“Strong isn’t healthy” is usually spoken by physically weak people, even though being weak is what’s truly bad for the body.
But can an unhealthy person be strong?
Yes. However, the quest for, and the achievement of, strength is NOT harmful to one’s general health including cardiovascular, digestive and immune.
If a smoker with high blood pressure and 100 pounds of excess body fat starts training with weights, he could eventually be deadlifting 225 pounds and bench pressing 185.
He’s stronger than the average man he passes on the street.
If he keeps training he may one day be pulling 315 pounds and benching 225. He’s now a pretty strong guy.
However … if he’s still smoking, still has hypertension and still is morbidly obese … he is very unhealthy.
Smoking causes emphysema and throat and lung cancer. It’s also a prominent risk factor for esophageal cancer.
Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels, and can lead to heart disease.
Hypertension can cause a stroke, chronic kidney disease and chronic heart failure.
The combination of smoking and hypertension is a major risk factor for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Morbid obesity can cause a slew of problems including high cholesterol, acid reflux, gout, type 2 diabetes, infertility, miscarriage, blood clots, serious COVID-19 complications, coronary artery disease and sleep apnea.
In short, the quest for getting strong, and being strong, do not make someone unhealthy.
What’s bad for the body are unhealthy lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking, drinking, excess sodium intake, a junk food diet, overeating, lack of aerobic exercise).
Dangers Inherent in Strength Training
• Incorrect form
• Accidentally dropping a dumbbell on one’s foot
• Tripping over a dumbbell
• Training heavy against doctor’s orders for a medical condition such as an aortic aneurysm or herniated disc.
“You Can Be Strong and Unhealthy”
This is very true, but it doesn’t mean that the strength causes the unhealthiness.
It’s like saying, “You can be thin and unhealthy.” But this doesn’t mean that slenderness causes disease!
Over the years I’ve seen men and women pumping heavy iron in the gym, then stepping outside for a smoke. And their diet is anyone’s guess.
Nevertheless, those in denial of the importance of strength training and of being at a healthy body weight are the first to conclude that being strong can somehow lead to an unhealthy state of body.
What about people with aches and pains from working out?
Though training to get strong may result in “aches and pains,” these aren’t the same chronic aches and pains that weak, deconditioned people often suffer from.
A man or woman with a strongly trained body who feels sore or “achey” the day after a workout, and who may have aggravated a tendon or triggered a tweak in a knee, can STILL be exceptionally healthy due to healthful lifestyle habits.
Professional athletes sometimes say things like, “I’m healthy again; no injuries,” or, “I’ve been unhealthy all season: first I sprained my ankle; then I hurt my shoulder.”
Do not confuse the casual use of the word “healthy” with what doctors call “systemic health.”
Weak People, not Strong People, More Likely to Suffer Injury
Those who complain of chronic body pain are rarely the ones lifting heavy weights.
However, some people with chronic pain DO lift weights.
Their strength training regimen (assuming they’ve always used correct form) has not caused their pains, but instead, has helped manage them, and in many cases, reduce them!
“There’s activities of daily living we all have to do,” says Dr. David Beatty, MD, a retired general practitioner with 30+ years of experience and an instructor of general medicine for 20 years.
“Shopping, cleaning, gardening, walking, climbing stairs, lifting bags and activities related to sport and leisure.
“A ‘strong’ person is more likely to take these activities in their stride.
“The old adage, ‘If you don’t use it you lose it,’ is very apt with regard to the body’s muscles.
“Someone who has been off their feet for a few weeks will lose muscle bulk from the quadriceps on the front of the thighs. This makes walking harder.
“The quadriceps support and stabilize the knee joints, and if they shrink, underlying problems in the knees become worse.
“A ‘weak’ person trying to lift a 40 pound suitcase may struggle and could end up with a back injury.”
Though a person who trains hard in the gym is more likely to suffer an injury from working out as opposed to from lifting their toddler out of a car seat — a weak, “out of shape” individual is far more likely to suffer injury in the course of common day-to-day activities.
Training Unhealthy People
Personal trainers always get clients who have at least one medical condition: poor cholesterol profile, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, liver disease, kidney disease, active cancer, asthma, fibromyalgia, MS, etc.
Strength training can make them strong, or at least, less weak.
But training to get strong will not increase the risk for any of these diseases! How can anyone say that “Strong isn’t healthy”?