In your 50s and 60s, you’re going to have the money to do neat stuff.
Are you going to have the body?
I propose three goals to guide your training:
Add muscle mass
Maintain sexual function
If you’re still into race performance then bookmark me and come back in a few years.
Because you might be screwing up all three by leaving sustained tempo in your program.
Now, you’re probably thinking that it’s impossible for an older person to add muscle mass.
You might have even resigned yourself to a long, slow decline in personal function.
That’s certainly the way aging was taught to me (by members of your profession).
Are you sure?
An elder surgeon confided in me that “half the stuff I learned in med school, turned out to be false.”
Perhaps a shift in approach could get you a better outcome?
Besides, there is little downside from shifting your program, away from endurance fatigue, towards doing what it takes to add functional strength.
So how might we do that?
During the pandemic, I learned this protocol by accident.
I was locked in my house, with three high-energy kids, and I needed a way to chill out before endless days of Home School.
I turned to weights, a lot of them.
I worked my way through Rob Shaul’s SF45 program. The full program was eight modules and took me 60 weeks to complete.
Total body transformation.
Not only did it transform my body, my wife started having fire fighter fantasies. 😉
I became much better at moving through the mountains.
Rob’s redone the modules and now splits them by age (40, 50, 55 and 60). You can find them under General Fitness Plan Packets on his website.
I’ve taken what I’ve learned from Rob and interpreted into my life as a coach to kids, adults and elders. I use pieces of Rob’s protocols to address specific concerns (balance, fall risk, muscle activation, injury prevention and rehab). I tweet about these on Wednesdays.
I use Rob’s stuff for creating a valuable form of stress on my 53 yo body.
Gaining functional strength
To do neat stuff
With the people I love
For as long as possible
My training schedule is built around placing my key days (my strength-focused days).
I never skip a strength day but… I do delay it when I know it would be counter-productive to stress myself further.
So how to place those key days?
That was my central problem across 2021.
I kept getting run down, I felt old, my mood was crap, I was worried that I was “done” as an athlete.
To be sick of sickness is the only cure
– The Tao Te Ching
Eventually, I committed to do whatever it took to get my recovery on track. If that meant “getting old” then I’d just have to deal with the consequences.
It wasn’t all that complicated. My Garmin watch had be collecting resting heart rate data for years. Data that I had been ignoring because I was scared to recover properly!
To my resting HR data, I added heart rate variability from an Oura Ring. Recently, I added HRV4Training to better see the differences between my acute and chronic movements.
I don’t use the Readiness Scores because I don’t need precision (and have doubts that any of us can predict outcome on a complex system, like the human body).
All I am seeking is a signal from the raw data.
Red – you’d better dial it down
Yellow – no surges, just aerobic maintenance (ie fat burning)
Green – Go For It, Bro!
So when I’m at home, it’s a simple choice each morning.
Strength or Cardio
Strength is whatever plan I’m using from Rob.
Cardio is a bike workout, usually with a 130 bpm cap.
If I’m not “green” for a strength day, then I dial it down, or delay.
If I’m “red” then I spin easy on the bike (HR < 120) and schedule a neighborhood walk for the afternoon.
ZERO anaerobic load on a “red” day.
By waiting for a green signal, I avoid putting myself into a hole, that takes days to clear.
I’d been running this system (morning strength or cardio) for most of the pandemic (2020 & 2021) but was not paying attention to my HR, and didn’t have the HRV data.
With the HRV data, and guidance from Dr Jeff Shilt, I am able to better place the days that make me tired. Doc J shared his traffic light system, which let me create this article I’m offering you.
As we age, how best to define “getting better”?
We will work towards improving the self-confidence that you’ll be able to continue to share outdoor activities with those you love.
We will use a training approach that builds a large physical reserve against the fears we hear from our elders.
Confidence that, while absolute performance is declining, we continue to enjoy the physical side of life.
Confidence that, while we’re all going to “get old” eventually, we will be able to live independently for as long as possible.
This is going to require a shift in focus from “athletic performance” to maintaining “functional performance.”
The very good news is this approach is time efficient.
Yes, the strength days will kick your butt BUT, when they are placed wisely, you will bounce back and end up with more energy across your week.
Last week, I was in Telluride with my buddy, Mark. He asked me a question, very much on point…
Aren’t you afraid you’ll gain weight?
Why yes, I am terrified!
The context was my current “far less than I used to” training program. Sure, I was scared, and that’s why I kept the volume rolling for so many years.
However, like so many fear-based quirks in my life, my fears proved groundless.
Further, creating a lifestyle catered to misplaced fear crowds out a lot of useful work!
Get Off the Wheel of Sugar
AC has been crushing with a series of threads encouraging athletes to improve their stamina and fat burning. The lessons run much, much deeper. Creativity, cognition, and metabolic health – all benefit from working on the low-end of our fitness.
Many of us use training protocol as a way to justify our food choices. With the best intentions, we remove a food group, and end up replacing it with sugar.
Starting to train, we shift our nutrition towards “sports nutrition.”
My buddy, Jonas Colting, calls this getting caught in Gel Hell.
Not a win.
Two tips work here:
Aim to eat more veggies than my vegetarian pals.
Stay below my sugar threshold.
#1 requires a bit of effort, but not too much. My main gig is salads and stir-frys.
#2 can be scary – it implies less total duration, less intensity.
Both these changes nudge us towards sustainable choices and, as we age, reduce the risk of ruin from following a Chronic Endurance lifestyle.
Back in the day, folks used to debate the utility of strength training for endurance athletes. Do y’all still do that?
I’m not into debating, I’d rather use something that works.
Strength Training Works.
There is a conscious, and unconscious, attraction to people who move powerfully – moving well, is attractive.
You want to be more attractive, trust me (see below).
Being attractive improves our self-image, which sets up a virtuous circle in our larger lives.
Trying to change everything at once leaves me feeling scattered and distracted.
It doesn’t work.
Again, here’s what works:
One person, one habit, one pattern, one choice…
Each of us has a habit, relationship or pattern that we can eliminate, for gains.
2 beers before bed
A basket of bread with lunch and dinner
Bread + cheese = pizza 😉
A friend who’s a feeder
Don’t try to do everything.
Don’t think you need to change “forever”.
Simply take a break for 30 days and pay attention.
With all this stuff, letting go of my fears seems daunting.
#1 – the biggest change, and challenge, for an endurance athlete… cap your cardio sessions at an hour and drop all group training. No more than two cardio sessions per day but you can walk around as much as you like! This is the only way I save the mojo to truly push myself in the gym and get-it-done.
#2 – add plyometrics // the leg blaster program that I used is here – combine with traditional gym work (focused on squats and leg press) – total time investment for the plyometrics was 12 hours over six months – outstanding return on investment!
#3 – track total movements // my plyometric routines built up to 420 movements in 15 minutes – during base training, my traditional exercises were focused on getting to 100 movements per exercise (sets of 20-25 reps with short rest) – the total gym session would be 400-500 movements (during base/prep training) – I did best my splitting plyometrics away from lifting days.
#5 – gains come from working the legs // my entire body benefits from improved leg strength. I didn’t focus on my upper body until I had been focusing on my legs for 20+ weeks. The upper body gains came fast from a month of adding push ups, burpees and the PT Pyramid.
Most my gains are hidden: better range of movement in my knees, improved energy and being able to toss my kids around.
It was a lot of fun and I ended this block feeling jacked, rather than exhausted.
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