Training is like wine, it gets better with age…

I have been training for 42 years spanning five decades; from my teens through my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and now 50’s.  Over those years my training has changed dramatically (as has nutrition) due to a different focus, objectives, body maturity and just plain being smarter.

In the beginning….

and for about the first decade, it was purely to compete in Olympic Lifting, Snatch and Clean & Jerk.  Something that Crossfit has actually made popular but has been in the Olympics from the very beginning thus its name.

 

David Rigert C&J
David Rigert Snatch

This was my favorite Olympic Lifter, David Rigert from Russia. Note the similarity to Moe of the Three Stooges but don’t tell him that, he would kick your ass!

The purpose of Olympic Lifting, after learning the technique, was to get strong then stronger.  Then when you accomplished that, you guessed it, you got stronger again. A pretty Neanderthal training method. I always did love simplicity!

Workouts were intense. Once I reached national level I would compete just three times a year, usually the State championships, a Regional championship, then the Nationals. Occasionally you would throw in another meet as a Guest Lifter in order to maintain your competitive groove.

At that level your training cycles were about 12 weeks long and those were even broken down further, i.e. Prep, Pre-Contest and Contest phase. Within each phase there was a certain amount of tonnage you lifted calculated as something called a K factor to stay on course with your goals at the meet. I will stop getting more technical here for the sake of keeping my readers awake! And many of you thought us weightlifters were dumb, ha!

This type of training was harsh on the body and I am putting that mildly.  You pushed your body, joints, tendons and muscles to its outer limits. That was the only way to get stronger.

After many injuries, the last one being a partially torn patellar tendon, it was time to hang up my weightlifting belt and work out to stay in shape.  At the time I knew nothing about fitness, all I knew was how to get stronger! This was a total mindset shift….

But I always love a challenge.

Training through your 20’s and 30’s…

so on I went, working out without a purpose. I still trained hard and still trained heavy even well into my 30’s. I just didn’t compete because my joints couldn’t stand the punishment of the Olympic movements. Since I also didn’t have contests to train for, there was no training cycle as before. I kept training with no real purpose other than I just loved the adrenaline rush of the gym. Something I inherited from my father…

My muscle head mentality still existed from my competition days however, where I still went as heavy and hard as I could in certain body parts, especially legs.  Squatting work outs were so intense I developed a herniated disc.  At the time I was still a No Pain, No Gain worshipper. So much so that I kept on lifting with a herniated disc until one day it ruptured and I had to have emergency back surgery the next day.

I was in my early 30’s at the time. I still remember the surgeon telling me ‘you know it’s not a good thing to be having back surgery at 30’! That’s when I knew I had to change my training objectives otherwise I would never see my 40’s without being a cripple!

Education and Experimentation…

During this era I started reading a lot about diet and nutrition. I was not interested in bodybuilding only because in those times and probably now as well, in order to do well in a contest, you had to start juicing or what they call now, taking Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s). It made no sense to me that to be healthy you had to take drugs. That was just an oxymoron!

Although I did a mix of bodybuilding and powerlifting movements, my main concentration was on form and range of motion.  I wanted to build symmetry and an athletic look, I was no longer interested in strength or size.

I found the best way to achieve this was using perfect form and extending the range of motion that the muscle stretches and contracts through each rep of a given exercise. It makes no sense to cut a rep short just so you can lift more.

Like I tell everyone weight is irrelevant when exercising. Too many people worry about that.

During this time I was still training 4-5 days a week, each body part twice a week and no cardio since I never did it when I competed.

Hitting the 40’s…

Now I am hitting my 40’s, feeling very good in how I feel especially when I get together with high school friends and find how many of them are on medication and can’t do things that are too physical. I always had a guilt feeling about staying in shape mostly because people would criticize it. It wasn’t till I hit my 40’s that I just didn’t give a crap what others thought, I knew I was on the correct life long path.

All these years of training has paid off since I have almost no similarities (in physical activities) between my friends and I except for those that also competed with me.

My metabolism had slowed somewhat, I could tell by how difficult it was for me to maintain a desired weight.

So this was the decade that I decided to incorporate some aerobic activity. I started only because I knew I needed to improve my cardiovascular system, something that I had always neglected and also because I was starting to get into hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and cycling.

Due to my metabolic change I started to pay more attention to what I ate. I started reducing sugar content, increasing fiber intake and having a consistent low fat calorie diet. This is something that I will elaborate on in a future post.

I could still train hard but one thing had definitely changed in my mid 40’s. I could no longer train a body part twice a week and it be effective. I would basically have one good work out then one crappy work out on that body part during the week.  I hate hate hate crappy workouts. It’s still the competitive side of me.

Training a body part once a week…

The logic was that it would eliminate that one crappy workout during the week and it allowed me to absolutely blast to exhaustion the one body part I was training. It also reduced the amount of training time which meant more time spent on cardio.

My training now went as follows:

 

Day 1 Chest

Day 2 Back

Day 3 Legs

Day 4 Shoulders

Day 5 Arms

 

Interesting enough, although I am working a body part once a week I am still working out ancillary muscles at the same time. For example, when working out chest you are also hitting the triceps indirectly. With back you are also training the biceps in the same way, etc.  I have legs in the middle of the week in order to give the upper body parts a rest between sessions.

I found this routine to work great, so much so that I still use it today and have converted many people in the gym to train this way as well.

Passing through the 50’s…

The most noticeable difference between 40’s and 50’s training is that you are more prone to injury. The muscles are as strong as ever, its just those pesky tendons and ligaments. I feel they are like rubber bands, there is only so many stretches left in them…

Stretching is more important now and also not doing stupid stuff like handling a weight that you know is just too heavy. I think they call this being older and wiser.

You are more intelligent in your training because the goal is health and fitness and you accomplish this by avoiding injury instead of minimizing injury.  There is a difference. When you train to avoid injury you still train hard but not crazy whereas training to minimize injury you still take risks.

For example, I never do any bent over back exercises without the support of a bench against the chest. Way too much pressure is placed on the lower spine.

I don’t do squats from the squat racks, I use the Smith Machine. I have found that they are just as effective yet safer on the joints and back. I train for longevity.

Whenever I am going for a record set it is because I know I handled the previous set relatively easy and I also do not bite more than I can chew in weight selection and reps desired.

Another noticeable difference is metabolism. While it slows down in your 40’s, it seems to come to a screeching halt in your 50’s. Diet and cardio now becomes more important than lifting!

In my 20’s and 30’s I ate fast food every day and in the evening’s maybe fast food again or something not too healthy.

In my 40’s I started tightening my diet up.

In my 50’s I am meticulous about it. I still maintain a low fat calorie diet but I also carefully watch consumption of fiber, anti-oxidants, reduction of sugar to almost a zero level and more fish and chicken and less steak although I love it (sorry Paleoists’s!).

Another trick to counter a slower metabolism is cardio training. I am now religious about it. It is a major key to maintaining target weight.

I have recently incorporated HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) cardio. HIIT involves performing any form of cardio (stairmaster, treadmill, elliptical, etc) for a set time period, usually 20 minutes, and incorporating several cycles of very high intensity speed for short bursts, normally 20 seconds.

So, for example, a 20 minute session on the elliptical would start off with a three minute warm-up, followed by a burst of speed for 20 seconds, slow it down to warm-up pace again until minute five then another 20 second burst. Each burst should be anywhere between 50%-100% increase in speed depending on your endurance level.  You go as fast as you can with nothing left in the tank after those 20 seconds.

You continue this cycle of two minute slow pace, 20 second burst until you reach the 20 minutes. The speed you maintain between your bursts does not matter. It’s the burst that’s important.

The theory behind HIIT is that your body adapts to any steady target heart rate pace where it no longer is fat burning effective. With 20 second bursts every two minutes it confuses the body and the fat burning continues throughout the session. It does not allow the body to adapt.

I have been on it this year entirely and I am hooked. I decreased the amount of cardio I was doing because I was burning too much bodyweight. It’s a beautiful thing!

In conclusion…

As you age from decade to decade, you must adapt your training in order to maintain the highest level of fitness. This is not to be confused with slowing it down.

Initially, I just threw caution to the wind and went all out because nothing hurt.  The joints can only take so much high level abuse.  So I throttled my training back and eliminated the exercises destroying the joints. I still trained recklessly though and more injuries caused me to retool my training again.

In fact my current training is more intense than when I was in my 20’s. My rest intervals between sets are much less, my exercise movements are much more controlled and deliberate and when you add cardio but the weights I use are substantially lower. Don’t get me wrong, from my original foundation I can still out lift most everyone in the gym and definitely those in my age range but it is because I graduated to that level over many years.  I now feel I am in the best shape of my life.

Initial training was for competition, for others it may be to play a sport. But as you get older you realize that training is to make your life enjoyable forever. To stay active rather than inactive.  Once you stop anything, whether physical or mental, you start to atrophy. Activity is the best anti-aging formula in the world.

Fitness is not measured on how much you can lift or how big you are. Fitness is being able to maintain the same level of activity as you did when you were younger.

One final and important benefit to staying fit and healthy is that it is contagious. What a beautiful thing to pass on to your children. It’s a lifetime benefit. I thank my Dad for starting me on this road four decades ago.

Age truly is a number and the best part is that you control what direction you want your body to take…

 

Train hard, smart and healthy to be…. Fit Forlife

 

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