But the corner of the gym where people “train heavy” (the jargon is very seductive) can seem intimidating.
Most strength training involves weights sufficiently heavy you’re only able to pick them up between one and five times in each set. Competing strength athletes look very different to bodybuilders or track and field specialists, and this reflects an entirely separate objective and approach.
Dan Thomas is a competing strongman. At 45 he will be deadlifting 300kg merely to enter his next European competition. Thomas, a coach at London’s Commando Temple gym, is evangelical about the benefits of “lifting heavy”, which, he says, has helped him overcome mental health challenges.
“I had a period in my life when drinking was all-consuming, but strength training has replaced the things that were causing me trouble. When I’m lifting, I’m not worrying about bills or work, I’m not worrying about anything, it’s just me and the weights.”
Thomas says he sees busy, older clients who enter the gym unable to climb the stairs without becoming breathless and once they are able to make a heavy lift, they feel a real sense of satisfaction.
What stops most of us over a certain age from tackling heavy lifts is fear. As a 59-year-old I have felt the nauseating “ping” of some hitherto uninteresting muscle in my lower back as I attempted to move a sofa or shuffle a fridge. Things that are as heavy or heavier than we are can damage us when we lift them. Piano-shifting is not a staple of visual comedy for nothing.