Ok we visited the dream world and the real world in Part 1. Now let’s get to some specifics.
If you are middle aged and American, or at least “Western” you probably are overweight. I hope you are not but this is a statistical reality. Another statistical reality is you probably sit too much.
When we were younger, you and me, we could exercise our way into an ideal body weight. Somewhere after 35 the equation shifts and diet becomes more and more important in achieving weight goal Nirvana. For me it was ketogenic calorie restricted diet that taught me what I needed to know. It will soon be time for me to update that experience and share it with you.
For you it may be different but my guess is very few people actually do this so give it a try if all else has failed.
Ok now you’ve got your weight under control, let’s look at muscle systems.
When we were younger, you and me we played more. And we played for the sake of playing, not under some structured rules that were dedicated to scores and winning.
The other day a friend of mine and I celebrated our mutual birthdays by going out to a big playing field that had once been the property of an elementary school. It was now “administrative” so the fields were public playing property. We brought boomerangs and aerobe discs (a kind of long distance Frisbee). For 90 minutes we engaged in what exercise physiologists would call High Intensity Interval Training. I called it throwing a Frisbee!
And yet the next day when I went out for my obligatory medium distance run (these days that is 5 miles) I felt what we had done the day before big time. Since it was not painful I consider it “good”.
After one day of full rest I hit the gym for some weights. The next day body weight followed by another full day of rest.
At the beginning and sometimes at the end of each day I do stretching and mobility exercises. Yoga works fine if you prefer the specific set of things that defines Yoga- I simply chose to focus on what I know my body needs.
And there my friend is the true definition of fitness in my opinion: what your body needs!
We are after all a mix of genetic and epigenetic tendencies and gifts. Life experiences and aging shapes those gifts in certain ways and we become what we are in this moment.
Are you strong? Are you fast? Do you have endurance. Can you move freely? Are you pain free or at least relatively so?
If you can answer yes to all of those things, then you are truly fit by any reasonable definition.
If not, then you have the area you should focus on and the cure for any fitness lack.
Now some specifics for you and a conundrum.
The other day on one of my runs I heard the heavy foot strikes of another runner fast approaching.
Since running can admittedly be boring at times I often “analyze” my fellow runners out there. There is no harm in it if I a wrong since they are not paying me or listening to me for that matter.
This person was a rarity. They were a bit heavy on foot strikes because of the timing of where in the stride they hit and stayed in ground contact. But everything else was really pretty darn good. The cadence was good, the posture was good, the heel lift was good, and other than landing a bit too far forward of their center of mass, the whole mechanics looked much better than most. I can’t tell you how many people I see that should not be running and are heading for an injury if they continue. In most cases the resilience of youth is all that is saving them!
This person was indeed young. So now for the consult: what would I change. Runners, real distance runners have a prototypical ultra-lean build. They lack muscle mass especially upper body mass. Without being too disparaging I call it a hollow look. Cyclists on the other hand have a more muscular physique although still quite lean.
Each of these people consider themselves fit. So we can theoretically use body habitus as a guide. What kind of athlete do you want to look like?
I would have told the guy who passed me to drop 10 to 15 pounds. I am certain it would have skyrocketed his running performance.
So what kind of physique would I personally aspire to?
For me it’s a gymnast. Viola! Integrate gymnastics into your routine and you will begin after a time to take on that body habitus. But what is gymnastics lacking? Well they do not seem to do long slow distance exercise which from the anti-aging standpoint is the most studies and currently the most important. Now you have the prescription: combine the two!
Ok so endurance work and body weight stuff, pull ups pushups, parallete work and standing balance postures (again Yoga is great) spaced out with specific tissue mobilization (Yamuna ball work, MAT etc.) with some endurance work and you have the perfect “middle aged” fitness workout.
Now a few caveats:
- Most people have not done this kind of stuff in years if ever. Start slowly especially with the things that require hanging and supporting your body with shoulder strength (dips, bar hangs etc.)
- You can and should sub out one endurance workout with a speed workout or high intensity interval training. To benefit from this, you’ll need several weeks of one day a week. You can do more but again if you are new to it be careful not to over train.
- Most people gravitate towards what they are good at. Skinny small muscled people tend to run; heavy boned thick muscled people tend to lift. Before you are 40 it’s wonderful to make the most of your god given talents and body habitus as well as doing the sports you enjoy. But as you age, you should take a serious look at what you are lacking. Skinny runners would do well to cut back their mileage and strength train 2 days a week. Big muscular or more commonly these days fat, people should focus on endurance and cardiovascular fitness. So in a nutshell do what you are NOT good at and maybe don’t yet enjoy to develop the neglected aspects of your fitness.
- Mobility mobility mobility! I honestly think for every hour of other fitness activity you do you should spend half as much time at least on mobility. Some exercises like running for me require a 1 to 1 ratio. Now you know why I don’t do 30 mile runs anymore!
- As we age consistency becomes more and more important. The other day I had done my strength routine in the morning and a few hours later decided it was time expedient to go running. About half way through the run I could tell the earlier effort and the unseasonable 85-degree weather were taking their toll so I cut the run short. In doing this I probably avoided overtraining, possible injury, certain dehydration and skipping several days of running to recover. Wisdom has taught me that showing up for the next workout is far more important than “getting my miles in” or hitting a certain weight lifted. Show up!!!! Show up consistently so you can say it really is a habit! Otherwise you’ll always be planning your personal fitness routine and not executing it. You’ll always be planning and wishing you were fit instead of being it.
Experience has taught me!!!!
Now there are many things I did not cover such as changing your routines, sport specific stuff, periodization etc. The info I have given you is an all-day everyday kind of approach. If you want to develop specific attributes, then periodization may work better for you.
But I have found that such discussions become more and more the territory of personal trainers and exercise physiologists than aging athletes!
Your Health Secret for the Day is: Try spending the next 6 weeks doing the opposite of what you are good at! If you are skinny and weak, do body weight, weight and band exercises. If you are strong in specific movements, try the bodyweight version of them and do some high intensity interval training on a Versa Climber or stationary bike. Do what DOES NOT COME naturally to you for a month and a half while still doing less of what you are good at. You may just discovery the missing link to your true fitness.
Live long, live well, have fun and share it!