You Just Wait Till You’re My Age

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Cue ornery Clint Eastwood voice…

“You just wait till you’re my age. You won’t be training like that.”

I was 25 at the time, and had just started working at my first “gig” in the fitness industry as a “Health & Wellness Specialist” at a corporate fitness center just outside Syracuse, NY.

The company I worked for, which at the time was a branch of Johnson & Johnson, was contracted by other companies to come in and “run” or otherwise operate their gyms on premise. Employees either before work, during their lunch hour, or after work would come in to not stab their boss in the face run on the treadmill, lift some weights, or let off a little steam…and it was my job to show them the ropes.

It was a win-win. Employees had access to state-of-the-art facilities (at $9 per month, a steal), and the company had reduced health care costs.

I wasn’t training professional athletes or Victoria Secret models or anything like that, but like I said…it was my first gig as a fitness professional, and I found the work rewarding. It was easy, I was getting paid to chill in a gym, and I enjoyed the people.

People are funny though.

As I recall it was later in the afternoon, and because my supervisor encouraged us to workout/train on site, I’d usually get my swole on at that time when several other guys would come in to train.

Many of them I knew well. Like any gym there were many regulars and I was able to build a rapport with them. We’d lift, we bust each other’s balls, I’d play my EDM, life was grand.

I was younger than the bulk of them by a decade (if not more), and I remember one day after a heavy(ish) set of rack-pulls one of the Clint Eastwood types (who didn’t train with us and spent the majority of his time on the elliptical) looked at me and repeated the quote above:

“You just wait till you’re my age. You won’t be training like that.”

I laughed and shrugged it off. I was in no way confrontational. What would be the point?? He was watching The View. It would have been too easy.

However, I’m not gonna lie…there was a part of me that was downright irritated. “The fuck I won’t train like this,” I said to myself. I loved training. I loved lifting heavy things. I was 25. I was bulletproof. I was going to do this till I was 90 years old. What the hell did this guy know?

I’m now 38. In a few months I’ll be 39. And while I still feel the guy who blurted out that nonsense was and still is a jabroni, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that he was kinda-sorta, in the teeniest-tiniest of ways…….right.

Pushing 40, Pulling 600?

Now, this is in no way to insinuate that I feel approaching 40 is over-the-hill. I’m almost there and feel fantastic. Sure I have a few aches and pains here and there, but who doesn’t?

I look pretty good too.

Granted, male pattern baldness entered the picture a long time ago, but I still can hold fort with many guys younger than myself.

Because, biceps.

But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had to alter my training the older I’ve gotten. I can chalk half of that up to maturity. I still love training, and I still love lifting heavy things, but it doesn’t have the same panache or gravity as it had when I was 25.

Back then it’s all I did. I lifted weights, weighed my food, hung out at bookstores, and watched Alias like a boss. As you can imagine I was a hit with the ladies.

Now that I’m older, have a career, have a wife, and own a cat…my priorities have changed. I still train 4-5 times per week, but my life doesn’t revolve around it. I don’t hyperventilate into a brown paper bag if I happen to miss a training session (for the record: I don’t miss many). And I’ll watch re-runs of Alias.

The other half of the equation, and I say this reluctantly, can be attributed to physiology. Yes, as we get older, our body will often times flip us the bird and remind us that we’re not 25 anymore.

Case in Point: I’ve been chasing the 600 lb deadlift F.O.R.E.V.E.R, and several setbacks with various injuries have made me contemplate my pursuit.

Now, I don’t feel the fact I’m approaching 40 is the real reason I haven’t been able to hit that number. There are plenty of guys much older than that who crush that weight. However, I can’t deny that physiology plays a role – however small or large. My recovery isn’t quite what it used to be, injuries tend to hover longer and stagnate training, and well, lets be honest: lifting heavy shit for two decades is going to take it’s toll on the body.

I still feel confident I’m going to hit that 600 lb number. However, rather than succumb to the adage “that’s just how it is, deal with it,” I’d like to offer some of my own insight on how guys my age can (and maybe should) tweak their training to help set themselves up for long-term success.

1. Train Like a Powerlifter & Bodybuilder

I’m a strength coach and meathead through and through, so of course I’m a little biased when it comes to the “Big 3.”

If you want to get bigger and stronger it behooves you not to focus the bulk of your attention on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Not to say other exercises don’t enter the discussion, but those three tend to be the big players.

An easy equation I like to use for old(er) guys is:

“Train the “big 3″ like a powerlifter, then satiate your inner bodybuilder.”

What I mean by this – and this is just a suggestion, nothing set in stone – is that every training session should start with one of the “big 3” and you’d work up to a few heavy sets of three or sets of five. Maybe every 6-8 weeks you’d work up to a few heavy singles.

Once you do that: you’d drop the weight (10-20%) and perform 1-2 sets of AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible). Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 is a great example of this protocol.

After that, all your accessory/assistance work will be high(er) rep in nature. For me accessory work should have a purpose. Namely it helps address a weakness or technique flaw in one of the “big 3.” So for example, if you tend to be slow off the floor with your deadlifts a great accessory movement may be:

1. High-rep DEAD lifts. Meaning none of the tap-n-go BS. You come to a complete stop on the floor, reset your breath and back, and lift.

2. Front Squats. I often find that those slow off the ground have weak quads. What better way to build quad strength than high-rep front squats?

High-reps reduces the loading, which results in less wear and tear on the joints. And you still get the pump.

In reality, though, the benefit is that training in both fashions provides more of an undulated approach where sets/reps/loading is constantly altered. In essence: you get the best of both worlds.

Check out Tim Henriques’ All About Powerlifting.

ALSO: something else to consider is HOW you perform certain movements. In the past I had always been a conventional deadlifter. And, like a clockwork, once I started reaching a certain threshold (550+) my lower back would get cranky.

Years of pulling in an overly extended posture in conjunction with living in extension took its toll.

This past year, though, I switched to pulling a solely Sumo stance because it’s a much better fit and more of a “back friendly” approach.

2. Hire a Coach.

This was a game changer for me personally. Part of the reason why I hired my own coach (last year) was because I was sick of doing my own thinking. I write hundreds (if not thousands) or programs each year, and by the time it’s time to write my own program…I’d rather swallow a live grenade. My brain is mush and I don’t want to deal with it.

The other reason was a sense of integrity. I’ll often advocate that people hire their own coach, but then who is MY coach? It’s a good question.

Having my own coach takes the guess work out. I tell him my goals and he writes me monthly programming to help me get there. It’s fantastic.

3. Live a Little

Remember that part above where I mentioned how I used to weigh all my food? Looking back, it sucked.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand there’s a time and place for it. I’ll often recommend it to people just so they have a better appreciation for just how much food they’re actually eating.

 

Too, I understand that competitive aesthetic athletes or fitness models may need to be a little more meticulous with keeping tabs of what they put into their body.

Where I believe it becomes a problem is when this action starts to have an effect on people’s relationship with food and/or has a negative effect on their day-to-day routines.

I like to follow the lead of my good friend, Bryan Krahn, who, outside of the times when he’s purposely trying to get shredded (at 40+), doesn’t sweat the technique when he has a few fish tacos and beers one night or heads out for some extra dessert.

He trains like a beast, so who cares if he wants to have some homemade apple crumb!?

It’s like what Dan John has to say on the topic (albeit with more of a female vibe, but still applies to males):

Recently, a woman told me her friends can’t make a mistake.

What? Well, what she told me was this: Since they were attacking fat loss with aerobic work and strict dieting, they didn’t have any wiggle room. The woman, who holds herself nearly year-round at a very impressive 19% bodyfat, told me she enjoys desserts, cocktails, BBQs and fine food. But, and this is a big but, she can also do 10 pullups. She is very strong in the weightroom. In other words, her glass is so big, she can afford to cheat a little here and there.

That made no sense to me. Then I watched her train and thought about some other women I work with. When she presses an impressive kettlebell overhead (half her bodyweight with one hand!), her entire system has to gather up resources, and then adapt and recover from the effort. When little Edna at my gym thinks the five-pound dumbbell is heavy, she isn’t going to tax her body very hard.

Edna can’t eat cake.

4. Caloric Intake Should Match Activity Level

I’ve been at this long enough to know what I need to do – nutritionally speaking – to lose some fat or gain some weight if I choose to do so. I know what foods I need to eat and which ones I tend to “handle” well.

I like to call this instinctive eating.

On days I train – especially on lower body days – I tend to push my calories a little higher.

On days I don’t train, I don’t push the envelope as much.

One Caveat: we tend to forget that even I days we don’t train our body still needs calories to promote recovery. I feel many make things way too complicated than they have to be by following some sort of periodized Intermittent Fasting protocol on non-training days and Carb-Back Loading on training days, and then, every other month, Paleo.

Stop making things so complicated. It’s a fucking apple. Eat it.

Admittedly, this “rule” could be applied to anyone at any age. But I find that as we get older and we’re a little less active and little less spontaneous, and “things” tend to slow down, it provides a ton of merit.

5. Watch Predator. Just Because

 

6. Loss of Athleticism and Competitiveness.

Unfortunately, when guys hit a certain age things like slow-pitch softball and bowling become their only form of athletic activity. It’s better than nothing, but come on.

If you don’t use it, you lose it (I’ll refrain from the obvious penis joke here).

Build some more athleticism into your training. You don’t need to go hard-core CrossFit, but why not include some more medicine ball training? Or maybe box jumps?

Some find a respite by competing in powerlifting or bodybuilding or both.

And if that’s not your bag – it’s not mine – I’d encourage you to seek out a gym where others will push you to train hard. Even if it’s once per week it can make all the difference in the world.

7. Do Your Cardio

Yes, it can help in the weight room.

Don’t believe me: read THIS.

And That’s That

It’s not an exhaustive list, and by no means will apply to everyone reading…but hopefully the message is clear. I was a tool when I was 25. Come on Tony! Bookstores?

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