This past weekend I was teaching a workshop when the topic of being strong and fit into old age came up. A few of the people were middle-aged or older, and their belief about training being more difficult for them – and all downhill – stood out to me.
I happen to be young, 29 at the time of writing this, so can I really talk on this subject? While I don’t have personal experience in being older and still lifting, I’m prepared for that eventuality. How so? Because in my many years of being in the world of strength and fitness, I’ve learned from my elders and also trained older athletes.
Besides, what I’m laying out here are principles. While techniques and workouts can and will change all the time, the principles never do.
1. Don’t Just Lift, Add More Movement
One of the top things to recognize is that over-specialization can be problematic in the long haul. Especially if that specialization isn’t placed on top of a well-rounded base.
If you train the big three power lifts, that covers a lot of the foundations for strength. But if that’s all you ever do, you’re not likely to stay pain free and continually get stronger forever. And while Olympic lifts are amazing combinations of power, flexibility, and strength, they alone don’t cover all movement of the human body, either.
One thing I suggest is utilizing different forms of bodyweight training. This isn’t just about doing more push ups and bodyweight squats. Instead, work on more difficult and more complex movement. For example, try all 52 ways to get up off the floor.
I see many elderly people struggle to stand up from a seated position. What if you did some work on movements like those above – starting now and leading up to old age? Would getting up ever become a problem for you?
As a precursor to this, also do work to ensure you have full-range joint mobility – and that you keep it. The more mobile you are (up to a point), the healthier you’ll be.
RELATED: 3 Basic Drills to Improve Your Strength and Movement
Even if lifting isn’t your thing – maybe you prefer running or a certain sport – the same concept still applies. For longevity in all activities, you need to be sure you’re also training the opposing qualities, so as not to pull your body too far out of balance.
2. Believe It Gets Better
I mentioned how the beliefs of the people in my workshop came up. Beliefs drive your training – and they drive your results. They even dictate your hormones, neurotransmitters, and all manners of other physiology to a bigger degree than often given credit.
“One important factor to remember is that the time to take action on these principles isn’t when you’re older. Your best best is to start now.”
I’m not saying you can halt aging by not believing in it. But if you don’t believe that things go downhill, you stand a much better chance at not actually going downhill.
One of the best examples of this, in my opinion, is Peter Ragnar. Here’s a man who still lifts heavy weights at an advanced age. One of my favorite quotations from him is that time itself is not toxic. It all matters what you do in that time.
Peter Ragnar, still hitting it hard
My belief is that in ten, twenty, thirty, or even forty years from now, I’ll be stronger and fitter than I am currently. After all, that’s a lot of time in which to continually train and get better.
3. Listen to Your Body
If you don’t listen to your body, it will break down. When you think of what you want to do and achieve in your training, you desire to reach that goal can become completely divorced from any signals your body is sending you.
If you don’t pay attention, you will pay the price. Read this article of mine for tips on how to listen to your body better.
“For longevity in all activities, you need to be sure you’re also training the opposing qualities, so as not to pull your body too far out of balance.”
4. Don’t Go Too Hard or Too Long
Throughout the sport and strength world there is this idea that you have to go 110%. While there are appropriate times for that, too many people make 110% their default in training. Once again, sooner or later, even with great form, this approach will cause issues.
I’ve heard this metaphor about money, but it applies to us in the gym, as well. It doesn’t matter whether you work hard for you money or you earn it in easier and smarter ways. The bank won’t give you a bonus for the former – not a single cent extra, no matter how much you plead to them about how much effort you put into your work.
It’s the same way with training. You don’t have to force your body to adapt. In fact, if you put in the right kind of work, it doesn’t matter whether you tried hard or not, your body will still adapt. Sure some effort is needed, but full effort is not. The end result is that you’ve triggered adaptation while posing less risk to your body.
RELATED: How Your Recovery Relates Directly to Your Performance
5. Nutritional Support
Longevity in training isn’t just what you do in the gym. Recovery plays a huge role. And to recover optimally you need to have the right nutrition. If you have less-than-optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, you will not recover fully and properly. Joints can wear down.
This doesn’t really have to do with which macronutrients you eat or whether you eat high-carb or low-carb, high-fat or low-fat, high-protein or low-protein. That is a part of it, but nutrition is largely about the micronutrients and longevity is the same way.
RELATED: 10 Life-Changing Reasons to Drink More Water
Of course, it’s not just about food or supplements either. Every other piece of the health puzzle is critical, too. If you’re not properly hydrated, you will not recover properly. If you don’t sleep well, you will not last long.
Putting It All Together
One important factor to remember is that the time to take action on these principles isn’t when you’re older. Your best bet is to start now – whatever your age – so you can grow older more gracefully, while getting stronger and fitter, too.
Photos courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.