The thing about most articles on the internet that have to do with lifting weights and training hard: They have one goal in mind – always gaining, and never maintaining.
It’s ambitious, and honestly, it’s something to be commended. But there’s being a hero, and there’s being realistic.
Here’s something that no strength coach will say, but rings true (making this an article worth reading):
Most programs are geared towards healthy lifters who are somewhere in their late teens or early 20s, and have energy and time to burn; perfect candidates to invest in an aggressive program that revolves around building muscle and adding strength.
There’s nothing wrong with a solid, tough program that is chock-full of smart training directives. But the things is, it’s a short-sighted and narrow-minded view of what training for the course of the long haul should be all about.
If we want to think about the end game – namely, training as close as possible to the same extent when we’re 80 – it means we have to lay the groundwork for that sooner, rather than later.
Rule #1: Get Strong, and then STAY Strong by OWNING Weight
This sounds simple, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
I can sum it up with this: Training to be stronger than everyone will last you a couple of years. Training to be stronger than most will last you a lifetime.
Straight up – there’s a shelf life on how heavy you can lift for a haphazard single or double. True strength isn’t about the weight you can lift – it’s about the weight you can own. If you can bench 315 for 1, show me all the things you can do with 255. I’m talking about paused reps, exaggerated negative reps, 1.5 reps, and so on. It should be a cakewalk with loads that are far beyond your max.
But it won’t be. Because you don’t practice that way, although you should. Weight training can’t always be about moving loads. It has to be about loading movements. That will make it more about stimulating muscle fibers and getting a training effect, and less about trying to be a hero. There are many ways to make lighter weight feel like your max, and these are a few humbling ways.
Rule #2: Never Forsake your Mobility and Flexibility
Sure – at 23, it’s easy to jump into a workout cold, and go straight to 225 on the back squat or bench. But adding a decade of mileage (let alone 3) will sing a different tune. As you get older, it’s a fact of life that muscles and connective tissue tend to lose their pliability. Mobility and flexibility decrease as the body endures more wear and tear, and simply put, if you don’t use it, you’ll start to lose it.
This becomes doubly important because mobility and flexibility affect quality lifts. And you’re not going to retain it through lifting alone. Make mobility and stretches a part of your morning routine when you get up. Even TWO minutes of dedicated time per day can make a world of difference to your performance from day to day.
Reinforcing this by doing a proper warm up before each workout is the best way to sustain your joint integrity and avoid problems down the road. Believe me when I say it: Your warm-ups matter, bigtime. Remember the joints of the body that require plenty of mobility:
- Thoracic Spine
That’s why the following drills are the bees’ knees for getting you limber and prepared to do work.
Rule #3: Consider Yourself a Waste of Space if You Suck at Bodyweight Stuff
This may sound harsh, but I’m actually deadly serious. Many people think they’re exempt from bodyweight training once they get strong enough to move a few hundred pounds in a given direction.
Though bodyweight training may not provide the same difficulty it once did in its basic form, it doesn’t give you the right to stop doing it. There’s nothing healthier exercise wise than doing bodyweight training using the full range of motion and good form. And the best part is, the chances for injury are slim to none.
Your 300-pound bench press means nothing if you’re shaking like a leaf after rep 14 of push-ups or rep 6 of bodyweight dips. Having a good command and control over your body will keep your athleticism on point, and give your conditioning a kick in the pants – especially if you don’t come from a background of calisthenics or gymnastics. Key movements worth practicing year round:
- Pull ups/chin ups
- Glute Hamstring Raises
- Plank/Plank variations
- Ab Wheel Rollouts
- Inverted Rows
Rule #4: Vary Your Training
If your training protocol year round consists of either “bulking” or “cutting”, then you’re doing this wrong.
If you really want a healthy body that actually lasts the test of time, it’s time to bite the bullet and realize that adding as much muscle as humanly possible and trying to move the most weight you can won’t be the answer to get you there. And the old folks you see at the gym who are still in fantastic shape were likely never world record holders at any given barbell-related discipline.
My point is, your training needs to be diversified if you want to really get benefits from your exercise. Not only does it give you and your nervous system a much-needed break from conventional barbell training, but it also allows you to hone your skills at challenges that will likely be humbling for you and force a new learning curve (spoiler alert: That creates more physical results too!).
I’m almost certain writing this that you’ve got limited experience giving kettlebells, TRX and sandbag training more than a few sets of your attention in your training routine. Try using each for the majority of your workouts over an entire 8 or 12 week phase.
Finished that? Go for bodyweight next.
The world won’t end because your precious squat PR went down by 15% for a whopping 6 months of your life, in favor of other athletic pursuits.
To summarize, this article can be wrapped up in 3 simple directives:
Lift weights smarter, not harder. Warm up properly, and remember to train in all planes of motion, using all forms of resistance. That’s the real key to a healthy body.
And that’s the way you’ll be able to have an exemplary physique and performance when you’re old – which will feel especially good since the gym bros who lifted next to you will be all broken.