For many of us, fitness isn’t just a form of escape or a means to an athletic end — in some ways, it’s also a constant source of anxiety. As I get older (and the odometer on my injuries continues to climb) my body responds to workouts differently, my results become less pronounced, and the guy I see in the mirror looks less and less like the version of myself I recall proudly posing in front of mirrors back in my twenties and more and more like the bearded dads I remember from 80’s movies.
At its heart, that transition is what Old Man Fitness is all about – learning to adapt our perspective on fitness as our relationship with it evolves. Gone are the days of effortless six packs and workouts being a means to burn off excess energy… in fact, now I find it almost impossible to imagine a version of me with any excess energy to burn at all. Nowadays, when you see me in the gym, it’s because discipline won out over the clarion call of napping on an isomat for forty-five minutes while my wife wrangles our daughter on her own.
I’ve been asked what constitutes “old” in terms of Old Man Fitness several times since starting this column, sometimes from folks that relate to these articles but don’t quite feel old enough to self-identify as such, and other times from self-declared “old” fitness enthusiasts that take umbrage at my use of the word, seeing as I’m only in my thirties. I usually provide the same response: it’s not always about what year a truck was made; sometimes it’s about the mileage. Last year’s model with 190,000 rough and tumble miles on it will face a lot of the same challenges as a well-kept twenty-year-old Sunday driver.
Likewise, with fitness; with too many broken bones to count, metal pins, screws, plates and wires in every joint below my waist but one, slipped discs, a trick shoulder and a lifetime of rugby, football, and fighting related concussions, I’m lucky to be getting out of bed at all some days. I may have rolled off the factory floor more recently than some, but you’d be hard pressed to find another guy of the same model year with more ticks on his odometer.
The challenges we face when coming back from injury are similar to those we face as time gets the better of us, and for those of us now facing a combination of age and injury related problems, the need to adjust fire in our workout regimens grows exponentially. That doesn’t mean we can’t still accomplish incredible things — what it does mean, is that we may need to use different approaches than we could have in our younger, injury free days.
The thing is, as fitness gets harder, it’s easy for our motivation to wane and eventually, for even discipline to falter in the face of life’s challenges. Maybe you work 80 hours a week. Maybe your teenage son is getting in trouble at school, your marriage is on the rocks, or your bad knee has become such a hindrance that all it takes is a flight of stairs to ruin your morning. Once upon a time, surviving this long would have made you a wise and storied village elder — now you’re just trying to convince yourself that one cup of yogurt is “enough” for lunch as you poke at the bit of belly that hangs over the seat belt of your car.
Fitness is no longer a requirement for survival — now it’s seen as a superfluous endeavor for those with the disposable income, free time, and narcissism required to spend an hour a day at the local gym.
Well, I call bullshit on that. The time I spend in my basement each day, free from mirrors and social interaction, isn’t about looking good naked or filling out a tee shirt. It’s about reconnecting with the part of myself that isn’t worried about if I have that free time or disposable income. Fitness, in my world, is maintenance. I clean my rifle after I go shooting, I change the oil in my car every 3,000 miles, and I work chest on Tuesdays.
For you, fitness may well be about making sure your pants fit, or, as my colleague pointed out earlier this week in her Femme Fitness column, it could be about regaining a sense of self you’ve lost touch with. If you ask me, that’s the element of Old Man Fitness I always leave out when I’m asked what it is… OMF is about letting our mindset evolve along with our bodies, but it’s also about crossing the bridge of self-perception: being honest with ourselves about our motivations, limitations and goals and not giving a shit about what others may think about it.
I’m a big, bearded Marine veteran that occasionally does yoga to help with back pain. I’ve adopted elements of Pilates into my core workouts, I use CrossFit exercises in my warm ups, I lift heavy on bad joints, lighter than I should on some good ones, and my primary fitness goals these days are all about winning a fight I hope never comes. My personal fitness game is a quagmire of contradictory mindsets, old fashioned iron pumping and the kinds of things my mom used to do in front of a workout VHS she bought at the counter of Stop and Shop.
I don’t expect you to have the same goals, the same challenges, or the same mindset when you come to Old Man Fitness. That’s not what we’re here for. Instead, my aim is to help make sure you’re well informed, to cut through the gimmicks and the novelties, and ultimately leave you with a better rounded sense of self — because, and I mean this sincerely, reading the comments section below this column has been a powerful motivator for me over these past few months. Men and women, young and old, facing similar challenges in dissimilar ways — and all with a single thing in common: a willingness to work your ass off.
So, what is Old Man Fitness really? It’s every bit as much you as it is me. It’s research, experience, discourse and debate. It’s acknowledging that there isn’t always a right way for everyone but there’s often a best way for you. It’s looking back at your twenties without sadness, because the best is yet to come.
Gone are the days of effortless six packs, and good riddance. This is the age of old men, hardening their resolve for one more set. This is the age of young women disregarding social pressures to stick to rice cakes and cardio and instead throwing the iron around like they knew they always could. This is the age of challenges met, obstacles overcome, and goals accomplished.
And Old Man Fitness is just along for the ride.
Thanks for making me a part of your journey. I’ll see you on the black top.
Images courtesy of the author