You Just Wait Till You’re My Age
Cue raspy & 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 I was surrounded by.
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 workouts in 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 deadlifts 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 have been the point?? He was watching a rerun of Murder, She Wrote.
It would have been too easy.
Plus, you know, I wasn’t interested in getting fired.
I’m not gonna lie…there was a part of me that was downright irritated. “Tha fuck outta here,” 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 45.
And while I still feel the guy who blurted out that nonsense was and still is a tool, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that he was kinda-sorta, in the teeniest-tiniest of ways…right.
Come Again Now, Tony?
Now, this is in no way to insinuate that I feel being over 4o is over-the-hill. 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.
But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had to alter my training the older I’ve gotten.
I can chalk 1/3 of that up to maturity.
Another 1/3 to life…(running a business, spending time with family, kitty cuddles).
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 major hit with the ladies.
Now that I’m older, 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, Alias reruns are still a thing.
The last 1/3 of the equation, and I say this reluctantly, can be attributed to physiology. Yes, as we get older, our body’s will inevitably remind us that we’re not 25 anymore.
However, rather than succumb to the adage “that’s just how it is, deal with it,” I’d like to offer some insight on how guys my age can (and probably 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 mostly everyone to cast a spotlight on the squat, bench press, and deadlift. This is not to say other exercises don’t enter the discussion, but those three tend to be the big players when it comes to building an impressive physique that performs well.
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.1
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.
Another option I like is using the EDM (Estimated Daily Max) protocol. The advantage of this approach is that it takes into account daily/weekly fluctuations in one’s readiness to train.
In other words: Some days you feel like the Rock and want to get after it hard in the gym. Other days you feel like you’ve been hit by a rock and just don’t have the juice.
Using EDM sets just means you work up to a “daily max” (usually 3-5 reps) FOR THAT DAY. It’s not a true max effort.
It’ll look something like this:
A. EDM of 5: Take as many sets as you need in order to hit a challenging set of 5 (where you have 1-rep left in the tank).
Once you hit that number, stay there, and then perform an additional 2-4 sets of THREE reps. This will allow you to get some more volume in with an appreciable weight, but you should still be able to perform them reasonably fast and with impeccable technique.
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 chest with your bench press a great accessory movement would be the Spoto Press.
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.
2. Hire a Coach.
This was a game changer for me personally. Part of the reason why I hired my own coach 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.
Having my own coach takes the guess work out. I tell them my goals and they write me monthly programming to help me get there.
It’s fantastic. Coaches need coaches too.
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 slices of pizza 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!?
The key is that he’s back on task the following day. A one-day “excursion” is exactly that…one day.
It’s like what Dan John has to say on the topic:
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 Lunar 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. Hey, Guess What? You’re Not a Spartan Warrior (or a Navy SEAL)
Stop purchasing and following programs that cater to this bullshit.
6. Loss of Athleticism and Competitiveness.
Unfortunately, when we hit a certain age things like slow-pitch softball and bowling become our 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).
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.