To expand on my “How Strong is Strong Enough” post I thought I’d give an example. Training for strength with a tool like a barbell makes other tasks in everyday life easier. If you have to pick up bags of salt, carry mulch, put groceries overhead in the cupboard, or any physical task that involves the production of force, then getting your squat, deadlift and overhead press stronger have tremendous value both physically and psychologically. Physically, it’s clear to see why getting your deadlift stronger helps: the mechanics involved are very specific to picking everyday objects up. More importantly, the barbell deadlift is better trained because it is easier to scale to ability, and being able to symmetrically load the device allows one to train the body as a whole, in a balanced way.
The other option would be to rely on the physical activity of life itself to get you stronger. But this is limited in its ability to be trained and overloaded. Imagine a 40lb bag of water softening salt. Can you just pick up these bags repeatedly to get better at picking them up? Of course! Your body will adapt, however, and get less and less out of the same exposure over time (the repeated bout effect). You could make it harder (i.e. lift the bag more times, do more lifting in a shorter time frame, try and pick up 2 bags, etc..), but the more efficient way to make a 40lb bag of salt move better is to get your deadlift up from 50lbs to 95lbs. In the former case, the salt bag is basically your maximum deadlift. In the latter, it’s gone down to about 50%. When your strength doubles in this fashion, the 40lb bag doesn’t represent as much of a challenge as it once did. It’s now easier to lift multiple times, with better technique, and with some room for error, if you should happen to be in a less than stellar position to lift.
This is also true psychologically. Imagine someone who doesn’t train and the perception of a 40lb bag of salt. It’ll look and feel heavy because it’s been set up in the mind that it is heavy. When that person gets their deadlift stronger, and can now do, for example, 95lbs, he or she will approach that bag of salt with a much different perspective. Why? Because now 40lbs is half of what he or she can do with a barbell! That person will have gotten stronger, realized that their back is not fragile, that they are in fact capable of picking things up and not being in pain. This is a critical part of training- the mental improvement. It is one of the best reasons to go through a strength program. Yes, the physical and functional benefits are well documented. The mental side of it should not be understated, though, and is one aspect of training that can give you a new perspective on your abilities as you age.