High School Never Ends…in the Gym
I am almost 35, and I often meet other gym members around my age. Many of them still train like or romanticize training like we did in high school/college. Some handle it pretty well, but the majority are just beat-up, burned out, and making little to no progress.
These middle-aged guys nursing injuries and embracing the dad bod often tell me, the reason they keep training hard and intense is because it’s “what we did for football.” Injured and frustrated middle-aged women will tell me similar things about running or cardio in order to stay in shape.
It’s not that exercising hard and running are not valuable things, it’s just that as we progress on our fitness journey, our needs and circumstances change.
What worked yesterday, may not work today. And what did not work yesterday, might be the key for tomorrow’s success. We may have to let go of what previously worked or be trapped.
One Secret to Continued Success
The message I have for my former classmates and other older gym members is that the goal isn’t to be young again, the goal is to win at the game of fitness (and life). We can learn from pro-athletes on having continued success.
Veteran pro-athletes play the game differently than when they first start their pro-careers. Younger players tend to rely a lot more on using their athleticism, hustle, energy and pushing their bodies. Whereas veterans, rely more on skills, craftiness, fundamentals and selectively use their athleticism.
A great example is NBA player Vince Carter. When he first came into the league, he was known for his incredible slam dunking ability. As he got older and more experienced, he started to focus more on his jump shot. He still has great leaping ability and can excite a crowd with his dunks; he just does not depend on it as he did earlier in his career. Whether he does an ESPN Top-10 Highlight Dunk or makes a 15-foot jump shot, it is still 2 points for his team. And if he steps a few feet back, it’s 3 points. (A made 3-pointer is less flashy than a dunk, but worth more points. Something to think about.)
The fans and potential endorsement deals may like the flashy dunks, but going to the rim can take a toll on the body. During the final minutes of a close game, hard fouls are not uncommon.
Would I rather get hit in the face and potentially get 2 free throws or would I want to stand in the corner shooting wide open threes?
It is no surprise that the NBA is seeing more stretch 4’s; guys around 7 feet tall that can shoot threes. It helps teams with floor spacing, and it can help with career longevity or at least not get hit in the face by other giants.
My middle-aged gym colleagues tell me about their debilitating shoulder pain from bench pressing, but they still NEED to bench press today because it’s chest day. Maybe I need to work on my empathy skills, but when a big, strong dude complains about their excruciating bad shoulder pain from benching but still NEEDS to bench today, my rhetorical question for them is: “How much do you have to bench press to be a MAN?”
Are you Man enough to give the bum shoulder a rest day, try some shoulder mobility & flexibility drills, or study some bench press techniques that powerlifters half your size use to bench twice as much you without excruciating shoulder pain? It’s not as sexy or as thrilling as a PR, but a wide open three is better than getting punched in the face when you are already have a cut.
With middle-aged runners who complain about foot/ankle/knee/IT Band/Hip/Back pain, but still NEED to run today, I ask them if they are checking for any gait or asymmetry issues, monitoring stride rate, counting steps per breath, seeing how their foot strikes the ground, warming up, cooling down, and other unsexy but valuable things.