Older, Fitter: How To Keep Working Hard As You Age

📸: CrossFit Games

How Will I Know I’m Getting Older?

“As you are now so once was I, as I am now so shall you be, prepare my friend to follow me” – I can’t be sure, but this is likely on at least one of my ancestors headstones… the Irish have a thing for rhymes.

You might not be feeling the effects of your age in the gym just yet, but you will at some point. There’s no particular birthday to pin it on and I can’t stand the old “It’s all downhill after ___” crap. It may happen at a different age for you than it did for me and it will eventually come for The Rich (if it hasn’t quite yet) as well.

The odds are that your body will be sending you messages to change things up long before it dawns on you to read that telegram (that’s an old guy joke… do telegrams even exist anymore?). This doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and move on to chair plies and seated arm raises (those are for real… google them)- you can still improve on some stuff and you can certainly work to maximize what you’ve got left in the tank. What are some signs to look for that you should pay attention to and what can actions can you take?

That “Knee Thing” Has Been Aching For Months

This can happen at any age, but tendinitis is a common complaint among older athletes and osteoarthritis symptoms generally worsen with age. Don’t just grit your teeth and WOD on. First, have a coach evaluate your squatting movement pattern and see if there’s something to address there. If you’re a very knees-forward squatter (anterior chain/quad dominant) then you might benefit from accessory hinging exercises (posterior chain/hip dominant) like RDLs, Good Mornings, and GHD Hip Extensions, and even some isolated knee flexion stuff like banded hamstring curls. Another thing to consider is limiting dynamic squatting for a few weeks and opt for controlled tempo work instead. All that bouncing out of the hole takes a toll, so you might just need to do less of it, at least for a bit. Try a 4211 Tempo (4 seconds down, 2 second pause in the hole, and a 1 second up with a 1 second pause at the top) on all squats for a few weeks. For the Olympic Lifts, do power versions or power plus controlled squats for the same few weeks as well.

An often overlooked area when it comes to The Itises (tendinitis and arthritis) is diet. Working with your diet to reduce overall inflammation can pay huge dividends and will most certainly benefit your long term health more than voodoo flossing for a few minutes. A diet even moderately high in sugar and refined carbs, hydrogenated fats, alcohol, soda, and other processed foods is going to promote systemic inflammation so limit these if you include them at all. Focus on getting plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and some nuts and seeds, while getting most of your carbs from fiber rich whole food sources like legumes and starchy vegetables. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like sardines, mackerel, and salmon, may help reduce inflammation as well. If you don’t regularly eat fatty fish then you might consider taking a daily dose of a fish oil based Omega-3 supplement or an algae based one if you’re a vegetarian.

You’ve Failed Your Last Few 1RM Attempts On The Slow Lifts

By slow lifts, I mean the squat, deadlift, bench press, and press. I’m assuming here that you didn’t run into the death trap that is adding more and more volume to your training once your freshman progress slowed down a bit and that you instead settled for slower progress with consistent training and recovery to get there. For the record, I hate this fact and encourage everyone to work on getting as strong as possible while you can, but eventually as you age you will become about as strong as you’re ever going to be. There may be room to improve the skill component of your Snatch and Clean & Jerk, and thus you can improve your numbers there for a longer time. You might get better at butterfly pull-ups and refine your double under technique but progress on the the slow stuff will eventually, well, slow down and stop at some point. Yeah, it sucks, it actually sucks for me to write it down, but it’s true.

If it weren’t, we’d all eventually deadlift 1000 pounds if we just kept at it. How strong is strong enough for you? If your best all time back squat is 285 and now, at age 55, you’ve missed 265 when testing a few times, maybe your best back squat is in the rear view mirror. You could decide to become a specialist, focus on powerlifting and bring it up a few pounds with smart programming, nutrition, and recovery, but that will come at the price of a decline in other fitness domains. You’re an adult and can make that decision if you choose. You might also decide that 225 is plenty of weight to squat and that you just need to show up and work your ass off regardless of the numbers on the bar. There’s no sense in beating yourself up about it and your joints will probably thank you for easing up the demands. Come to think of it, squatting 225 at 65 years old doesn’t sound too bad, especially if I can still keep a respectable Helen time.

Such Is Life!

In life, you’ll be sore and achy from time to time but, especially as you age, pay close attention to chronic aches & pains and do the little things (rest, corrective exercises, and diet) in your control to alleviate them. Work as hard as you can to increase your strength while you can and then hang on to as much of it as you can for as long as you can. Leave a beautiful corpse for your loved ones to bury.

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