Spending as much time as I have training clients who range in age from early 20s to early 90s, has caused me step back and form a longer-term outlook to this discipline of exercise we all strive to stay committed to. Here is some of what I’ve learned along the way.
Lesson #1: You’re Capable of More than You Think You Are
You may have noticed the quote on our studio wall that says “People can push themselves a lot harder than they think they can.” That was from my wife’s cousin who is a Marine, used to be a Personal Trainer, and was asked if he would approach Personal Training differently now that he’s a marine.
Leave it to our featured client of the month to be the beginning and end of this argument. Darlene came to me over three years ago. Then she was in her early 50s. She hadn’t really done much in the realm of exercise. A push-up? Never done one. A pull-up? Forget it! Form? What’s that? Drive? She has it, like few I’ve seen. Among her house records (which are too numerous to list here) are FIFTY perfect-form push-ups in a row (how many guys do you know that can do that many?), a plank for over 12 minutes, a 300 workout in less than 24 minutes, 24 inch box jump 50 times in a row. The woman has world-class fitness level for her age.
Is there any way I could have guessed what this cute, little (almost 5’ tall) firecracker was capable of? NO WAY! Does it make me wonder what my other clients are capable of if they can get their mind right? Absolutely! Much could be said here but suffice it to say that often our biggest limitation is really not our ability but our willingness. There is so much to learn about yourself, and so much confidence to be gained, when you legitimately find your limits with exercise—not stopping when you want to stop, but stopping when you physically cannot continue. There is something freeing in feeling the exhaustion of a heavy rep, a completely gassed muscle, and picking yourself up off the floor to say…I did that! When was the last time you felt that way?
Oh, and Darlene has done 6 chin-ups and 4 pull-ups by the way. Her metabolic age fluctuates between late teen and early twenties. Stay tuned for the day she accomplishes the one arm push-up!
Lesson #2: Live to Fight Another Day
With all that said about pushing your body’s limits, the flip side of that coin is the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” If you want to hit a particular exercise or body composition goal (which I would hope all of us have), give yourself a realistic amount of time, and progress intelligently toward it. If I’m right, and you see exercise as a lifestyle choice like I do, then what’s the rush if I bench press 200lbs this month or it takes me three more months to get there? The important part is that I get there when my body is ready and don’t set myself back by trying to do too much too fast. If you’ve ever pushed your limits much with exercise, sooner or later you’ll start to discover where your body’s weak spots are. Everyone has them, and it’s what we know (or don’t know) about what to do with those weaknesses that makes all the difference in reaching your goals and aging gracefully.
If you’ve spent much time around me in a context of a health discussion you’ve probably heard me say that achieving and maintaining vibrant health is more of an art than it is a science. What do I mean? Well, your health is slightly different today than it was yesterday. Today you may be more nourished, hydrated, focused, rested, or stressed than the day before. Today your immune system may be working on something and tying up a large portion of your energy, or you may have slept awkwardly and one of your joints is letting you know it didn’t appreciate that. Point is, creating a workout that accounts for those (and other variables) comes back to listening to your body…each day…each workout. Some days are the days to push your limits, other days are days to go for a moderate effort and hit it hard again the next time.
If you feel your body telling you a particular joint doesn’t want to do a given exercise, warm it up a bit more, if it still protests, today may not be the day. Never let yourself make excuses that keep you away from exercise, but don’t ignore a loud protest from a vulnerable body part. If one or more of your parts routinely protests your exercise efforts, first check your form (or have a fitness professional help you). If form is good and the part still protests, know that your body is not uninterested in healing that part, it’s just that you have not yet figured out what it needs from you in order to heal. Keep searching. There is a good discomfort and bad discomfort that comes with exercise. Listen to your body’s signals to help you know the good discomfort from the bad. The best way to figure this out is to gauge how you feel the next day. If your energy is good and you’re somewhat sore, great. If you feel “injured,” you probably tried to do a bit too much. Set your goals high, but know that reaching them is not always a linear process. In other words, there are probably more turns on the road of your journey toward better health and fitness that you had been expecting. When the body tells you too, go moderate, and live to fight another day.