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Powerless To Powerlift: Ridgewood Man Beats Back Injury

Steve Freides stretching with a kettlebell. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Steve Freides working out with a kettlebell. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Steve Freides deadlifting in his basement. There was a time he was bedridden. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Steve Freides. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Feeling strong and well, Steve Freides plays a number of instruments, including guitar. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash
Steve Freides tickling the ivories in his living room, where he gives private music lessons. Photo Credit: Lorraine Ash

RIDGEWOOD, N.J. — It was most unlikely that Steve Freides of Ridgewood would be a strength training teacher and weightlifter.

Not at 61 years old. Not at 148 pounds.

But he is.

One day in October 1997, when he was 42, Freides was talking to his wife on the second floor of their home. Suddenly, he was in extreme pain.

“A disk in my back, my L4-L5, just exploded,” Freides recalled.

“Twenty minutes after my back started hurting, I was lying on my bed in a fetal position,” he added. “I couldn’t move.”

Ambulance workers carried Freides down the steps and to the ambulance on a dining room chair. He had to stay in a curled-up position.

His doctor told him that if he had surgery, he’d most likely recuperate quicker from the disk herniation.

But afterwards he’d probably only be able to do 80 to 90 percent of what he was used to doing.

That didn’t sound good to Freides, who went the physical therapy route. But the going was slow.

For months, he was bedridden. For more than a year, he could not walk normally.

Then he discovered a book: “Power to the People,” by Pavel Tsatsouline, a fitness instructor from the former Soviet Union.

It changed his life.

Soon, Freides was following Tsatsouline’s weightlighting routine involving a deadlift and an overhead press. Then he worked with kettlebells.

The thing about Freides, who holds a doctorate in music, is that he’s a teacher at heart.

He taught at Mannes School of Music in New York City and is well known in the village as a private music teacher and for his work with Jamboree.

So he started looking for the principles behind what Tsatsouline was doing. Now he’s an instructor in Tsatsouline’s strength school, StrongFirst . He even trains new teachers.

“What saved me, literally, from a wheelchair was realizing I needed to be strong,” said Freides.

Today, he holds world records in his age and weight class as a deadlifter in powerlifting competitions.

Strength, he likes to say, is a fundamental attribute and he hates to see so many people lose it as they age.

Getting strong, he insists, is a lot like playing the piano: it’s a skill built through practice. So there’s no reason to think it will inevitably be lost as a person ages.

In his heart, Freides also believes in the StrongFirst motto: strength has a higher purpose.

Strength of body can turn into strength of character, he said. And who doesn’t need strength to do the difficult things in life?

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