Tonal member Joe Wetterhahn is the strongest he’s ever been, and can do more pull-ups than ever before.
By Joe Wetterhahn as told to the Tonal Team
I didn’t exercise growing up, but I was fit as a teenager. I call it “farm boy strong.” I’m from northern New York, where I still live today and work as a family physician. During the summers, I worked on my brother’s farm baling hay. We didn’t have the newest equipment that did the manual labor for you, so we would grab these 50- to 75-pound bales of hay, drag them to a wagon, and stack them.
When I went to college and medical school, I stopped doing that so I lost a lot of my fitness. I didn’t get back into it until I was around 40. I’ve always said the time after your children are born can be the most unhealthy time of your life, because your own fitness isn’t a priority. Unfortunately, I fell victim to that. I had a wakeup moment when my young son was running up the uphill driveway to our house and I couldn’t catch him. I was out of breath and thought this was ridiculous.
The next day I went out, bought a pair of running shoes, and started to run. That was good for a while, but I knew I needed the resistance training part of it. I joined a gym and became a regular, going nearly every day for 15 years.
But a couple of years ago, my lifestyle changed. I got remarried and reached a point where going to the gym five days a week wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t find a home fitness system that would challenge me like working out at the gym did, and I struggled with that.
In the five years before I discovered Tonal, I lost a lot of strength and a lot of fitness. When you get older, you realize it’s not the lifting, but everything that goes into weight lifting that gets more difficult. I had free weights at home but couldn’t get them into position for different lifts without a spotter helping me. Not having the workout partners I had at the gym is what really killed me.
That’s why Tonal has been a perfect solution. Turning the weight instantly on and off is the best feature for me. I can lift heavy again. I don’t have to struggle to get into position, or strain a muscle because I couldn’t get the weight ready for the lift. My shoulders have always been a problem, but now I can lift heavy with them because I’m not struggling to get dumbbells up. Tonal is uniquely good for me as an older lifter because of the form feedback and ability to turn off the weight and not hurt myself.
Even though I’d lifted for years, Tonal introduced me to new movements that challenged me in different ways, like single-leg Romanian deadlifts and all the Pallof press variations. These movements use a lot more muscles than a standard barbell deadlift. Balance isn’t naturally my strong point, so learning to balance while lifting on one leg or using one arm is probably what increased my strength score the most.
I’m a data person, so I think milestones are fun. It’s not the reason I work out, but my Strength Score is a fun number to look at. I like to compete against myself—it’s about being your strongest, not the strongest. Frankly, I’m in awe of people who have these long streaks of working out, not missing a week over years and years.
My wife is a physician’s assistant, and we work together in the same office. The Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest challenge I’d seen in my 30-year medical career, and it was emotionally draining for both of us. We used fitness for our mental health. It was great for me to have Tonal in my basement, where something good happened every day before we’d go to work. That really carried me through the long winters.
As a doctor, I know being strong is very important for us as we get older, especially for injury prevention. I try to get my patients to do some kind of resistance training. That makes the difference between falling on ice and breaking your hip, and slipping on ice but having the muscular strength to catch yourself.
At 61, I’m definitely enjoying the benefits of strength training. I can still do all the things I need to do around the house. Now that it’s summer, we’ll be moving all the heavy deck furniture up two flights of stairs and onto our deck. I can still do that myself. I’m even doing more pull-ups than I’ve ever done in my life. I’m 61 now, but I’m stronger than I was at 41, 31, or 21 years old.