I work with a huge 21 year old kid. He squats 180kg for reps, benches 150kg, and is generally built like a brick shithouse. I like to dream about being that strong.
At work, however, I kick his ass at just about everything. I undo nuts and bolts he cannot budge. I lift things he struggles with. At one point we had a 2lb hammer on the end of a 10 metre pole, trying to break something out of reach. I busted my ass swinging it for 15 minutes non-stop. He couldn’t do it more than twice. He smashes it in the gym, but I smash him at life.
I remember being 20 years old and being in awe of 30-40 year old men. They all seemed so goddam strong. They had man-strength. Undoing bolts, prying open jars, lifting, throwing… they just seemed to have so much more recruitment in their muscles.
Powerlifters regularly report their best numbers after they turn forty. When non-lifting men seem ready to start getting old, powerlifters are turning it on. Why is that?
And why do the old blokes, the fifty to sixty year olds, still have power? I know a sixty-seven year old mechanic who is a fucking monster. He’s built like a Jack Russell, slim and wiry, with ropey muscles strung out like violin strings on his forearms. He doesn’t look like much but he is strong as an ox, carrying engine blocks around his cramped workshop.
I think it’s a function of practice and coordination.
Everything we do can be thought of as practice. Every time you ride your bike, you get marginally better at it. Every time you open a jar, you learn a tiny bit more about using your muscles to exert force. I theorise that with forty years of practice at hard labour, men get extraordinarily efficient at exerting force.
In addition, as we use engrams over and over in our day-to-day, we get smarter at making the right decisions to move most efficiently.
Lifting 140 pound dumbbells is an athletic movement that requires a lot of balance and coordination as well as raw strength.
Now on my second week with them, I look much smoother.
Over the course of the two weeks I may have an ounce or two of extra muscle to help move the weight, but mostly the ventral striatum and other parts of my brain had been at work refining how my muscles will work in sequence.
I did not have to consciously think about how I was going to balance the weight–in fact it felt very smooth and easier than I expected. Well, not EASY, the struggle was with the weight of the dumbbells not their awkward size.
Over the years I have performed thousands of repetitions in the gym involving the muscles used in an incline bench press–pecs, delts, triceps. Every repetition has helped refine the performance leading to an improved Maximal Strength. The more repetitions, the more powerful the effort of the muscles–giving the old man the advantage again.
I’ll be getting stronger for years to come. Fucking awesome.