Your Body’s Power to Adapt

Strength-Training-Push-Pins

This is an amazing story. In short: man falls off roof, and has both tibia bones shattered. Lots of pins surgically implanted in leg bones. Man begins strength training. Natural bone growth pushes pins out of both legs. Man enters powerlifting competition and deadlifts 600 lbs. Within a two year period.

Here’s the article: http://startingstrength.com/article/barbell_training_as_rehab.

Here’s a current video/podcast: https://youtu.be/TWN2t4WHxxs.

His bones and muscles responded to the training, to the extent that bone growth pushed the pins and hardware out of his ankles and into the soft tissue. Within seven months of training, his bone growth, driven by the stress of a linear progression, had compromised the hardware in his left ankle. “I could see where the pins were protruding and beginning to poke out, just under the surface of the skin,” says Brian.  The hardware in his left leg, which was supposed to be a permanent, lifelong addition to his body, was removed via surgery four months after beginning the Starting Strength program.

Pins were removed from his other leg shortly thereafter.

Strength training, in a regular, disciplined program, captures and maximizes your body’s power to adapt – to injuries, to stresses, to training – we have amazing recuperative powers built into us. And that works in any stage, almost any situation in life. If you can focus and put your mind to a thing, God has built into our human bodies and minds the kinds of resources we need to recover from major traumas (much less, the day to day troubles of life).

Baseline for my 2017 Training

John_baseline_at_gym

Pardon me for the shameless self-portrait here, but this is where I’ve gotten to after a year and a half in the gym. Compared to my former puffy self, I’m very proud of this pose.

Before you start any new endeavor (especially over 50), it’s always a good idea to set a baseline for your goals. That’s the purpose of this blog post. In training for the Tough Mudder competition later this year, I’m going to need to maintain my strength training, I think, while adding cardio work (most likely that will be long distance walking and running, but also some HIIT cardio). That will come as I figure out what I’m doing. Toward that end, I’m going to be revisiting The Hybrid Athlete from time to time here, as a guideline.

For now, I’m working out four days a week in the gym, alternating the “big four” exercises (squats, overhead press or “OHP”, bench press, and deadlifts). I’m working each of these exercises two days a week, alternating them as follows:

Monday: heavy OHP, light squat
Tuesday: heavy bench, light deadlift
Thursday: light OHP, heavy squat
Friday: light bench, heavy deadlift

I also try to walk or run on my off days, but given the winter weather, I’m not always successful at getting that in.

Within that framework, it’s fair to say that not all the heavy days are personal records (some are), and my light days are not all that light. Additionally, on my “light” days, sometimes I do more “volume” (“reps” and “sets”), and on my heavier days, I also alternate “heavier” and “lighter” in such a way that I don’t always try to set personal records (PRs), but sometimes I do.

Just for posterity’s sake, here are my personal bests at the moment:

Overhead press: 3x3x115 lbs.
Bench press: 3x5x150 lbs.
Deadlift: 3x4x250 lbs.
Squat: 3x5x185 lbs.

Of all of these personal bests, I’ve been able to make the best progress on the deadlifts because that lift is least affected by injuries. Over the year and a half, I’ve had to contend with a nagging shoulder injury that affected by ability to bench and OHP, and a knee injury that affected my squatting.

All of this works on a “play it by ear” kind of basis. I’m very proud of this program, and very pleased that I was able to come up with it. At one point last year, my sons had me doing the “Stronglifts 5×5” program, which was very good for realizing what’s called “beginner gains” in strength, but which, I found, is very hard on an old guy like me. Prior to that, I had been working with a trainer who was more into bodybuilding than strength training (there is a difference), and I believe those programs prepared me very well – with some exceptions (things that caused those injuries in the first place) – to the strength training that I have gotten involved with.

I don’t want to get into programming right now, but that’s something that will be very important moving forward. Not only for me, but for anyone who takes up weight training or strength training for any reason.

Working Out After Age 50: What’s Best?

Gym-Equipment-1Though I’ve been an avid walker (and sometime runner), I had never set foot in a gym a day in my life, until I did so for the first time at age 56. Sure, I had walked or driven past many gyms in storefronts, with the line-ups of people running on treadmills or flopping around on the elliptical machines.

Frankly, they were frightening. My first time in the gym, it was overwhelming. My son is afraid of spiders. I’m not, but walking through the gym for the first time, looking at all the spindly machines with the stacks of weights, it looked like I was walking into some kind of infestation. How do you even begin to contemplate what to do with all that stuff?

More specifically, back to the topic of this blog post, what’s the best kind of exercise to do after age 50?

The short answer might be: “the exercise that you do”. A somewhat longer answer will be, strength training has particular benefits you can’t get from cardio, cardio has particular benefits that you can’t get from strength training, and the beneficial effects of the two seem to cancel each other out.

That is, on a surface level, strength training puts on weight that hinders your endurance, and cardio tends to draw down muscular gains.

The big question is, how do you navigate this gulf?

I don’t yet have all the right answers – ha ha – that’s why this is still a big question. One consideration is that at this age, you’re not looking to become world-class in either endurance or strength training. Another short answer might be “it depends on where your goals lie”, and to a larger degree, this is correct.

But there we have to take another step back. “If I want to be healthy into old age, what should my goals be?”

At this point in my life, it’s an easy question to answer. My kids have talked me into running a Tough Mudder race with them, and so for most of this year, that settles it. Training for a Tough Mudder event, I have to be cognizant of both.

That’s why I’ve turned to Alex Viada’s “The Hybrid Athlete”. For younger people, it’s nothing to train for an Iron Man. The challenge, as Viada puts it,

For many years it has been widely accepted in the athletic and fitness communities that strength and endurance are physiologically opposed to one another and therefore, cannot be simultaneously trained and developed. Strength athletes and bodybuilders believe endurance work weakens them and strips them of their precious muscle mass. Endurance athletes believe strength work will add unnecessary weight from increased muscle and slow them down. (From The Hybrid Athlete, ©2015 Alex Viada and Juggernaut Training Systems, from the Foreword.)

It still doesn’t say what’s the best way to train for older age. The authors of “Younger Next Year” seem to draw the line at 45 minutes of exercise, six days a week:

One simple rule to learn (and follow when all else fails) before you get lost or bored or decide to go have a drink. It goes like this: Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life (emphasis in original). Sorry, but that’s it. No negotiations. No give. No excuses. Six days, serious exercise, until you die. Well, if you’re still in your forties and stretched to the breaking point with work, kids and travel, we can talk about four or five days, but six is much better even then. And after age fifty, six is mandatory. By then the tide is starting to pick up, and you need help staying off the rocks. In fact, my version of the rule would have been “Exercise hard six days a week,” but Harry convinced me that that would scare the horses. (Crowley, Chris; Lodge, Henry S., Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond (pp. 49-50). Workman Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.)

But here is the key: following “Rule Number One” “gives you the strength, the optimism, and the flexibility” to do everything else you want to do in life.

This brings you to another one of those paradoxes. I don’t yet know all the answers about “what kind of exercise” or “how much to exercise”, but with respect to strength training, three to four days a week is enough, and more than enough, not only “to exercise” but “to train”. And that leaves another three days to go. There’s a difference here, too.

It works out nicely: three days of strength training, three days of cardio. A couple of key rules of thumb that I might add are: Don’t overdo it. Don’t get hurt. “The one who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. If there’s anything at all that I know, that’s what it comes down to.