By Charles Staley Breaking Muscle
Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.
I’ve been pondering a new approach to my training for a few years now. When it comes to my personal fitness, I’ve been a “one trick pony” for the past decade or so. It wouldn’t be much of an overstatement to say in the past four years my only training target has been maximal strength, with a secondary emphasis on body composition.
Mind you, I think this approach led to significant secondary fitness gains and health benefits along the way. So despite the changes I’m planning to make to my personal fitness approach, I still maintain that an emphasis on strength is a valid plan of attack.
But from now, I view my training as having not just one, but four primary directions:
- Relative strength
- Body composition
- Cardiovascular endurance
Balance strength and endurance for life-long fitness.
Train to Preserve Aerobic Capacity
Recently I drove past someone who was out running, and I began to wonder how long it would take me to run (okay let’s be honest, more like jog) a mile. I’m not sure how this question entered my consciousness. I haven’t jogged or run at all in years, perhaps over a decade. I find the affection many people have for long-term endurance capacity to be somewhat puzzling. Nevertheless, that nagging thought continued to trouble me on some level. I had (and still have) absolutely no idea whether running a mile would take me 12 minutes or 22 minutes.
My actions haven’t been congruent with my stated belief about how I should be training at the age of 56. Even though it’s fine to have a primary emphasis on strength, I shouldn’t allow any single fitness capacity to decline past a certain point, although I don’t exactly know where that point is for each capacity.
“…as athletes age, they should return to more generalized training for the sake of optimal health and functioning in their later years.
For example, let’s imagine today I go out and run a mile for time. Say it takes me 18 minutes. If that were the case (God I hope it isn’t), I think we could all agree it would be unacceptable, even for someone who specializes in powerlifting. It would be unacceptable because at age 56, I might not ever be able to restore that lost capacity. If you run an 18-minute mile at age 26, you can probably improve that to something like a 12-minute mile in a few months of regular training. But at age 56, not so much. This same logic can and should be applied to other fitness capacities such as mobility, which will be another primary training target for me.
The Hourglass Model
A few years ago, someone asked me why I don’t stretch or do any type of endurance work. My reply (which I think is quite logical, thank you very much) was that I pretty much never come across a situation where I don’t have sufficient mobility or endurance to accomplish a given task. Today, it’s not much different. However, I do instinctively feel some areas slipping to unacceptable levels, so I’ve decided to modify my training approach to address my perceived deficiencies.
I think of this approach as the hourglass model. It’s commonly accepted that young athletes’ training should be general and diversified. Then, in their late teens and early twenties, they begin to specialize in their chosen sport. The hourglass model I’m positing here further suggests that as athletes age, they should return to more generalized training for the sake of optimal health and functioning in their later years.
As I ponder these changes, I find myself wondering why I haven’t done this sooner (aside from the reasons I listed a moment ago).
There are at least three things that come readily to mind:
- I take a lot of pride in being strong for my age and body type. It’s what I’ve had the most success with so far, and I’ll need to come to terms with the reality that diversifying my fitness programming will likely impact my strength levels, at least to some degree.
- I have a poor ability to delay immediate gratification. Cardiovascular and mobility training will require me to improve in this area.
- I tend to have a bias against activities that are difficult to quantify or measure. If I deadlift 515lb next week, that’s an undeniable PR, but if I stretch my hip flexors next week, it’ll be hard to brag about it on Facebook. I’m not proud of this, but I think it’s good that I’m aware of it.
Setting Up Specfic Standards
So starting next week, I’ll be implementing something new. As I embark upon these changes, my goal will be to slowly implement new, “high-payoff” training activities in a sustainable way. This week I’ve already begun to incorporate a few different band drills for shoulder integrity (courtesy of Dr. John Rusin), as well as more walking and cycling.
By attending to the four targets of relative strength, body composition, mobility, and cardiovascular endurance, I anticipate secondary gains in terms of other fitness capacities such as agility, power, and coordination.
As I continue to develop this schema, I’ll set up a four-pointed polygon with measurable standards for each fitness characteristic. This will serve as a way for me to keep score, so to speak. So for example, a 500lb deadlift might indicate a perfect score for relative strength, and a 12-minute mile might represent the same for cardiovascular endurance. For body composition, I’ll aim for perhaps 10 percent body fat, and for mobility, perhaps a specific score on the Functional Movement Screen (FMS). I’m still putting the details of this together, and I’ll keep you posted as I go along.