I’ll Never Get Old…. Yeah, Right
Adjusting Fitness With Maturity by Tom Furman
“You need to adjust your training every 5 years.” ~ Guru Dan Inosanto
The statement above was something I heard in 1987 from Dan Inosanto at a martial arts training camp in the remote mountains of North Carolina. I was 30 and found the idea of having to decrease, change or alter my training to be an insult. I’ll never get old……..Yeah. Right.
In a way, the statement is a recognition of wisdom. If you haven’t learned from your mistakes or new technology in five years, you are stubborn or stupid. (very similar traits) Adaptation and the ability to manage a broad diversity of environments is what makes humans the apex species. Often to our own demise.
For men, particularly, ego gets in the way. We look at change or phasing to something more efficient as a signal we are not what we used to be. That idea needs to be re-framed. We are smarter, less accident prone and more consistent. More boxes checked, more “punch the clock” workouts and less, “hold my beer.”
Here are some ideas and some anecdote. Take from it what you want.
- Lose The Belly. This is first and foremost. Body leanness is a component of fitness whether you own a gym or have lots of photos on Instagram. Your excuse of, “..but I like to eat,” is probably a humorous way of saying that you medicate with food. Minimize the caloric liquids first, measure everything and record everything. Remember, you can’t outrun a donut.
- Aerobics Of Proper Duration and Low Mechanical Stress. Most men over 40 who haven’t run in decades should not start with weakened connective tissue, excess avoirdupois and less muscle. No running coach would slip a 50 pound weight vest on his 150 lb, 25 year old athlete before their 10 mile run. The advantages of modern tools like treadmills, versa climbers, stationary bikes, assault bikes, rowers, stair-climbers, ellipticals, ski ergs and arm ergo-meters have made cardiovascular training less traumatic and more measurable. If gyms are annoying, simply biking, walking or rucking are fantastic methods of training the heart. Lifting weights for duration, like sport kettlebell lifting is a grey area that trains both the muscles and heart. It’s not as efficient as pure aerobics and it is not as hypertrophic as slow, grind, lifting. It’s a trade off. Doing slow lifts or grinds to an elevated pulse rate is not cardiovascular training. It never was.
- Lift In Different Positions. Many decades ago, the thought of laying down to do a bench press was considered odd. Lifting involved picking things up, carrying them or putting them overhead. Even the first leg extension machine was considered a novelty at the York Barbell Club. The strong lifters, within weeks, had it loaded to insane levels of resistance and then it lost it’s newness. The idea of lifting in different position might have come from combat. In most cultures one had to learn to fight standing, squatting, kneeling, seated and supine. Practicing resistance training from these positions, particularly as you mature, might not be a bad idea. That would mean doing some sort of Get Up, some lifts from Half Kneeling and lastly, lifting on One Leg. Remember your chances of falling in the tub or putting on a sock are greater than dying in sword combat against another Immortal.
- You Have Got To Squat. One of the primary human movements is squatting. We have heard ad nauseam about other cultures squatting as a form of rest or to do a poop. That’s not the point here. The best way to overload massive amount of weight is the back squat. It has the highest potential to promote adaptation. However with decades, hopefully comes insight. Splitting the load and increasing, slightly, the range of motion could be quite good. Give Bulgarians a try. Start low. Really low. Get your skills and balance in order. The cool part about this move is you are getting a loaded stretch of the weak hip flexors. There are those who don’t like single leg moves. Consider another idea. My friend Jack Reape has moved from 700+ pound squats to more conservative weights after hip replacement. He can however go all out in his supplemental lifts using Belt Squats. He does a workout with that apparatus that would challenge a gamma radiated honey badger.
- Perhaps Move To Alternative Apparatus. Spending your life using barbells or machines to move the heaviest weight from Point A to Point B is the most efficient way to get stronger and more muscular. However when pushed to the bloody edge, there is a change in the risk/benefit ratio. Enough years of this might alter the integrity of your frame. This is perhaps where those apparatus like kettlebells, clubbells, sandbags, maces, rings and bands come in. They are not your first choice if incremental loading to eventually bench press 600 lbs is concerned. However they offer resistance training in more planes of motions. In this arena they are quite potent. Starting them as a beginner may be frustrating, but remember beginners get the fastest gains. Moving from a 15 pound clubbell to a 20 lber is a huge jump and exciting. Waiting for year as your bench press fades from 315 to 225 lbs due to jacked shoulders is demoralizing. You just lose the enthusiasm to drop your pants and light off fire crackers.
- Duration Dynamics. Dynamic or explosive lifting adds momentum and skill. It is more systemic and mimics a sprint. The most popular type is to do hinging. Barbells can be used, but they are better for incremental loads to high levels of resistance. The best format here is to use kettlebells, clubbells or sandbags. Repetition cleaning, swinging or snatching is both simple and effective. This is, as mentioned, a sprint. Therefore work-rest periods can be set up and duration can be increased before weight. It can be every other minute, on the minute or anything in between. Training like this transfers to changing a blown tire or doing yard work. It should always be included in the mix.
- Deadlifts May Get Old. While it’s a standard and popular exercise, flirting with recovery and potential strain might wear on you after decades. Some alternatives would be shifting to Romanian Deadlifts, doing volume Hyperextensions or try some Marching Dumbbell Deadlifts. The last idea might be more in line with recreational sports, day to day life and potential emergencies.
- Take Some Yoga. This seems like common advice and is. I don’t recommend it believing yoga is a panacea or the answer to starving children in the Sudan. I recommend it for it’s diagnostic nature. Of course you are going to look like crap compared to the veterans of the class. That’s not the point. If something in your body is nearly impossible to move, weak, tight, then this is a great way to find out it and fix it. Better in a yoga class full of women than on the street wrestling with a mugger.
- Carry Stuff. Carrying loads is part of being a human. Food, weapons, children and the injured or aged. We are made for this. The idea of beating your friend in a game of tennis then picking up your wife at the airport might be an active Saturday. While your footwork and tennis strokes are on point, carrying your wife’s luggage from her trip to Cleveland (who goes to Cleveland?) gives you an ache in your neck and traps that requires Advil. Simply add some weighted carries to your warm up or warm down. They aren’t going to change you as if you were bitten by an irradiated spider, but they maintain a function you should probably keep.
- Knee and Back Pain Get All The Press. The shoulders and hips being compromised is life changing as well. There are many, many, programs for managing rehabilitation of these ball and socket joints. One way to self manage both the hip and shoulder is to do Kettlebell Windmills. They can be done both half kneeling and standing. You can do them with straight or bent legs. They can be started with NO weight and it can be added gradually, initially in the lower hand, then upper hand and perhaps both. This type of movement stresses hinging and thoracic mobility. It targets parts of the gluteal region that atrophy from sitting all day. It’s a high value exercise. Seek the best instruction possible.
Actor Robert Blake tells the story of visiting his old friend, cowboy actor, Roy Rogers, shortly before his death. Roy was ill, but greeted Robert, entertained him all evening and walked him to his car. Blake said that Roy was a real cowboy who would rather, “die with his boots on”. That stuck with me. It reminded me of another martial arts instructor discussing value. He is a man of few words, but they are powerful.
“The real master is the one standing after the fight.” ~ Chai Sirisute
If you have any questions about this article, please email me at Physicalstrategies@gmail.com . Until then, #trainforlife
Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. With an early background in wrestling and a student of the methods of the York Barbell Club, Tom immediately separated fact from fiction growing up outside Pittsburgh. Eleven members of his family were combat veterans, the most famous one being “Uncle Charlie” (Charles Bronson) His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. He gives credit to hundreds of hours of seminars, training sessions, and ‘backyard’ workouts, including training time with many martial arts legends. He also credits his incredibly gifted training partners who came from varied backgrounds such as Exercise Physiologists, Airborne Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Boxing Trainers and Coast Guard Rescue Divers. His best selling ebook, “Seasons of Temper’’, is available at tomfurman.com. His guide to mobility, “Bamboo Gods, Iron Men and Rubber Bands’’, is available on Amazon.