Both James and I have kayaks. Kayaks can go in very little water without hitting the bottom. The problem is that the tide there goes from high to low real fast, and because the dirt ramp was never really dug out, the water gets to around 6-12 inches of depth in low tide, so you have to cross the muck to get the boats out. 

I always look at the tide tables before we go to the land. Last week we went hunting, and I knew that we could get out to our spot around 5:30 AM because it was high tide right around then. So, James and I paddled out there to our spot, and as we were hunting he keeps asking me what time it is, and I knew that he was worried about the tide changing fast. It was now about 8:00, and I could see that on the far side of the bank the water was getting lower and lower because more and more of the bank was showing. I told James that we need to get back in, that the water is getting low. James, weighing 100 pounds, paddled right in and got the kayak out without issue. I, on the other hand, weighing around 230 and also carrying decoys, shotgun, and ammo bag, had a little more difficult time getting anywhere. 

I made it about 10 yards until I hit bottom. Now, I knew that if I got out, I’d sink in the muck. I just dug the paddle into the bottom as hard as I could. I had about 40 yards to go. I was moving about 6 inches at a time. But I kept pushing off the bottom as hard as I could and scooching my butt forward and little by little, I was making progress. Eventually, after around 10-15 minutes of moving slowly, inches at a time, I found a small channel and was able to go all the way in. James was standing on land right near the ramp as I was moving towards him, and he yelled out, “That’s why you lift weights, Dad!” 

A few weeks later, I went duck hunting by myself on some public land in Maryland. I had never been on this particular place before, but I had a map and a headlamp and to guide me. The place is 4000 acres with about 10 goose and duck blinds. I looked at the map and it looked like the blind was around 50 yards from the parking lot. I got out of the truck, got my gun, got my 20 decoys with weights on them in the decoy bag that I put on my back as a backpack, and grabbed my 10-pound ammo bag. I was wearing waders, a hunting jacket, jeans under the waders and two shirts. I started walking down the path, and my Black Labrador, Rebel, was leading the way. 

I went about 20 yards and the path forked – there was also a path that went off to the right. I looked at the path on the right and it was wet. In my infinite wisdom, I decided that if it's wet, it should lead to water. It did lead to water – a bunch of flooded timber, but no blind. So, I kept going. After about 20 minutes of carrying all that shit, I yelled at Rebel, “Where the hell is this place?” He didn't care, he was happy just running ahead of me and then circling back to me full speed, over and over. So I kept walking. 

After about a half hour of this Bataan-esque march, the sun begins to come up. I see this structure up ahead, and it looks like a duck blind. It was a duck blind! I'm like, “Eureka, Rebel! We found it!” I was drenched from head to toe with sweat. I figured I had walked around two miles carrying all that stuff. I walked out into the water putting the decoys out – I can't remember if I said it out loud to Rebel or not – but I said, “And that’s why I lift weights.” 

There is no way that I could have paddled like I did out of the muck or walked that distance with all of that weight if I didn't train to get stronger. And what's funny is that the older I get, the more I see examples of how important strength training is to not only being healthy, but also to being independent. That's the best part: I didn't need any help from anyone to do those things. And yes, I still compete in bodybuilding sometimes, but when I am in the gym I'm consciously aware of how training with weights and keeping my strength up helps me in life. It helps me if I need to protect my family and it helps me in everyday mundane things, from opening a jar for my kids, to changing a tire, to lifting my son up to the monkey bars. 

I don't think about it, it just seems natural, but then I see another man about my age (I am 52) who can't do the things that he would be able to do if he were stronger. Most are overweight – not always obese, but with the small legs and pendulous belly that indicates too many Cheetos and zero squats. Lifting their kids up to the monkey bars ain’t happening. Hell, walking down the sidewalk can be taxing for them. Don't they know that with just some squats and deadlifts and presses a few times a week they can change their life? Or do they even care? It's just not worth it to them, I suppose.

My favorite story about getting someone stronger is about my almost 70-year-old friend, Reena. She is around 98 pounds and stands 4' 11”. She is also a Rabbi. After a few years of training her, this little lady could deadlift 165 pounds. She had never lifted weights before in her life, but she got hooked on it and no matter where she traveled, she made sure to get her training in. One day, she walked into the weight room and we exchanged pleasantries and I asked how everything was going. She got a real excited look on her face and said, “Coach, I couldn't wait to tell you, I can now lift the Torah over my head and hold it up there during the service!” Being able to do that hooked her even deeper into lifting weights than before, because she saw a real-life example in her world of just how important being strong and staying strong is to a happy, independent life.

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