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Barbell Training is the Fountain of Youth

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

Fitness after fifty is possible, and strength is the key. Jonathon Sullivan MD, PhD, SSC, PBC

Barbell training is big medicine: a fountain of youth.
Squats after seventy-five. Strong aging is healthy aging.

As we age, we lose fitness—power, stamina, flexibility, endurance, and balance. But the most important of all fitness components is strength. In our fifth decade and beyond, we can lose muscle tissue rapidly, and we lose precisely those muscle fibers that are most important for strength and power. With the loss of muscle and strength we are doomed to brittle bones, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, back pain, frailty, falls, and loss of independence.

This is unacceptable. And we don’t have to accept it, because we can hang on to muscle tissue and actually increase our strength…at any age.


Exercise is medicine--the most powerful medicine available for healthy aging. Unlike pharmaceuticals, exercise doesn't just treat symptoms and numbers. Exercise gets to the root of unhealthy aging, exerting powerful benefits at all levels of biological organization--biochemical, genetic, cellular, metabolic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, neurological, and psychological. No other form of medicine even comes close. But if exercise is a medicine, it should be prescribed as a medicine. When we're told to just "get more exercise," that will not do. A medicine as powerful as exercise must be prescribed. That means a formulation, a route of administration, a dose, a frequency, and therapeutic targets.

Split jerk in the seventh decade of life. This woman is harder to break and more useful in general.
Everybody can get stronger. Everybody must get stronger.

In our book, The Barbell Prescription, Andy Baker and I explore the various forms of exercise medicine available to the aging adult, and show why strength training with barbells is the formulation of choice for exercise medicine. A growing body of published research shows that strength training is the most important form of exercise for those in their 40s and beyond, attacking multiple therapeutic targets and tissues to promote healthy aging. Barbell training is the best route of administration for strength medicine, because it permits the most exquisite and exact dosing, unparalleled safety g, unparalleled safety, the broadest range of fitness attributes, and the greatest simplicity and efficiency.

The Barbell Prescription focuses on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. Our programs use classic training principles to increase strength, but are modified to fit the needs of adults of all ages and capacities, matching their needs and abilities for safe, steady, long-term progress in fitness after fifty.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, blood pressure, and other medical conditions do not contraindicate barbell training, because barbell training is the medicine that gets to the root of these degenerative diseases of aging, slowing or even arresting their progress, and helping to prevent them before they strike. These conditions are reasons to train.

Fitness after fifty is possible...and mandatory.

Jonathon Sullivan MD, PhD, SSC, PBC is a retired emergency physician and research physiologist, and the owner and head coach of the Greysteel Strength and Conditioning Clinic in Farmington Hills Michigan, which specializes in training adults over 50. He is the author of The Barbell Prescription: Strength Training for Life After Forty, with Coach Andy Baker.

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