Strength at Every Age: A Strength Coach’s Perspective

My name is Emily Socolinsky, and I am the owner and head coach of Fivex3 Training, a strength and conditioning gym located in Baltimore, Maryland. I am a certified Starting Strength Coach and a former modern dancer. Prior to opening my gym in 2011, I was the school director of a dance studio for five years. During this time, I had many issues with my lower back: severe arthritis, degenerative disc disease, and bulging discs. After an extremely debilitating back episode in May 2010, I was tired of feeling weak and helpless. I decided to begin a strength training program, called Starting Strength, as a last resort to solve my back issues, as nothing else I had done, including physical therapy and acupuncture, had worked. 

It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Two months later, my back was stronger, and I was ready to live again. I had already given the dance studio notice that I was leaving after the season was over and decided to open a barbell gym with the intention of helping other people get stronger. For the past 12.5 years, I have had a growing population of members of all ages and backgrounds. More importantly, I have seen more and more people aged 55 years or older who are looking to get stronger and improve their physical condition. 

Many older people often think that they are too old to begin a strength program. The truth is that you are never too old or too young to get stronger and fitter. It is simply a matter of designing a training program to match the trainee. Older adults benefit greatly from the increased mobility and independence that comes from a well-designed strength training routine, as well as increased bone density, prevention of sarcopenia (muscle loss), and better balance. 

How many older adults could confidently answer “Yes!” to the following questions:


      • Are you able to walk up a flight of stairs without fear of falling? 

      • Are you able to get off the toilet without assistance?

      • Are you able to sit up in bed from a prone position?

      • Are you able to carry your own groceries into the house?

      • If you have young grandchildren, are you able to get down on the floor to play with them?

      • Can you get down to the floor and back up? 

      • Can you get in and out of the car, especially the backseat, without assistance?

      • In other words, can you perform everyday tasks without assistance, with relative ease, and little discomfort? The worst advice an older person can ever get is “Take it easy.” Taking it easy doesn’t help us walk up stairs, carry groceries, tend our gardens, or shovel snow. In fact, taking it easy can make everything we do in the course of a day harder.

    Walking is great for your health, but just walking isn’t the answer. Doing dumbbell curls with soup cans won’t help you put your suitcase in the overhead compartment of a plane. Yoga is wonderful for working on your flexibility, but it will not help make your bones stronger. Zumba is fun and will definitely make you sweat, but it will not necessarily help you get off of the toilet. 

    The only thing that will make you stronger is strength training. So, why is it important to strength train, and why should you be doing it now?

    Build muscle. Lifting weights helps you build muscle tissue. After the age of 30 years, people begin to lose muscle mass, and the older you get, the faster you lose it. With more muscle, your metabolism speeds up and you burn more calories during your day. While aerobic exercise, such as running, is great for conditioning and burning calories, it does not help you build muscle. Only strength training can help you combat loss of muscle. 

    Increase bone density. After the age of 50 years, we start to lose bone mass more rapidly than we can build it. Unless you include some type of strength program in your daily life, that loss of bone mass continues and could lead to osteoporosis, a debilitating bone disease. When you incorporate weight bearing exercises, such as weightlifting, into your daily life, you place a stress on your bones that signals them to grow. The more you put stress on your bones, the stronger and thicker they become. Stronger bones equal stronger bodies.

    Makes you stronger, more confident, and more independent: Lifting weights makes you stronger. Lifting weights also makes you more functional in your daily life. How much easier would your life be if you were stronger? What if instead of you asking someone to help you, YOU lifted that case of water yourself?

    Personal Impact

    Tom, age 70. Tom is a 70-year-old musician and a recently retired music professor. Throughout his life, he has enjoyed walking, swimming, and playing sports. Until January 2024, he had never trained in a gym. Over the last several years, while keeping busy with work, family, and other interests, he often neglected physical exercise. Being out of shape and overweight was a drag for him, and besides the significant health risks, he also felt guilty, which was an emotional drag. 

    A few months ago, I attended a birthday party for Tom and his wife for their 70th birthdays. Tom and I talked about my gym during the party, and he told me how much he desperately needed to start exercising, but joining a gym and starting a strength program was never on his radar. A couple of days later, he was pondering the possibility of joining my gym, but worried that it would be a merciless “boot camp” experience. Then he checked out the Fivex3 website. 

    I will let Tom explain in his words why he decided to join us!

    “They had videos of trainers working with clients, and I clicked on one of Emily working with an older woman—on simply getting down on the floor and getting back up. And that’s what hooked me! ‘That’s the level at which I need to begin,’ I thought. I called Emily, made an appointment, showed up, and I’ve been doing weight training twice a week ever since. I haven’t missed a session, and I always look forward to it! As for Fivex3, they’ve amazingly managed to find that sweet spot between encouraging hard work and creating a friendly, good-vibes atmosphere. I enjoy the trainers, the other clients—and the music—at Fivex3!”

    Joanne, age 74. Joanne was never a big exercise person when she was younger. In 2011, at 61 years of age, she decided to try strength training, but she was never very consistent with her program. It wasn’t until about 2016 that she decided to get more serious about her training and really commit. Since then, not only has she gotten stronger as she has gotten older, she moves better, can play badminton for hours with her 16-year-old grandson and 13-year-old granddaughter, does volunteer work, has lunch dates with her girlfriends, and trains twice a week at the gym. Why is strength training important to her? 

    “I used to tell people I strength train at the age of 74 years so that I would always be able to get on and off the toilet by myself. That’s still true. But now that I’ve done it for several years, I’ve discovered that the benefits of barbell training have far exceeded that goal. For the first time in my life, I feel connected to my body and have an understanding of how my body moves and how it should move. Practicing correct form for deadlifting and squatting has made an enormous difference in how I successfully manage everyday activities of lifting—i.e., living. I feel confident that my body can easily perform those everyday tasks without help. There’s also a vain aspect to strength training—I look better! Or, at least I think I look better. I stand a bit straighter. I have a bit less arm flab. My thighs feel more shapely. My butt feels a bit tighter. I may not be toned, but I’m not completely toneless. And in that same vein, I like the mix of bewilderment and skepticism on my doctor’s face when I tell him I lift! ‘Really?’ I imagine him thinking, ‘I’ll bet you lift.’ Ah, if only he could see me, he would know I don’t need grab bars in the bathroom just yet. For most of my adult life, I managed to avoid moving and sweating. Regular exercise? Never. Running? Hah! Yoga? Every now and then. But since my late sixties, I find myself in the gym every week, and, more than that, I look forward to training days, knowing that I am doing something good for my body and my soul.”

    Mona, age 85. Mona started training with us about two months after visiting our gym. Her daughter is a member of Fivex3, and Mona decided to come in with her while visiting Baltimore one weekend. She wasn’t planning to do anything, but when she mentioned that she was having issues getting down to the floor (she had a knee replacement about two years ago), I asked her if she wanted me to show her how to get down to the floor and up. She said yes. When she realized that her knee was okay, her entire world opened up. Her life had new meaning. She started training with me a month later. Since Mona lives in New Jersey, we train solely online via FaceTime. We have now been working together for over a year. She also moved from her living room to the basement equipped with a rack, bar, plates, and mats. Mona started strength training at 85 years of age. If Mona can do it, anyone can. Why is strength training important to her?

    “Strength training has a new meaning for me. It is the path to living more naturally and fully. I don’t have to have a handhold to rise from a toilet, walk up the steps one foot at a time, or ask someone else to lift a gallon of milk. I can accept invitations for social events without worrying about whether I can meet the walking or other demands of the occasion. As I have aged, I gradually became more sedentary, more timid, and, yes, more frightened. My body no longer was as responsive in ways that I used to take for granted. Strength training has reversed all that for me. I get it, and I now communicate to my body that it’s still able to do what’s needed if I continue to send the right movement messages. On to 86!”  

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