You have most likely heard something along the lines that age is just a number?
Let me tell you something, and remember, I am a savage.
That’s simply not true.
Your age, and the surrounding stresses that come with adulting, need to be accounted for if you want your hard work to yield physical fruits.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you can’t push the limits of training and pursue excellence as a middle aged mover. What I am saying is you have to train smarter and live better if you want to continue making physical progress as your rotations on this rock accumulate.
A real middle aged savage isn’t a savage all the time. Instead, they establish meaningful practices, operate within realistic standards, and listen to their bodies so that they may unleash their savage set of skills when it matters most.
Establishing Meaningful Practices
The first lesson in middle aged savagery is understanding the difference between training and exercise. Exercise is ok. As much as folks in the functional fitness scene will hate on curls, machines, isolation work, and ellipticals, those are much better options than the couch.
However, exercising as described will only get you so far. Begrudgingly moving around and occasionally picking something up isn't enough to inspire the quality of movement your body desires.
Training however, marries movement to meaning. With a little passion behind your movement practice you will look for good coaching and training partners, prioritize movement quality, stick to the work when things get hard, research best practices, and make lifestyle changes outside of the gym in order to fuel progress.
To make the switch from exercising to training you need to attach a performance goal to some challenging movement task you enjoy. Then, you must test that task in a public setting.
For example I train the Sport of Weightlifting.
I also train all of these habits with a specific meet in mind throughout the year. As game day approaches I begin to watch the little things around my training like sleep and nutrition.
I also use the calendar to separate training days from competition/test days. This is really important, especially with the popularity of CrossFit grabbing a hold of so many. You can’t treat every training day like it is game day.
Establishing meaningful training practices is a simple, yet often neglected habit. The recipe is a simple mix of some physical challenge that you are passionate about and a competition here and there to get you out of your comfort zone.
Operating within realistic standards.
In my younger days, I was a football player. From middle school through college that is how I identified myself. After my football career was finished I took my skill set into CrossFit and was fortunate enough to make an appearance at the CrossFit Games in the team division.
Leveraging your past training base and current skill set toward the pursuit of new and appropriate goals is critical.
The older you get it’s just going to be harder to find new things you’re good at. Yes, you can teach an old dog some new tricks. However, those new tricks will be developed with a diminishing physical skill set, less time to train, and more responsibilities away from the gym.
This is often a tough pill for many to swallow and requires a mature level of self awareness. Folks seem to want to attempt performance feats in defiance of their lifestyle. As a middle aged savage you must operate within the constraints of your lifestyle. Simply put, if you do not have the time to learn a new skill you are better off cherry picking a task that suits your current skill set.
A middle aged savage can’t be delusional about their abilities. The further you stray from your training base and past movement experiences you must curb your expectations, set aside time for skill acquisition, and understand your place in the competitive landscape. Doing so will help you form realistic expectations of your movement pursuit and help you develop appropriate goals.
Listening to your body.
Your body is always speaking to you. A middle aged savage needs to listen and use that information to tiptoe around and test their training limits. Brutishly sprinting into training danger only leads to injury, and a good middle aged savage avoids injury at all costs.
Pain is just one language that our body uses to communicate its training readiness. Ignoring, masking, and pushing through pain is often celebrated. However, it has a high likelihood of leading to injury.
Instead, you should listen, explore, and respect the pain signals your body is communicating. I am constantly assessing training in terms of movement and programming to address pain triggers.
You must also understand that when tiptoeing and testing your training limits that slips will occur. The difference between slips and injury is that you can adjust training when slips happen. Inversely, injuries require substantial time off, maybe a session with Resilient, surgery, and the pursuit of new practices all together.
A slip in training should also be looked at as an opportunity, never a set back. Slips mean that it is simply time to take the information your body is providing and then pivot your training approach.
Also, one of the worst things you can do when experiencing slips in training is nothing. Yes, taking three weeks off will make you feel better. However, you are essentially de-conditioning yourself and creating the perfect storm for a more serious injury.
This is a very grey, and an important lesson so let me clarify it with a recent training slip of my own.
Like many folks I recently experienced a low back slip. Unlike many, I was fortunate enough to get it on tape, I mean video! Remember I’m middle aged! Check it out:
I could have exacerbated the issue and pushed through the pain to continue the training cycle. Another terrible option would have been doing nothing at all.
Instead I took the clues my body was providing and pivoted my training for a few weeks. I replaced barbell variations with kettlebell work. Deadlifts turned into swings, clean and jerks became get ups, and presses turned into arm bars. I didn’t stop strength training, I worked on a different kind of strength.
Also, to make sure I did not lose my barbell capacity I kept my toe in the Weightlifting pool with partial barbell movements that focused on skill, not load. One example of this was the incorporation of the drop snatch into my training regime instead of full snatches.
Instead of letting a scratch fester and my mind fall into a false sense of security by doing nothing at all I modified my training so I could get back to the barbell. I also listened to what my pain was telling me and took it as an opportunity to refine skills, solidifying positions, and experience some contrast in training. What many folks may have seen as training set back became an opportunity to freshen things up.
Too often we pursue means to mask and hide pain when what we really need to do is embrace it.
Experiencing an injury while training is not a badge of honor. Its stupidity. Listening to your body is essential if you want to avoid the ladder and unleash your savagery in all of its glory.
William Wallace once said, well, Mel Gibson as William Wallace once said, “I never lie, but I am a savage.” He also showed just how smart he was by saying it in multiple languages.
Don’t lie to yourself about your abilities. As brutal a savage as any man, or women is, they must also operate with a level of intelligence to truly express their savagery over the long haul.
Sacrificing your livelihood for training doesn’t make a great deal of sense. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense to play it safe and forgo the pleasures associated with trying new things, and challenging your mind, body, and spirit.
In my opinion, applying a healthy dose of meaning to your training, being self awareness about the type of athlete you are, and trusting the pain clues your body is leaving are all critical characteristics of a good middle aged savage.
The idea isn’t training like a savage all the time. Instead, one must conservatively hone and utilize their skills in training so that they can unleashing their savage gifts in the proper setting.