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Let's Not Grow Old While We're Still Young


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I'm not telling you anything you don't already know: The average person walking the streets -- male or female, young or old, your neighborhood or mine -- is out of shape, overweight and under-muscled. One might conclude that these physical conditions reflect an under-developed interior as well. How do we miss the magnitude of our personal health and strength or fail to pursue its maintenance?

Here's the typical scenario: When we're young, we run around like nuts and our bodies do magic with the stuff we stick in our mouths and promptly swallow. Time goes by, we slow down and the magic is replaced by a mean trick. Our stomachs expand and our muscles shrink and our nutty energy finds a comfortable place on the couch to recline. We grow old while we're still young and awaken from our long, comfortable snooze to a desperate reality. Age has visited us with all its sordid and deplorable companions.

About us, you and me: We're not elite and we're not exclusive, but we are certainly not average or typical. Somewhere along our struggle and play we were struck with our presence and decided to improve the self inside and out, and maybe make ourselves the best we can be. We are absolutely on the right track. Weight training, intelligent eating and the avoidance of sloppy and destructive living habits are a wonderful and fulfilling lifestyle to behold.

Why do people cross their eyes, put their hands to their throat, stagger backward against a wall and gurgle when invited to join us? Their roots are thinly spread across a shallow of barren soil.

Our training ranks high on the chart of activities and interests important to us. For me, it often set the course I traveled, or at least has been a close companion along the way. We try to gain from it what it has yet to give and therefore work out with regularity and intensity. Sessions in the gym are seldom casual, never perfunctory and always meaningful. They are rugged, delightful and self-inspiring at once. The general point here is that all the attributes necessary to proceed forward potentially remain in place, strong and fast, for all of us as we turn the pages of the calendar.

There is a caveat in the thought above: Training hard, eating right and building healthy muscle became priorities over the years of my life -- my vocation, pastime, fascination and study (some folks study Harleys, golf or TV). Few folks have the time, desire and where-with-all to devote as much to the activity as I did. Gauge yourself accordingly.

So, aren't getting in shape and staying in shape remarkable aspirations and quite enough? Though adding some size and ripples and gorilla strength where and when possible is admittedly very cool.

We have long ago set some ground rules for our conversations: We're all different inside and outside -- body, mind and spirit, some are well invested in training and some are relatively new; my points of view are based on my experience, observation and common sense... also, guessing, coin tossing, old wives' tales, the first thing that comes to my mind, hearsay, astrology, black magic, gossip and rumors. This in no manner places me ahead of you, but gives me the opportunity to identify where you are and suggest how you might move to overcome your wearisome obstacles.

With that in mind, let's approach the matters at hand.

What does time hold in store for us? 30 caused me to frown, 40 sneaked by while I engaged in a hazy stupor, 45 found me rebounding like an uncaged jackrabbit; I was building momentum at 50 and at 55 I found myself looking overhead as if waiting for the shoe to drop... there were signs on the trail, swirling clouds on the horizon, voices. I started taking notes.

The ensuing five years followed a course similar to the Manhattan Express at New York, New York in Las Vegas. I hung on for dear life, being battered around as corkscrews and looptyloops humbled my flesh and blood. The cruise was over. The time had come to pick my way across the uneven and extreme terrain that lie ahead. I became fascinated and renewed my briefly torqued and skewed passion for training. I stopped, I looked and I listened. I spoke. "Time and me. We'll do this together," I said to myself.

I went through a protracted six-month period of wrestling with the demons of aging. What exactly would I be giving up, I wondered. Every old and new pain was a source of amplified doubt and complaining and fear. I shared my grumbling dressed in good humor with my peers at the gym and we had a jolly old time... you know how it goes.

We also uncovered a few remedies amid the miseries and swapped war stories. This banter and exchange of ideas served a purpose before becoming as stale as the injuries we lamented. I hate war stories, and conversation on the gym floor I contend should be limited to "Yo"' and "Wassup?" I soon withdrew to my former thoughtful ways and zeroed in on the challenge before me: what to do with the hand I held.

I was on the edge of assuming the conventional response to age and that was entirely too close for comfort. I retreated like a moth before a flame. What's new, what's different that I can't control now that I could before? Truthfully, it was a long list of things from skin tone and digestion to diminishing muscle size and energy.

Once recognized, then acknowledged, understood and confronted, you can deal with any age-old problem. Accept, scrutinize and embrace. There. Finally, the secret was revealed: I yielded and ceased fretting over the irritating limitations of getting older. I grew up and in the transition regained my oversized kid nature and once again engaged in fixing what appeared unfixable, forming the mold and providing maximum muscle tension wherever necessary.

I focused again, reinvented concentration, eliminated all talking and resumed a deliberate pace, refreshed workout involvement and commitment, crawled back under the squat bar with the help of my Top Squat, pulled more than ever, yet thankfully bid farewell to heavy benches and discovered profound meaning in lightweight, thick-bar bench presses that constructively worked my muscles and spirit.

"Respect thy body and be thankful," I repeated as an admonishment. My joints are mine and have served me well for years and now they hurt. I warmed them up till they glowed, wrapped them and before hungrily grabbing the bar like a roasted turkey leg, placed my hands with deliberate care at the right placements and lifted painlessly. Looked a little clunky but the effort was in the nines.

My training throughout my history was fundamentally the same as it was when I trained for contests in the '60s and '70s, hard, long, supersetted and volume accented. There's a lesson in this for all of us, new and seasoned, male and female, striving and maintaining. What worked for you in the past will work for you today with appropriate modifications and extraordinary care.

The chief modification beyond emphasized exercise thoughtfulness, body respect and genuine gratefulness is training load. Blast it, but rest accordingly. I trained six days a week in the '70s, five days in the '90s and four in the 2000s, down to three after 2010 and now to two plus some lighter rejuvenating sets on occasional off days.

Day by day... next year is another chapter.

Don't idle on the runway too long; don't waste precious fuel and time and practice. Don't spend too much time saturated in the news, either.



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