I used to tell people that if I could go back to when I first started training (around the tenth grade), I would tell my younger self to change so many things. But now I realize my younger self would not have listened, and for good reason. I was in the stage of “wants,” and that is right where I needed to be. I cared about getting my bench press higher, my abs to pop out more, and increasing my bicep size in 37 different ways.
These superficial goals were awesome. I never had more fun training then I did back in high school. I was lean, had a six pack, and could move some decent weight around. Now I know I wouldn’t take anything back. I’m glad every Monday was bench press day and every Thursday (well, maybe every other Thursday) was leg day. I ate pizza and bagels, but cut out the sweetened tea and lost seventy pounds. It worked.
Assessing Wants and Needs
When you are younger, you can and should focus on what you want. You have a set schedule, meals are given to you, and you have less responsibility. Enjoy it.
As you get older, your wants slowly transition to needs. This is where many people get lost. You graduate college and now have a different schedule with more responsibilities. You still try to keep the same workouts and eating habits as before, but it stops working. The desk job takes its toll, and now your low back hurts. Training five days a week becomes training three times in six weeks.
But here’s the deal – the “I used to” statements need to stop.
It doesn’t matter what you used to do. Reassess what you need now. If there is any time left after that, you can focus on what you want.
Now that I am thirty, I train to prevent back pain and keep my body fat around twelve percent. Longevity is important to me, and will become more important as I age. I work with several amazing people in their seventies and eighties. They want to still be able to move around and see their grandkids grow up. They train and eat the way I tell them because their quality of life depends on it.
Every five to ten years, assess your training and eating and adjust accordingly. Something like 80% want and 20% need when in the young training stage, and 20% want and 80% need in our later years. Somewhere in the middle it will be about 50% want and 50% need.
Here are some nutrition and training tips to help you through these stages and transitions:
Our Stages of Life: High School
Focus on your target areas, like arms and abs. Try different routines, read magazines, and do what you want. Eat pizza, but add a veggie or two in there. Start to understand this can’t go on forever, but enjoy it while you can. I’m not promoting childhood obesity, but I’ve worked with enough people in this age group to realize that introducing small habits is about as far as it will go. Just lifting regularly will keep weight off, so good is good enough.
Our Stages of Life: After College
Reassess what you need. It will probably still include lots of body composition goals, but you also need to think about the next five years. You sit more now and are not playing intramural sports. You skip the gym when you need to work overtime. When you do work out, include a warm up, and get at least one night of recreational activity.
At this stage of your life, it’s important to get three regular meals and moderate alcohol intake (and please upgrade your beer choices from college). Include a vegetable at every meal and get adequate protein in the morning.
Our Stages of Life: Thirties into Forties
This was a difficult transition for me. Since I turned thirty, I have had two reoccurrences of an old back injury. I have also hired a coach because I need someone to tell me what I need to do. Now my workouts include a solid warmup with specific exercises designed to maintain stability and mobility. I also do correctives in between sets to reinforce good movement.
“It doesn’t matter what you used to do. Reassess what you need now.”
If there was ever a time to hire a coach, this is it. It isn’t that your metabolism becomes damaged or slow, but having higher priorities like kids and work begins to get in the way of moving more throughout the day. Limiting food intake will help keep the weight off. Stop thinking about the diet you tried in high school. It’s time to focus on the little things, like preparing lunches, avoiding the vending machine, and drinking enough water. Your longevity depends on how well you accept this age and your new lifestyle.
Our Stages of Life: Fifty-Plus
This is my favorite group to work with. Your biggest goal is to avoid chronic illness and stay off medication. But at the same time, you can try things you may have wanted to do when younger but didn’t have the time. By training smart, you can be pain-free outside of the gym and act younger.
Focus on mobility, power, and getting up and down off the ground as much as possible. I’ve seen too many programs focusing only on mobility and super light dumbbells. You need to lift heavy. Just make sure your movement patterns are solid. The volume does not need to be high. Beware of any program that has you lifting like you are 110 years old. Of course, a high school football program is also not suitable.
Get adequate protein at every meal, as you are in a fight to keep muscle on. Keep body fat in check, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and go for a walk after each meal.
Accept Your Stage of Life
To truly understand what your body needs, assess your age, responsibilities, and values. Being young and stupid is awesome. Hitting thirty and working with the fifty-plus crowd has helped me appreciate this reality. Now I don’t judge a fitness or nutrition program without understanding who it is for.
As we get older, we need to accept our age as it applies to training and nutrition. But this is only because we should be able to do great things well into our nineties. Accept your stage of life and train smart so you don’t have to act your age.
More Like This:
- How to Calculate Your Fitness Age
- Aging Is B.S.: The Myth of Missed Opportunities
- Bulls and Toby Keith: Fitness Lessons for the 40+ Athlete
- New on Breaking Muscle Today
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