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.
As a private equity investor, seven years represented our maximum investment horizon. Everything beyond seven years was, essentially, forever.
Well, we’re coming up on our 17th wedding anniversary and it doesn’t feel like we’ve traveled “twice” beyond forever!
It does, however, feel very good to be traveling together.
My focus on 7 is related to turning 53.
7 + 53 = 60
I suspect 60 will mark the end of my middle age.
The signs — less of everything — are all around me.
A book which has guided my life is Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. I read it at the start of my marriage and applied its advice, gradually – point by point.
I would notice Dr. Livingston’s advice in others, then change those traits in myself. Ultra endurance sport gave me a set of skills related to not responding to others. Time and time again, I was rewarded when I overcame my urge to engage.
Outside of sport the game was to not-encourage certain aspects of my personality. I came to his writing with an understanding that my approach to relationships didn’t work, and a powerful desire to find a better way to love.
Like a new parent, I did not have confidence in what-to-do, so I focused on avoiding the big mistakes.
Don’t act on anger => easier than… be patient all the time
Focus on de-escalation => easier than… seeking to fix whatever seems to be the problem
Wait until the energy leaves the situation => better than… heated engagement
Schedule time together => better than… expecting my family to serve me
Avoid those who bring out the worst in me
Place myself in my best environment, especially with those I love
Lots of guys, and it is mainly guys, get themselves into unnecessary trouble with regards to sex. Tactics that have proven the test of time. I encourage these in my son…
Strength Training – very useful for anger modification. Like everything, I have tended to over-do-it.
Consistently toss plate and you’ll make less mistakes. Just seems to work.
As a young man, I used (extreme) endurance training. At 53, endurance-fatigue removes too many of the filters I use to manage my family life.
About those filers… I’ve come to realize that the greatest risk my family faces isn’t some external shock. It’s me. Specifically, the personality traits that I burnt off in my 30s will resurface and screw up an enviable situation.
Life gives each of us opportunities to start fresh, take parenthood. Not easy, often not much fun… very rewarding in hindsight, much like endurance sport. My kids have an experience of me that starts in my mid-40s. I love what they see in me. Fatherhood is a reminder that we can change, for the better, at any stage of our lives.
Pick a habit, learned young, that might be useful NOT to pass along.
Break the chain.
Dr. Livingston has ideas for you.
Athletic spouse – when I pointed out the utility of this tactic, my son asked me to detail specifics!
With him, and you, I’ll leave this advice at “it just seems to work.”
By the way, to end up with an athletic spouse I needed to embrace everything implied, both in myself, and subordinating my “needs” to my goals. Again, elite sport was a useful teacher.
As a couple, we support whatever is required to have the physical partner we desire. We live in the fittest zip code in the US, have an extensive home gym, start each day with a workout… a mutually reinforcing positive cascade.
Having “fitness” as a core value creates blindspots:
desiring access to fit-folks we’d do well to avoid; and
being slow to embrace not-fit teachers, who are masters of subjects that can change our lives for the better.
Even with the blindspots, fitness crowds out choices that lead us astray. Having tried the not-fit path, it’s a good trade.
Here’s an idea about freeing one’s self from the fears and anxieties that typify the mindset of high achievers.
As an endurance athlete, most of my efforts went into my sport. Prior to that, my energies went into finance. Prior to that, they went into school. However, in finance & in school, there was energy left for pursuits that could have led to ruin. Dr. Livingston covers most my mistakes in the first 20 pages on his book on love.
Despite its realities, elite endurance sport has a strong association with health. That association was enough to nudge me into seeking to be better person outside of sport.
5, 10, 20 years of better… the compounding effect is real, especially when I transferred a “be the brand” coaching model to fatherhood.
There’s a very old teaching that was taught to me by Mark Allen…
If you want the full power of your actions, then tell no one.
From a walk in London (1993) to a couch in Hong Kong (2000) to a wonderful family (2022).
Brief moments, seemingly small choices, gradually reaching for better.
He was talking about race performances. Time has shown Scott’s observation to apply more broadly, say, to families and parenting.
Related to my last post about the phases of early education, you are unlikely to regret the difficulties required to set your family on a better path.
Go further… regardless of the outcome for the generation that follows you… providing a wonderful childhood, to any kid, will be a source of longterm satisfaction.
I’ve been at the fatherhood game for more than a decade. Often I feel worn out. The “worn out” seems to be adaptive. Our oldest is now a teen and my fatigue provides motivation to continue the process of getting her ready to leave us.
So that’s the family bit… occasionally awful, often fatiguing, always satisfying in hindsight.
Physically, my early 50s are much different than my early 40s. The rate of decline isn’t clear to me. The downward trajectory, however, is clear!
Specific tactics I’ve been using, and considering:
Anaerobic & Tempo Load – my ability to “do work” remains at a high level. What’s missing is the capacity to recover quickly from those efforts.
I can see why people choose to supplement their recovery hormones. I’ve skipped that path. I’ve skipped it because the last thing I need in my life is an increase in aggression. I also like the challenge-of-figuring-things-out.
Strava – I ditched it at the start of this month. I felt the public posting was nudging me towards fatigue.
=> Limiting crowd size appears to help the quality of my decisions.
Oura Ring – I bought the Gen 3 ring and have had it on for six weeks. It’s been a help. I particularly like the ability to look at what’s happening across the night.
Other Changes: turned my morning alarm off, stopped counting days skiing, stopped counting ski vertical and ditched all notifications.
Nothing buzzes, rings or flashes in my life.
Oxygen Room – When I lived in Christchurch (NZ), I had an altitude room that I used for work/sleep. It was a low-oxygen room, created by running O2 concentrators, and pumping oxygen out of the room.
The company that sold me the system is now creating oxygen-rich rooms, to let people sleep at “sea level.” A friend installed one at her ski place and she loves it. When she caught COVID (breakthrough) with Influenza (same time), she headed “up” to be at “sea level” for recovery.
With the O2 room, I’m considering:
What’s the goal? Perhaps better recovery. Sea level sleep, when physically tired, is bliss.
Assuming better recovery, how’s that actually better?
How would I use the better recovery? History indicates I’m likely to add load until I am just-as-tired as before!
So maybe it’s better to save the $$$s and modify my load.
Time’s going to force load reductions on me, regardless of recovery protocols. Another reason to avoid hormone supplementation => I might as well figure it out now.
Do you notice what you’re not doing to yourself?
It is difficult to wrap my head around things “not done.”
My demographic doesn’t write much about all the alcohol, edibles, prescription drugs and hormone supplementation that’s going on. I’ve decided to skip all that.
When my kids ask why…
Reality is enough for me.
You will need to decide what you want to get done in life.
Preparation & Prudence
Our family feels like it’s moving into a new phase. The changes are impossible to ignore.
My challenges with “preparing” physically.
Watching my kids track into self-directed learning, and living.
The shortening window, of years, that lie ahead.
On every metric, my life (and the lives of those close to me) is on track.
A new question arose this year…
Whatwas the goal of all the preparation and prudence? Amazing wife, all-star kids, cash burn under control, balance sheet on target, body doing better than I ever expected… what now?
Back in the summer, I wrote a small “to do” list. One of the items was 20 blogs in 20 weeks. This one is #20.
Thanks for reading and for getting in touch from time to time.
This holiday season, I hope you get outside and give yourself a chance to enjoy the view. I’ve been trying to look around more.
Picture below is moon-set from the middle of December. I never wonder “what now” when I’m enjoying the outdoors.
It simply isn’t possible to see both (a) what the future could be; and (b) the drag of accepting the way things are.
Over Thanksgiving my kids reminded me of this fact. They were amazing.
Earlier in the year, I told them that I was done spending time with all three. No “full family” trips.
I stuck to my guns. When it came to kids, I was 1s and 2s across the year. Much less refereeing between them.
But they missed hanging out with each other so they started a get-along campaign.
See Dad, we get along now.
Reminded me of another favorite lesson => to be sick of sickness is the only cure.
The part of me that likes to say “no” was a little sad at their improvement. Strange thing human nature!
I share the story as a holiday reminder that parents have a choice with regard to the status quo. It does take a lot of patience, skill and persistence to help everyone get along with each other.
While I can’t control the actions of others, as a parent, I can influence the incentive structure.
Even getting the incentives correct, change was slow and took many months, to become obvious.
Another thing that’s been frustrating is my lack of recovery. In my 50s, I simply do not bounce back from anything very well.
I’ve noticed that the days with “more” cardio are a whole lot easier for my mental health. So, with an eye towards “better”, I got myself an Oura ring to gain insight into resting HR, HRV and sleep quality.
This process was another reminder… Two things are necessary for progress: (a) make mistakes visible; and (b) have the courage to see, then address, uncomfortable truths.
You see, I bought the ring so it could tell me what I wanted to hear!
Unfortunately, the data has had other ideas. It’s early days, so I’ll skip the specifics until I’ve gone a full season.
Suffice to say, the message appears to be that my appetite is greater than my tolerance. The only way I’m going to fit in “more” is to go a whole lot easier (most of the time). This reminds me of an observation I shared with KP (when he was my age).
I used to do a lot more easy training than I remember.
He liked that quote so much, he hung it above his desk. As I near 53, I’m glad the memory came back to me.
Anybody over 50 who says “age is just a number” isn’t paying attention, or may be trying to sell you something. 🙂
A recurring theme across my fatherhood journey… remembering it is OK to be sensible.
Another observation, this one physiological, each time I give myself a novel anaerobic stimuli, it kicks my butt for at least a month.
The first month of something new kicks my butt. Being wrecked is obvious to me. Thereafter, the fatigue gets more subtle.
Mark Allen quote… just because you feel better, doesn’t mean you are better. At the time we were talking about over-reaching but it applies more broadly.
In other words, adaptations are continuing even when I can’t “feel” them.
The shirt pictured above is from the last time I was “fast” in a conventional sense, August 2012. We had a 3 year old, a baby and my wife was 8-months pregnant with our youngest.
Shortly thereafter, I decided to pause the racing. That one choice started a positive cascade of consequences that continue to benefit my family.
The “pausing” racing choice was a big one to make. I had a lot of my identity tied up in my relative performance.
I also had a mistaken belief that the process of race preparation was essential to look good. As I age, I’m bumping into the same fear.
Just like with my household, changing the incentives can lead to better.
Our oldest turns 13 this summer and our youngest turns 9. So we have ~5 years until our kids are fairly independent.
Additionally, I’m 52 => so I have 5-10 years until my next physical transition will begin. I noticed a shift at 45 yo and suspect I’ll see another in my late-50s.
Optimizing For Life
Peloton recently added heart rate tracking to their platform. As a result, I see how y’all are training when we’re on the same workout. 2-3 zones above me.
I want you to know there is HUGE upside from learning to train against your impulses – particularly your urge to maximize your numbers, any numbers!
At some point in the future, all we will care about is the CAPACITY to do fun stuff with friends, (grand)kids and spouses. Spending mojo to temporarily pop our 20-minute bests gives us nothing in our larger lives.
But it’s worse than wasting time. Focusing on athletic top-end generates fatigue that prevents us from creating something useful: relationships, career, a home or sub-max capacity.
What is sub-max capacity? I have two main constraints I place on myself:
No impact on my larger life.
Feed myself with real food (outside of training) and water (inside of training)
I spent my pandemic being very consistent and got my performance to 3 watts / kilo in my comfortable zone (<122 bpm, my HR max is low-170s). Good enough.
Push a bit and I can generate 900KJ in a hour. Much above that output I need to start adding sugar to my diet.
Pay attention to the habits that nudge you towards adding sugar (or alcohol, edibles, sleeping pills, pizza… you get the drift).
I have made a decision to LEAVE MYSELF NUTRITIONALLY UNDERTRAINED FOR SPORT. This is tough to do.
I used to be a Jedi-Master of oxidation and carbohydrate uptake. It’s tough not to use a key strength, especially as I really, really like to eat! 🙂
Why? Choosing a higher-sugar lifestyle does nothing for my health, life and body composition.
Also, enabling a higher-output lifestyle reduces the energy I have available for my strength training.
Since I turned 50, the bulk of my fatigue comes from strength training.
Efficiency. Strength training is the best fatigue generator for minute invested – better than running, with no range-of-motion cost. I can keep my aerobics “good enough,” ride everyday and maintain my capacity to do fun stuff.
Invert! If I don’t challenge myself with strength training then a weaker future will happen sooner.
Error avoidance. If I challenge myself with strength training then the urge to “maximize the short” is held at bay. The “short” being short-duration and short-term.
Finally, if three hours of my week generates most my training fatigue that leaves a ton of time for working on key relationships, writing, reading => things that might be useful tomorrow.
Ask older friends, and the oldest members of your family, what they value (and what they lack).
Choosing certain race goals implies certain training protocols.
Certain training protocols imply certain lifestyles.
Goal => Protocol => Lifestyle
Metabolic and work-rate training // beyond an hour, beyond comfortable tempo efforts… imply nutritional habits that prevent me from optimizing my health. Something to consider.
Related, look around at the causes for “things going wrong” => injuries, burnout, chronic fatigue… basically anything that causes us to lose consistency.
The Pandemic forced us to be reasonable. Sanity worked way better than I would have expected.
1/. Consider your 1,000-day protocol.
2/. Understand the lifestyle implied by your goals.