The term dad strength recognizes a superpower that all fathers seem to possess. Almost every guy I’ve spoken to knows the term (or perhaps refers to it as old-man strength). Far fewer women, however, seem acquainted with it. So, for those who don’t know, this is an introduction. For those who do, this is a tribute.
Every guy has memories of having his hand crushed in the vise-like grip of either his father or a family friend. That kind of thing leaves a mark — mentally and physically. Little girls, on the other hand, don’t traditionally know the exquisite pain of having their metacarpals ground against each other. Is that fair? I don’t know.
Regardless, that crushing grip is just the symbol. The reality is the incredible (and mysterious) strength that otherwise non-assuming dads seem to have. Wiry strength is as much a part of fatherhood as back-hair or yard work. While speed and reflexes can decline, dad strength can more than make up for it. Part of this is undoubtedly cunning and experience. Part of it is stubbornness, dammit. However, there is also a physiological basis for middle-aged strength — something rooted more deeply than a need to show the neighbour’s kid who’s boss.
We often think of middle-age as the beginning of a slow decline. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s really just a cultural construct. We’ve worked with many guys on Project 40 and can tell you that it’s possible to be stronger and fitter as a middle-aged dad than ever before. In reality, there are no dramatic drop-offs in strength or function during the third or fourth decades. Active dads stay strong and both men and women respond very well to strength training as they age. As a matter of fact, strength can decrease as little as 1% per year — even after 65.
Joint health is probably the number one thing to be aware of. Getting dads to watch out for themselves just as well as they’ve watched out for their kids (and with the same cat-like reflexes) is essential.
Doing so opens the doors to maintaining — or improving — strength through middle-age and beyond.
General aerobic fitness helps with tissue quality. Joint mobility in any form maintains movement options. This can be via mobility drills, yoga, martial arts or simply varying up your exercise routine and movement demands. Of course, it also helps not to be a stubborn old coot when things hurt.
If you have a dad, remind him to give himself a little TLC. If you’re going to be a dad, start building habits now. Finally, if you are a dad, listen to your body so that you can continue putting youngsters in their place for decades to come.