Do I exercise now that I am well over 40 years old, just like I did when I took a weight in sophomore high school?
It’s a great question, but not one that can be fully answered in one chapter. Instead, I’ll approach it by identifying two thoughts at each of these moments: one aspect of my fitness life that was positive and one that I would turn back in time and change. I’m sure you can emulate some of these thoughts on your own fitness journey – or if you’re just starting out, this can help you avoid some of the same mistakes!
When I was 15, I had just discovered the weight room. As many of you can attest, it was love at first sight! The ability to “change the body” and get stronger was a new and powerful feeling. I was addicted:
- The good: I have developed devotion for a specific goal! I love seeing the young people in the gym every day – and establishing good habits that will become your lifestyle and serve you well. In my high school weight room, I felt the same way every day after school.
- The bad: Just like some of the young people I just mentioned, I did the same workout every day! As with many young people, my desires went way beyond my knowledge. For example, I’m pretty sure that at that age, I bench press every day for the first six months. Sure, over time I learned more and realized that I could benefit from a few simple concepts like meeting planning, rest, and goal setting. But honestly, it would be years before I started benefiting from full body training and specific strategies to help my athletic progress.
At the age of 25, I played football professionally, worked part-time as a martial arts instructor, and found an hour in the weight room every day. No doubt some of you young professionals can identify with this phase of life – when you run from engagement to engagement but still want to find time for good workouts.
- The good: I had learned a lot about personal fitness and how I can help others (and myself) make positive change. I was still engaged and spent time in the weight room every day. I write part of my “success” on the soccer field on the fact that I was physically fit, strong and stayed in shape all year round. This was when I learned one of the truths I still stand by, which is “easier to stay ready than to get ready.”
- The bad: The term “athletic performance” was still alien to me at the time. That was in the early 2000s and sporting development was nowhere near as widespread as it is today. Nowadays, most cities have a good training center where young athletes can train to run faster, jump higher – and avoid injuries. In retrospect, I still trained more as a “bodybuilder” than as an athlete. If you play sports and want to improve your competitive skills, you need to exercise differently than just trying to get leaner, gain muscle, and look shirtless in a certain way! In retrospect, I should have focused on building lower body strength and explosiveness, rotational strength and injury prevention – and not that much time on bis and tris.
At the age of 35 I was a cop in the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, I trained soccer, I played and modeled part-time, I trained for the World Police and Fire Games, and I participated in the World Police and Fire Games called the Toughest Competitor Alive, and I happened to be the father of three young children and our fourth was on the way. I was busy. And I know that many of you can understand that in the same phase of life. Life is an absolute hustle and bustle – there doesn’t seem to be enough time to eat or sleep, let alone exercise, right?
- The good: To be honest, this phase was the most dialed-in I’ve ever experienced because it had to be me! If you find yourself in an uninterrupted phase of life, I recommend that you plan your day with two important dates: meal planning / preparation and exercise. That’s right, schedule them as if you were adding a meeting or event to your calendar. And you need to protect those two appointments as much as if they were meeting your boss or picking up your child from school because they are just as important. Trust me, your entire lifestyle will collapse if you allow yourself to skip workouts and not think about your diet beforehand. Consistency is the most important aspect of a fitness lifestyle.
- The bad: Something I would have liked to have been able to listen to my body better at this stage. I’ve been training so hard and my work environment was very intense and I wasn’t giving my body enough recovery time or method. I’ve sustained a couple of injuries – mostly from overuse and not exercising wiser. I think a lot of us who are “high achievers” are probably made of the same stuff that sometimes it’s difficult to downshift and rest. But that rest and relaxation is an absolutely crucial piece of the whole puzzle – we have to learn to listen to what our body is telling us. If there’s a little nagging tweak or pull anywhere, then don’t push it through like we would in our teens or early 20s! As you heard me say in the Ask Andy column, “no pain, no gain” is stupid. Whoever came up with this phrase is most likely hurt right now …
Finally at 45: Well, I’m no less busy than I was 10 years ago! You can understand that it is a different hectic pace, but not less intense. I wake up early and have a to-do list of 10 things to do. Then, after running at full speed all day, I fell into bed with more on my plate than when I started!
- The good: I have learned to be efficient and effective in my exercise and diet. I divide my workouts into two shorter ones; a resistance circuit training in the morning and a cardio unit at noon. The first session is fasted and it is short and sharp; Focus on one muscle group each day, alternating one core exercise and two laps between each lap. The second session typically lasts 30 minutes or less of a jogging or elliptical workout, depending on the weather. As for nutrition, I’ve learned what my body doesn’t burn well, or more specifically what my body stores as body fat.
So I do my best to avoid “BBCs” which means beer, bread, cheese and sugar. That might sound a little spartan, but I still work in front of the camera, so I’ve learned that looking and feeling the best you can is important. You can apply similar guidelines in your own exercise and diet, but you need to be your own scientist and “study yourself” to find out how your body reacts to certain exercise and food intake. Combine this data with your personal goals, consider what your daily plan allows for training and intake preparation, and create your own daily program to optimize your fitness lifestyle.
- The bad: The bad may be obvious to my fitness freaks out there these days who are in their mid 40s and older. It’s simple: certain things hurt! Certain movements / exercises / challenges just don’t make sense anymore. However, this does not have to be purely “bad”. We need to learn to train these age-related or “wear and tear” problems. I’m not talking about injuries or any physical harm – these issues should be addressed and, hopefully, corrected. But when it comes to specific pain, stiffness, slowness or other challenges that can be directly attributed to your machine running too long, we can adapt and master. Open our minds and use the knowledge we have acquired to train differently and further.
A quick example? In my teens, twenties, and even thirties, I NEVER used a Smith machine. I mean why should I Well, now I use it regularly for all kinds of movements. One of the main reasons I like it is that I never need a seat and at my age I always train alone, especially in this weird pandemic world. Oh, and another reason I’m drawn to it is that it’s always available – because none of the younger folks would get caught dead with it.
Andy McDermott is an advocate of fundamental truths about health and wellness based on lessons personally learned throughout his fitness life. He received his first Personal Training Certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s Gym in Chicago. He completed the 40-hour Exos sports performance mentorship, the TRX instructor certification and earned his Black Belt in the third degree in Taekwondo. While serving as a police officer in the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as a subject matter expert / lead instructor in physical training for all law enforcement agencies in Arizona. He won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. After graduating from Northwestern University, he played professional football for seven years. He also holds the US national soccer coach A license. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications. Andy posts fitness challenges on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.