Monday, 20 April 2015

Longevity Secrets to Building an Athletic Body for Life

Picture yourself as old (I will let you decide what age that is). What do you want to be like? Do you want to still be in great shape? Do you want to be out enjoying life, running around with your grandkids or hobbling around with a walker? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a broken-down has been. I enjoy having a strong, lean athletic body and want to continue enjoying this for years to come. If you are interesting in not only getting into great shape, but staying in great shape for life, keep reading!
This Picture of 72 year-old Darrell Gallenberger doing a 402lb deadlift from Mark Rippetoe's "Practical Programming for Strength Training" is my inspiration for longevity training. 
Decide what you really want
Despite what the ads say – you can’t have it all. You have to say “no” to some things so you can say “yes” to others things. What you really want from a training program? Are you trying to set a world record or win a Super bowl ring? If you are, you will have to put everything on the line and go for it. After you accomplish this, your body will probably not like you very much. Many super-star athletes and lifters of yesterday are not exactly what you would call “well-functioning” today. We all make our own choices and we all have to live with the consequences. If you are not interested in the Olympics, train in a way today that will let you keep training at a high level tomorrow and for years to come!
Decide how far you want to go
When you go from being sedentary to moderately active, you see huge improvements in your health. When you go from a good fitness level to a high performance fitness level, you don’t necessarily see further increases. The higher you go, the greater your risk of injury and long-term damage to your body. How far do you really want to go?

Earn the big weights
I’m all for lifting big, heavy weights. In fact, if you want to build a strong, lean body that can actually do something useful, you need to lift big, heavy weights. The biggest problem with heavy weights is when you let your ego get the best of you and start lifting weights you have not earned the right to lift. Start at a weight that is challenging, but one that you can do with great form and build up from there. If you have a qualified coach or a competent training partner, be sure to get assistance with your technique. Another super-effective strategy is to have someone film you doing a work set. You will be amazed at what you can learn and how your technique will benefit from you being able to see what you look like when you lift. If you are on the platform trying to set a world record, you just get the weight up – somehow. If you want longevity, don’t compromise your technique.

Save a little in the tank for next time
I got this sage advice from the legendary Bill Pearl in his book “Getting Stronger.” This was the first strength training book I bought as a kid and I still remember this advice. By saving a little in the tank, you set yourself up physically and mentally for a great next-training session. Mark Rippetoe wisesly advices people to see training as a journey and your goal as the final destination. Each training session should not be a life-or-death battle, but rather one step closer to your ultimate goal. Always remember that the goal is to get better, not to just get tired.

PR, but don’t max
I got this fantastic advice from Brett Jones. I’m a huge fan of PR’s (personal records). I keep track of mine (I just set a farmer’s walk RP the morning I wrote this) and we have a record board up in our athlete training area. However, you don’t need to do an all-out max to set a PR. For example, last year I pulled my first 500lb deadlift. If you watch the video closely, you will notice that while it was heavy and challenging, it didn’t look like a true, 1-rep max. It went up smoothly and my back was fine afterwards.

Pick fantastic exercises
As you get older, you will run into 2 problems: 1) life is busy and 2) your ability to recover decreases. If you want great results in a time-efficient manner without exceeding your ability to recover, you need to focus on picking fantastic exercises. Also, while you want to avoid always doing something different (your muscles don't need to be confused), doing the exact same movement continually can wear down the joints. Instead seek out a handful of great exercises for each movement that you can rotate through in different programs as needed.

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Do an honest risk-reward analysis 
With YouTube and Instagram, cool eye-catching exercises are more popular than ever. If you are not careful, you can end up choosing exercises simply because they look cool and will give you attention. Always keep your goals clearly in sight. With every cool exercise that comes along, honestly ask yourself: 
  • Is this exercise needed for me to reach my goals?
  • What are the benefits of this exercise?
  • What are the risks of this exercise?
  • Are the benefits worth the risk?
  • What am I going to take out of my current routine to make room for this?
For example, a few years back, I learned how to do a muscle-up on the rings. I was super-excited to be able to do such a cool-looking exercise. The next day I was trying to talk one of my interns into learning how to do the muscle-up and he wisely asked me the important question - why? What benefit do you get from a muscle-up that you don't get from pull-ups and dips? I quickly realized that since I was already able to do weighted pull-ups and dips, aside from the coolness factor, how beneficial is it to do unweighted muscle-ups? Now, I'm not saying that muscle-ups are a bad exercise or that you shouldn't do it. However, you can build a strong, well-developed upper body without doing muscle-ups. They are higher risk and require extra time and energy to fit into your routine. Before you do so, you have to ask, "Is the reward worth it for me?"

Maintain athleticism 
If as a child, you had the chance to have free play outside, you likely developed some decent athleticism. However, the sedentary screen-dominant lifestyle of most adults causes you to unlearn much of this. Use it or lose it. Don’t just lift weights and do cardio. Rolling, crawling, tumbling (thanks Dan John for this gem), climbing, sprinting, throwing and loaded carries are all excellent things that if safely done and properly progressed can do wonders for your athleticism. Regaining and maintaining athleticism will allow you to move well for decades to come and help you to be best-prepared to lend a helping hand or be ready for an emergency that physically exceeds using a cell phone. 

Hard to get more "functional" than Farmer's walks
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Fight to hold onto muscle mass and joint mobility as you age 
Thanks to the wise Coach Dan John for this wonderful tip. When you are young, you are at your natural peak of lean muscle and it is all downhill from there (what a pleasant thought). As you age, keep a greater focus on hypertrophy training, mobility work and soft tissue work

Related Post: Wise Words from Dan John 

Do the right type of cardio
Too much of traditional cardio (e.g. jogging) will reduce lean muscle mass, decrease mobility and beat up your joints. Stay on either side of the intensity continuum and focus more on walking and sprinting. 

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Use your body outside of the gym
The sad reality for many folks these days is that even if they train regularly, they are almost completely sedentary outside of the gym. In addition to building strength and athleticism in the gym, seek to actually use your body outside the gym. Go for a daily walk, play games/sports, do outdoor recreational activities, split firewood, rake leaves, etc…

Don’t sit
Sitting stinks. It wrecks your health, accelerates your aging and destroys your athleticism. 

Do what you can to remove sitting your from daily life
Keep some power training
Too often we see power as a performance quality for athletes. However, as we age, power becomes more of a health quality. No one ever falls in slow motion – a quick powerful leg or arm movement could save you from a broken hip in your later years. Also, research shows an increased mortality risk for those who have lower power levels. Sprinting, jumping and throwing are simple things you can add right after your warm-up. They will excite the nervous system (thus improving your performance on your main lifts) and keep you feeling fast and powerful. For my information, check out my YouTube Channel’s playlist of explosive power exercises (note: they may not all be appropriate for you – choose the ones that are). 

Willardson, JM., &Tudor-Locke, C. Survival of the Strongest: A Brief Review Examining the Association Between Muscular Fitness and Mortality. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 27(3):80-85, June 2005.

Eat well
I know you know this, but it needs to be said: eating well will improve your health, energy and body composition. It will also reduce inflammation with wrecks your joints and be linked to a host of other health problems. 

Be kind to your joints
Joint health is a key prerequisite for high-performance training. While the barbell is a fantastic tool for strength and a great body, but too much of a good thing will beat up your joints. Supplement your barbell training with more joint-friendly alternatives. For the upper body, look for neutral grip options (e.g. neutral-up pull-ups, Swiss bar pressing) or pick exercises with dumbbells or rings to reduce shoulder, elbow and wrist stress. For lower body, avoid too much spinal compression. Supplement big exercises such as squats, deadlifts and farmer’s walks, with more spine-friendly exercises such as lunge variations and hip thrusts

Get Professional Help
Use other health care professionals (e.g. physiotherapy, athletic therapy, massage, chiropractic, manual therapy, sports medicine) as needed. This can go a long way in preventing injury, optimizing function and improving recovery.

Never Fight Your Body
If you try to fight your body, you will lose every time. Instead of fighting it, work with your body. Listen to your body – it will tell you what it doesn’t like. If certain exercises are aggravating your joints, replace with more appropriate variations for you. If you are feeling run down, take a week off or do a deload week. If the big barbell lifts are beating you up instead of building you up, look for alternatives or reduce how often you use them. Do enough training to get your results, but not so much that you cannot sustain steady progress. If you can’t recover properly between workouts, look to improve your recovery or reduce your training volume and/or frequency. Work with your body so you can enjoy it for years to come.

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