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Survival of the Wisest: Aging & Creative Adjustment

I donít feel as good as I did decades ago; I feel better! On some days, I get up from bed in the morning and feel great. On those days, Iím often astonished when I walk into the bathroom and see myself in the mirror. I expect to see a 30-year old but instead I see someone considerably older. Me.

But, to be quite honest, there are some days when I get up and I donít feel that terrific and Iím not at all surprised by the image I see in the mirror. On those days, if there is something about looking and feeling oneís age, I do.

Thereís little use in denying your age or in deceiving yourself that you can do everything as well as you did years ago or for that matter, five years ago.

I believe a problem that many athletically inclined people have in their 40ís and 50ís is that we still tend to look back at what we did five or ten or more years ago and use that as the yardstick for success.

Itís a clear path for frustration and a continued sense of failure.

The few older, successful master athletes and those people who would not consider themselves necessarily "athletes" but obviously continue to train that I know seem to get a lot of joy and satisfaction from what they do and seem very wise because they have clearly creatively adjusted to being older.

They tend not to look back and do not compare themselves to their younger selves.

They have successfully moved on.

Survival of the fittest appears to be the product of survival of the wisest through creative adjustment.

I wrote along similar lines eight years ago (Master Trainer, October, 1994) but the last few years have been a different game, seemingly another threshold reached for the effects of aging. There are simply some things I canít get away with anymore and some things I canít do anymore.

For example, if recovery slows down a bit then the effects of just getting "slightly" overtrained can quickly mount up. If youíre not diligent in paying attention to how you feel and adjust your training accordingly, continued lack of recovery can lead to some serious chronic problems.

You wonít likely escape these problems at some point as you might have done when you were younger.

One of the real keys as discussed in the October, 2002, Master Trainer, is what is called self-regulation involving self-monitoring, planning, setting personal near-term and long-term goals, self-standards, and self-incentives.

Self-regulation then has to be transformed into actual behavior. For example, after close monitoring of responses to workouts indicates that youíre not recovering very well then for those of us very motivated to train, we have to do an incredible thing.

Exercise restraint and not train.

I could get away with ignoring my own records showing that I was overtraining even a few years ago, although I likely would have done better overall by not ignoring what was obviously going on.

But, ignoring such self-produced feedback more recently has led to lots of muscle soreness and joint pain and likely contributed to a chronic problem with my left knee. While overall pain is not totally associated with training (and pain seems to come and go), there is some relationship and overtraining certainly doesnít help.

I also went through a time of doing absolutely no warm-up for upper body work and very little for lower-body work. I donít necessarily think this led to problems but Iím very interested now in avoiding problems.

For example, for lower-body, a typical warm-up was 2 reps in the squat with about 40% of my work weight, one rep with about 80% and then the workset.

I donít overdo warm-ups but I now take my time to get started. Itís not as if Iím in a race to complete my workout. If it takes longer, so what?

For example, for the squat, Iíll simply do as much warming-up as I need on a given day to feel physically and psychologically absolutely ready. Granted I do not warm-up for any other lower-body movements done on the same day, but if the time comes that itís apparent that this is a safer way to train, Iíll do it.

And, I now also take some time at the end of workouts to stretch and generally cooldown. These arenít drastic changes but hopefully they reflect a bit more wisdom, a willingness to pay attention to how Iím feeling and what Iím doing and make some adjustments.

For those of us still very focused on performance as measured by specific external markers ("extrinsic training", as noted by Dr. Ralph Carpinelli), there are other wise and creative adjustments that need to be made.

How do you do "progressive resistance training" if you canít really progress anymore? It seems to be a total contradiction.

The answer is you can "progress" in some simple, modified ways, but it takes a bit of wisdom to accept it and make some adjustments.

If youíve been training for many years and youíre a bit older, you can at different points make some progress but itís relative to a recent time. For example, through more focus over say a 4 to 6 week "cycle", you may get to a point in an exercise movement that matches or exceeds what you may have done six months or a year before.

Thatís great!

So, what if the resistance is 10% or 15% less then a decade ago? Why even make that comparison and bring yourself down?

Itís also seems harder, even with great training to maintain muscle mass and be as lean as even five years ago at a given bodyweight.

Again, a good response is, so what?

Why not over time just stay as lean as possible without heroic methods and not worry about weighing so much? Weíre still light years ahead of our age cohort (see August, 2002, Master Trainer) and thereís even data suggesting that weighing appreciably less is associated with longevity1.

In other words, "just get over it" and "move on".

If the last main article on this site raised the question of "Is it worth it" and came up with a very definitive "yes", our October 2002 issue features some content about how both psychologically and physically to effectively keep moving on.

Remember research shows that the fittest truly do survive longer.

But, it takes some wisdom to figure out how to keep creatively adjusting so that you can keep training and remain the fittest.

  1. Lane MA, Ingram DK, Roth GS. The serious search for an anti-aging pill. Scientific American. August, 2002 (online