Strength Kept Me Out of a Wheelchair

Why do I choose to be Strong First? Because strength kept me out of a wheelchair. From my twenties to my early forties, I was a jogger but then a disc blew in my spine. After a year-plus-long rehabilitation, I started becoming strong by deadlifting a barbell off the ground—because they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. They are right. Behold my StrongFirst Manifesto.

Strength Kept Me Out of a Wheelchair


Strength is a tangible asset like money in the bank or food in the cupboard. With it, I can walk unaided. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you can’t, you realize just how precious it is.


Remember your weight at the time of your high school graduation—that’s your goal weight for the rest of your life. It’s okay to add a few pounds of muscle, even more than a few if your occupation or sport requires, but for a well-rounded life, a few pounds of muscle and a lot of lifting skill are what most people need.

If you were overweight when you graduated high school (an uncommon thing in my day, but all too common now) figure out a good bodyweight, get there, and stay there. I’m 5’ 7” and weighed 145lbs when I graduated high school. I compete in the 148lb weight class as a powerlifter. Please take note: I never competed at anything until my late forties. It’s never too late to start.

How do you lose weight? Eat better, eat less, and exercise.


If you do nothing else, realize that life comes in threes. Start by balancing these three: mind, body, and spirit. Balance—that means the condition of your body matters as much as what you think and what you believe in. You have an obligation to take care of your body, an obligation those who love you want you to fulfill for their sake, as well as yours.

Here’s another three: career, personal life, and exercise. You need to pay attention to all three, you need to make time for all three, and you need to care enough to do your best at all three.  Make time for your exercise and care enough about it to give it your best.

Hard Work

Exercise isn’t supposed to be easy and it isn’t supposed to be fun. Is your career easy and fun? Is your personal life all fun and games? Why on earth would you expect that exercise that allows you to read the newspaper is good for anything? Sorry, but worthwhile exercise demands your complete attention. Don’t like that? Tough!


Strength is a skill that requires regular practice. Strength makes everything easier so it’s worth the effort to practice it regularly.


I haven’t given you much specific advice on how to become stronger because you’ll find plenty on the StrongFirst website. I started with the book Power to the People! by Pavel. If I was starting today, I’d go with another Pavel work, Enter the Kettlebell! Both programs are best described as “simple, but not easy.”

Strength Kept Me Out of a Wheelchair

Training Tip: Strength Takes Guts

When I hurt my back, my doctor said I had an acute injury with a chronic cause, the result of a lifetime of weakness and poor posture. I was 42 years old. But the title for this training tip, Strength Takes Guts, is not a character reference. I’m talking about what happens in your abdominal cavity, your “gut.”

My back injury was so severe I had to take Percocet, a powerful narcotic, around the clock for three weeks straight. After nine months, I tried running —which had been my main form of exercise—and quickly realized I had to do something in my stomach to spare myself back pain. No pressure in my belly meant I couldn’t run more than a few steps without my back starting to hurt, and pain is an extremely effective teacher.

Mind you, I was still walking with a big limp, but I had to get back out there and pound the pavement. My “gut” lesson was just beginning. I didn’t understand what I was doing, only that I had to have this tightness in my belly or my back would hurt so much I could barely walk home.

My wife’s comment, “I don’t care if you can run ten miles—you look emaciated,” led me to Power To The People! (PTTP) by Pavel, recommended to me because I asked about lifting without bulking up. PTTP challenged all my assumptions about weight lifting. Among other things, I learned lifting doesn’t have to make you big. I remain an example of that today, fifteen years post-injury—57 years old and 149lbs.

But the most important lesson I learned from PTTP was that pressurizing your midsection forms a hydraulic cushion that braces and protects your spine. If you have read more than one of Pavel’s books on strength, you’ll have noted they all talk about what he calls power breathing.

The two most important skills you can acquire to restore a dysfunctional lower back to health are:

  1. The feeling of a neutral spine.
  2. How to brace and reinforce your neutral spine by pressurizing your midsection with your breath.

These points cannot be overstated. Strength begins in your belly, friends—it takes guts, literally.

Complaint Department

Please don’t tell me you don’t have time—you can train well in a few minutes a day, a few days per week. You can do it at a gym or at home—PTP and ETK work in either—and another Pavel resource, Naked Warrior, works anywhere because it uses only your bodyweight as resistance. If you’re still complaining, I now ask you the question Pavel has asked me more than once, “Would you like some cheese with that whine?”

Get off your behind and do something about your physical condition. I did, I do, and I will—and so can and should you.

Steve Freides
Senior SFG
Steve Freides, SFG Team Leader, has earned multiple championships and set multiple national and world records as a 148lb raw powerlifter in the AAU and the WNPF. Steve maintains a web site at and an exercise blog at

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