The Dark Side of Getting Strong

I’m about to tell you something that you probably don’t want to hear. First and foremost, when people say that they want to lose weight and get fit, whether they know it or not, to some extent they actually want to get strong, too. The fact is that strength training is a crucial component of getting fit, even if someone doesn’t believe that it can help them achieve their goals.

It’s a game-changer when someone realizes how even getting a little bit stronger enhances their life, both physically and aesthetically. Activities of daily living become easier, and those heavy bags of groceries no longer feel heavy. Strength builds a little muscle, helping to create that slightly chiseled, slim and tone look that a lot of people look for.

However, no one ever tells you that there is a dark side to getting strong. And that’s what I want to elaborate on here today.

Could getting strong actually be bad for you?

The truth of the matter is that in order to get strong and achieve any fitness goal, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. Sacrifices in time, energy, and maybe even short-term health.

Realistically, the chance that you can seriously hurt yourself working out is slim. But there is a chance, and you never know. Does that scare you? It should.

I’ll use elite sports as an example. Elite athletes are constantly dancing on the fine line between risk and reward in their training. Hurling 350 pounds over your head in a weightlifting competition, or throwing a baseball as hard as you can 100 times during a game are both inherently dangerous activities for the deconditioned–people like you and me. These are skills that must be trained and refined over years and years–athletic performance doesn’t happen overnight. For the extreme athletic performance that we often see in pro sports and that can make those athletes millions of dollars, you can bet that there is an increased risk of serious injury, both during the sport itself and training for it.

Whether you’re a weightlifter or not, squatting 400 pounds in training can be dangerous. But this is probably a skill you want to practice, because it could help you bounce out of the catch position of a snatch so that you can finish the lift in competition. In training, the goal is to smartly manage your exercises and your workouts to mitigate injury risk both during competition and in training. In some cases, squatting 400 could be dangerous; in others, it could be safe and necessary. For elite athletes to stay healthy, a lot of care and caution has to be taken with their programming; their lives depend on their do-or-die performance when it matters most.

If your goal is to lift as much as you possibly can during a weightlifting competition, or to dominate your nightly basketball league, you have to make a commitment of both time and energy that you can’t get back. You have to accept that pushing the limits of your physical potential carries an inherent injury risk, both during training and competition.

Well, the same holds true for getting strong or any other fitness goal. There is a dark side to getting strong. No one ever tells you that there is a chance that you can get hurt. No one ever tells you how much it sucks to be so sore from a workout that you can barely move the next day. And of course, no one ever tells you that it’s going to be this hard.  None of these scenarios are pleasant, but it’s the truth.

So how badly do you want it? How much better would your life be if you were fit and strong? How would it feel to not struggle getting out of a car, to not feel winded at the top of a flight of stairs, to not feel you knees ache every time you take a big step, to not feel weak? How would it feel to look as good as you can imagine?

It’s difficult to fathom how priceless and transformative these experiences could be, especially if it concerns things that matter to you. Building strength in the gym has carry-over to the real world–physically, mentally, and aesthetically. It gives you a taste of what could be, and once you get that, there’s no turning back. If you’ve ever experienced what it feels like to be strong and fit, the thought of these goals should make you tremble with excitement.

That’s the price of getting strong. Because once you embark on that fitness journey, there’s no turning back. You’ll take the soreness and the occasional aches and tweaks. You’ll accept the injury risk that arises if you ever let up or if you ever get careless with your training. You’ll accept the sacrifice of time and energy that it takes to become an “expert” in your fitness goal. You’ll be ready to work harder than you ever have for those objectives. All because something bigger than all these unpleasant nuisances matter much more.

The dark side of getting strong is that there’s no turning back. In order to follow through with your commitment to fitness and live a better life as a result of it, you must be prepared to pay the price. You just have to realize that that’s a price worth paying for something that matters to you.

by Jeremy Lau

Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach and Metabolic Lab Manager at Halevy Life.

Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.

As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.