How Strong Do You Need To Be?

Many years ago (but not too many...I'm still a young man after all), I asked a friend how many situps he could do. I still remember his response: "As many as I need to."

An amusing answer, but it raises an interesting question: just how strong do we need to be?

Instead of situps, the question could be how many pushups? Or how much can you bench? (That's a popular question for guys for some reason.) But it's always a way of asking how strong you are, at least in one particular movement.

My friend was right if he was talking about simple day-to-day survival. After all, you can get through the day without any situps. Being able to do at least one is handy for getting up from a laying position, but there are workarounds even for that. And pushups or bench press? Those don't really come up in a typical day, do they?

You could say the same for pullups. Squats, however, are a bit different. We at least do (unloaded) partial squats all the time as in standing up from a chair. Deadlifts are also different: we pick things up from the ground routinely as in a laundry basket, a pet, a package, etc.

But even then you can still ask how much do you need to be able to lift? Or, how strong do you need to be?

The answer comes down to two other questions: how do you want to live your life today and how will you want to live it as you get less young?

Strong Today

How strong you need to be depends on how you live. If you're a couch potato, you might only need to be strong enough to lift the remote and drag your bulk to and from the kitchen and bathroom.

More likely, you'll want to be able to do some mundane tasks like opening a jar, lifting a package, or climbing stairs.

But you might want to be able to do more physical things around the house. Like taking out some heavy trash, moving an air conditioner, or carrying a generator.

Maybe you enjoy being active outdoors: kayaking, hiking, or lumberjacking.

Maybe you enjoy active travel: ziplining in Costa Rica, exploring a glacier in New Zealand (whilst they're still around), or white-water rafting (and swimming back to the raft) in Zimbabwe.

Or just walking the cat or carrying the dog (don't ask).

Being stronger makes more things possible and possible things easier. Some of us need this to make life worth living.

Strong Tomorrow

How strong you are today affects how you'll be able to live later in life. The reason? Age-related muscle loss or sarcopenia. If this sounds familiar, perhaps it's because I've written about it before.

Sarcopenia involves loss of muscle mass, strength, and/or quality. It happens to anyone who lives long enough. So if you're planning on living a reasonably long time (like past 60), it's definitely something to be concerned about.

man with walker

Shocking absolutely no one, the best preventative measure you can take to ward off sarcopenia is ... strength training! But what may not be as well known is that it's best to start that training early. As the post linked above says:

Studies have shown that people who enter their 60s with high muscle mass experience less muscle loss and enjoy a better quality of life in their senior years. In other words, building muscle now will come in handy later.

One good reason is illustrated in the charts below. Using average strength loss of 1% per year (which is a high estimate but a nice round number), you can see that being just 25% stronger at the start results in being stronger after 20 years than you would have been at the start. It's like going back in time!

Charts showing strength loss of 1% per year. Starting out 25% stronger helps a lot!

So even though studies show that strength training at any age is beneficial, strength training early is more beneficial. It's kind of like investing: starting young pays off!

And all the examples from the "Strong Today" section still apply, assuming you'd like to maintain the same kind of active (or at least functional) lifestyle.

Strong for Life

Whether now or in the future, being stronger always helps in an emergency. You may need to be stronger to keep yourself or someone else alive. Maybe it's extricating yourself from a remote one-person car crash, or carrying a loved one to safety from a house fire. Stuff happens. When it does, being stronger helps.

And let's face it, no one is ever too strong. You may never need all your strength in an emergency, but it will never be a liability. In fact, it will make much of your active life easier.

So how strong do you need to be? There's no single answer for that one. But whilst you may regret not being strong enough to do some things in your life, you'll never regret being too strong.

So go lift something.

Be seeing you.


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