How To Convince Your Parents To Lift
Grant Broggi, SSC
The Strength Co.
Updated Aug. 2021
In August of 2019 I achieved what I consider to be one of the great accomplishments of my life. I convinced my parents to start strength training. My Mom, at the age of 61, and my Dad at the age of 63.
Growing up my parents were always into fitness, both avid runners, my Dad ran his first Boston Marathon while in college, and I grew up with my mother watching Jane Fonda step aerobic videos in the living room.
I always hated running and began strength training in my early 20s. After a few years I found the book Starting Strength and I found the results to be life changing. As a young officer in the Marine Corps I began coaching my fellow Marines. I saw immediate changes to the fitness of my entire unit. Fewer trips to medical, fewer injuries, better physical fitness scores, and more confidence as young leaders. It was really amazing.
After working with the young men of my platoon, I started coaching one of our Master Sergeants, a 40-year-old Marine with numerous combat deployments. He often complained of back pain, and he wasn’t sure he could squat or deadlift. But as a determined Marine, he began training anyway.
18 years in the Marine Corps takes a toll on your body. He learned that his back pain eased from the training and he found himself more capable then he’d been in years. His results convinced me that I should get my Mom and Dad training too.
After a few years of coaching Marines, Sailors, and anyone I could get my hands on in the Corps (and telling my parents all about it) I began coaching out of my garage before eventually opening a gym. My beliefs that everyone needed to strength train got deeper. Many of my clients reminded me of my parents. Women in their 50s and 60s, men in their 70s. People with low back pain, knee pain, or just wanting to lose some weight.
In our first year of business I had to coach through a lot of different problems. My coaches and I always found a way to help a client progress and get stronger, regardless of how old they were or what physical limitations they had. As a team we eliminated any excuses a trainee might have as to why they cannot get stronger by lifting weights.
The more I saw people succeed, the more I wanted my parents to lift too. They have five children and 13 grandchildren. My father is a pastor of a two thousand plus member church, with missionary work that requires him to travel around the world. My mom has to be able to do things with her grandchildren. And heck, I don’t want to visit them in a nursing home later in life. I have to get my parents lifting. So, I pestered my parents some more.
I would bring it up in conversations with them. Talk about the importance of lifting to avoid muscular atrophy. I would tell my mother that it wouldn’t make her muscular and bulky, and tell my Dad that he’d have less back pain. None of it worked.
They were products of the 80s running revolution, they have never been overweight, and they thought lifting weights was for meat-heads and football players. My Dad would say “yeah all those guys that pack on muscle, as they get older it just turns to blubber.” My Mom would say “I don’t want to bulk up and look like those crossfit women.” And while I tried to convince them, they really just didn’t listen. They were not interested. But I learned something along the way.
It’s not that my parents didn’t want to lift. What they actually need to be convinced of is that they are capable of lifting.
Barbells can be intimidating. Long steel bar, big iron plates, moving them around in a crowded gym. Putting on sneakers and going for a jog or hopping on the elliptical by yourself sounds a lot less scary.
So finally, I approached it a different way. I thought about why I wanted them to lift. And the answer was clear. Because I love them, I care about them, and I want them to live a long and fruitful life where they can build into me, my siblings, and their grandchildren. I stopped nagging them to “fight getting old by lifting.”
I started sending them videos of my gym members. Anne, also a pastor’s wife and lifter in her mid 50s – deadlifting over 200lbs. My Mom would say “I could never do that”, so then I showed her videos of Anne getting started with the empty bar. She didn’t think she could do it either Mom.
I sent videos to my Dad of men 10 years older than him deadlifting in the 300s. Everyone looked normal. Not meat heads or freakish powerlifters. Just normal people lifting weights that seemed strong for their age.
I would call my Dad occasionally and I wouldn’t bring up lifting weights. When he would ask “how’s business?”, I would have my responses ready. “Oh it’s great Dad, I have this really nice guy in the gym named Mark. Came in with back pain and could hardly squat the bar. He just squatted 300 tonight and his back pain is gone. He’s so happy he found weightlifting.”
I tried to avoid pressuring my Dad to lift. I mostly described the real changes for people I spent time with everyday who actually enjoyed resistance training and the changes it brought to their lives.
Last year, my parents planned to make a trip from South Carolina to California to visit me. This was my chance. They came to my gym on a Friday night. They met Anne, her husband Dave, and a few other lifters. They saw some of them lifting heavy weights. They also saw some beginners lifting weights for the first time. They didn’t look silly at all. They looked like people taking responsibility for their health and learning how to lift. They saw people that looked just like them.
(Anne Asch deadlifts 205lbs)
My parents hung around the gym for about an hour and my members talked to them about how far they had come, and how they were scared (most of them) when they first started. But now they were not scared at all, because on top of getting stronger through resistance training, the community of encouraging coaches and fellow members had put them at ease. They enjoyed watching their fellow lifters get stronger, and appreciated that their coaches would ensure they perform the lifts correctly in order to avoid injury. It felt like a community of normal people that valued strength training in their lives.
We went to dinner that night and I asked them if they wanted to come in the next day for a private coaching session. They both said yes.
On their first day in August of 2019 my Dad squatted to parallel, something that he hadn’t done in months with his new knee and didn’t think he was capable of even after months of physical therapy. My Mom squatted to a box, pressed 15lbs overhead and deadlifted 35lbs.
They both realized an important thing that day. They could do it. They did it. They lifted, and it wasn’t so scary after all. They also learned something else very important that day that I didn’t tell them, but they realized it. They were weak. They looked “fit”, but they were weak.
They did another session in California and saw that the Stress-Recovery-Adaptation cycle at work. They both lifted more than they had the first day. Not a lot more, but a little bit more. Then they went home back to South Carolina.
I knew my window of opportunity was short. They had trained twice, and if I could get them to do a few sessions in a row they would really see the benefits. I called a fellow coach in South Carolina and told him I was going to introduce him to my parents via email. I told him I would pay, just get them lifting. I sent the email, my Mom sent a cordial reply. Nothing happened. Three months went by. No lifting by Mom and Dad.
I knew they had realized an important reality. They could lift and they were weak. They felt it. They knew it. And so I doubled down, I asked weekly if they had confirmed with the coach in Charleston. They’d been busy… they will go, just haven’t had time.
I called my Mom in October and I told her I had an idea. I said, I’d love to build you guys a home gym, so I can workout when I’m home. And! You guys could use it! I’ll tell you what Mom, if you’ll go see the coach in Charleston twice a week between now and Christmas, he’ll teach you how to do everything and then I’ll build you a home gym over Christmas. She said she’d talk to Dad.
Sometime in October they begin training. They went and saw their coach. Mom called and said she liked him and that he was able to work around her issues (when my Mom first started, she had to squat to a box for support in the bottom).
I told her the important thing was to go back and see him again. She said Dad was busy all that week. I told her to go by herself then, she can get strong without him. She said, okay I think I will. When she went to leave three days later, Dad was also in the car.
It’s been one year since their first session with me in my gyms. My Dad now squats over 225 and my Mom deadlifts over 200. They also consider their coach a good friend.
What happened? What actually convinced them to start training after 12 years? I think it was a few things – and hopefully these are useful to get you, your parents, or some loved one started as well.
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First and foremost, they saw normal people, just like them that had gotten strong. They saw people with previous injuries, who had never lifted weights before in their life get strong. It made it seem doable for them. They needed to know it was something they could achieve.
The next was understanding that lifting has benefits. You don’t just get strong only for the sake of getting strong. Being stronger allowed them to do things THEY ALREADY WANTED to do. My mom and Dad still do a few light jogs a few times a week. My Dad thought he wouldn’t be able to run again after knee surgery. Lifting has allowed him to do that. They can both hike, swim, ride bikes, and enjoy the activities they love to do. Into their 60s and beyond.
The last was the appeal to their legacy — that their children and grandchildren want them to live a long time. Changing any part of your life can be difficult. Starting new routines, learning new things, or attempting something that you do not think you are good at. It’s all hard. But for my parents, I found that young grandchildren were a key motivator. They want to be able to build into them, and experience life alongside them.
After watching my parents train for over a year now I couldn’t be happier. I talk to my Mom as an adult now more than I ever have in my life. And my Dad is always excited to tell me about his latest numbers in his battle against Sarcopenia.
As I stated at the beginning, this was a big accomplishment for me. As COVID hit, my parents didn’t have to worry. A home gym and a year of coaching under their belt, they were set. They could take care of themselves. With their coach’s programming help they have been hitting PRs throughout the pandemic.
Often times, we try to help loved ones around us by shouting facts at them, or by nagging them. Even though I enjoy being loud, it turns out yelling at my parents about deadlifts wasn’t the way to go about it, neither was telling them that they were old. As it turns out, there’s no magic potion you can use to convince someone to do something that you think is important for them, they have to come to that conclusion themselves.
I do think that all of the things I tried to get my parents to train, a positive approach that allows them to see themselves in others was the most effective. When you see someone familiar doing something interesting, you might think “maybe I could do that.”
A community of coaches and people that are rooting for your success makes you more inclined to drive to the gym. I strongly believe that my parents started lifting because of what they experienced when they walked into the gym for the first time. And for that I’m very grateful to all my members.
My Mom now updates her Twitter with her progress fairly often. Maybe your parents will be encouraged by her progress.
In 2018 my little brother began lifting, in 2019 my parents. In 2020 I will encourage wider friends and family to consider it. Join me on Twitter to see how I do.
Update August 2021
It’s been two years since my parents did their first lifting session at my gym. My mom now deadlifts over 215lbs, squats over 130, and presses 70+ lbs over her head.
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My dad has gotten his squat up to 275lbs and just this year started deadlifting. An old injury keeps him from locking his elbow out all the way which has kept him from deadlifting until this year. Once we got his squat up I sent him a strap and taught him how to use it over FaceTime. He’s been training the deadlift all year now.
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Last month I met them in Boston and was able to lift with them at the new Starting Strength Gym there. After two years of coaching my parents are strong, and it was awesome to watch my dad deadlift 300lbs for the first time. I’m proud of both of them and their progress!