It’s a Tuesday afternoon, October 2016. I’m at the squat rack in the back of the gym and I’ve just completed my warmup sets. “America’s Suitehearts” by Fall Out Boy is playing over the speaker system and things are feeling good. I grab a drink from the fountain before starting my first working set. I’m doing heavy 5×5’s today. The first round goes well, up-down with the perfect balance of ease and struggle. The weight feels good, so I add more. The second set feels even better. Maybe PRs (personal records) are obtainable today?! I position myself for my final round. I grab the bar, plant my feet, breath in, squat… and something’s definitely not right.

So, this might be a bit (a lot) exaggerated. I will admit that the song playing in the background has escaped my memory, but unfortunately, the residual lower back injury is still quite vivid as I endured it for years (yes, years!) following the initial incident. So, why did it take this Physical Therapist so long to heal? Because I was my own worst patient. I knew what had to be done but rarely followed the plan. My approach consisted of a lot of pushing through the pain and hoping for the best – something I do not prescribe.

The majority of my strength training is done with a barbell and a heavy emphasis on the squat, deadlift, and bench press – similar to the sport of powerlifting. I use it as my primary exercise and rehab when I have setbacks because of the many benefits this approach has on strength development and building load tolerance (or essentially physical stress placed on your muscular and skeletal system). Although I was introduced in high school to football and track, my primary interest in strength training (via powerlifting) developed in my mid-20’s. The more I researched the sport, the more passionate I became about utilizing the practices personally and with my clients. Powerlifting, and strength training in general, offer benefits that include: time-efficiency as you are participating in compound lifts (several muscle groups simultaneously); injury prevention or reduction during sport; minimizing muscle mass and bone density loss as we age; strength improvements; fat loss and weight management; and a wide range of mental and cognitive benefits (Westcott). It’s incredible.

Who do you picture when you hear, “strength training”? If it’s strictly professional athletes and folks who basically have a permanent residence at the gym, I’d like to offer an expanded definition. In the simplest of terms, it is exercise designed to improve strength and endurance; meaning, a broad group of individuals with different goals can benefit from incorporating strength training into their routine. Depending on what they would like to achieve, I’ve recommended select strength training to individuals with physically demanding jobs, office workers, men, women, high school or collegiate athletes, home improvement weekend warriors, and many others. I even encouraged my mom to integrate low impact powerlifting into her daily workouts.

As a Physical Therapist, I see patients with hip, knee, back, and shoulder injuries and just like them, I’ve also experienced setbacks in these areas. Working with a Physical Therapist can help to break down the activity(s) that seem to be aggravating your symptoms in order to improve your ability to safely participate. I feel the knowledge shared/provided is one of the most important tools gained when working with a Physical Therapist or a trained individual. I ask my patients to learn from my (sometimes failed) experiences. Take it from me, pushing through the pain and hoping for the best is a miserable approach. There are better solutions! Let’s set goals and develop a program that improves your strength and endurance.
Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health.

Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8. PMID: 22777332.