From Meathead Young man to Long-Winded, But Wiser, Old Man

by Vince Thompson

I started training when 14 (in 1955), using the weights belonging to a friend's older brother.

Testosterone was rising along with poor self-esteem, so muscles provided a kind of cheap psychological survival tool.

Wasn't a nice guy. More of a bully with lots of hidden fears. Played a hard game of football though, and "meathead" described me pretty well.

Many changes occurred over the years - personally, politically, socially, academically, and then professionally.

Never stopped training though. That was pretty constant. Even when at 30 I was up to nearly four packs of Marlboros every day. Loved 'em! My motivation gradually changed (gradually, since most of us males don't change easily). Training began to provide stress relief from a demanding career, health (fewer colds, etc.), clearer thinking, endorphin highs to offset moderate & life-long depression, desire for more varied sports (began training more for sports-specific improvements - training with function in mind), and a socially acceptable and wholesome outlet for a lifelong need for physical power (I tend to distrust somewhat males who deny this is probably genetically-based, not to say genetically determined, need, though admittedly it seems to vary in strength among us).

Giving up smoking opened up many possibilities for including more sports into my life. Hardest thing I've ever done - 30 years later, I was still having gone-back-to-smoking dreams. They were dreams, weren't they?

Motivation and practice evolved from less skilled toward more skilled; from bash to somewhat greater subtlety of action; and to coordination and flexibility. At 52, I took up traditional Okinawan/Chinese martial arts, and made some progress over the next 20 years toward learning the wonders of quick shifting between tension/power and relaxation/speed (goju ryu, hard-soft, internal/external principles to those in traditional martial arts).

Have belonged to a million gyms, but now train almost exclusively at home for the usually-cited reasons plus one more - I want no part of MRSA, and find even better gyms to be petri dishes populated by persons too many of whom seem to lack both concept and concern regarding germs.

I need variety in training these days. It's highly important. My training principles include none that I know of that haven't been well expressed on this website. Functional fitness. To achieve the variety, I have:

A quality older multi-station weight-training machine (yes, there is still an important place for these, imo, as in no-excuse workouts around and without aggravating injured parts through isolation); Kettlebells; Sandbags; Sledge hammers (an entire near full-body workout can be had with those sledges in the garage (Google it); Angled barbell training (so-called "landmine" exercises); A 12-lb. shot put for the back yard; Squat trap bar for more or less intelligent squats & dead lifts; A box for step ups and jumps (an inverted sprinkler valve box works fine and is cheap); A good treadmill with interval training videos and scenic videos (yesterday was rural Tuscany, before that East Sierra hill climbs!); A balance of long-and-slower with high intensity interval work (don't toss out the long and slow just because the current rage tends to be HIIT);
Homemade TRX-type straps (nylon load tie-down straps from local hardware are better than commercial training straps, and cost is like $25 instead of $150+); Latex resistance bands (so many, many uses!);
Couple of body bars; Wrist roller; Power Wheel (check it out if you don't already know it!); Bosu half ball (for hamstring exercises mostly); and a Kurt Kinetics fluid trainer for my bike in

Apart from the multi-station machine and treadmill, I doubt that I have more than about $600 in equipment. Most of it is used, from Craigslist. One can save a lot of money by thinking - recently, I opted not to purchase a wonderful $400 so-called glut-ham machine by realizing that I could accomplish the same thing with less than $100 and a little ingenuity. Not saying that my way would work for a power lifter, of course, or for a commercial purpose. But there is so much marketing and widespread consumer ignorance in the fitness world, a thinking person willing to do some homework can save HUGE $$!

But learning correct form on all equipment and routines is essential. Form must be there before much resistance, especially for us older persons. Form is fun, too! Form is properly first in all things, no? There is so much information, and misinformation, on line. I'd recommend finding and sticking with a regular diet of the better material - this website is a great example. The folks at Robertson's Fitness and at Sorinex are great, too. A fine strength training video is well produced "Strong First: Foundation of Strength" by Mark Toomey (covers barbells, dumbells, kettlebells, and sandbags, and wonderfully shows how most of the same basic principles of form apply to all). But watch out for the narcissists doing the homemade video stuff. Beware the meatheads. I know, because I was one of them.

For flexibility, there is of course a lot of good material out there. But one video I recommend highly is "Magnificent Mobility" by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson. These learned fellows understand that core mobility is at least as important as core strength and endurance.

At 73, my motivation is quite different than at 14, but then so is everything else, right? In the last six months I've had a cabg x 4 (quadruple bypass) and one of my carotids surgically fixed. Still working out and loving it, with the knowledge that one recovers MUCH better and MUCH faster from major surgery if his/her body is otherwise healthy and fit.

After all this, still one final thought that might be of some use to some. Know when to ignore yourself, when to tell your feelings to take a hike. Many of us seniors were brought up under the opposite lesson. And that is fine. I'm one of them. But to stick with growth consistently and long term, I believe that we need to be ready, willing and able tell those inevitable feelings of inertia (I really don't feel like training today!!!) to go to hell. We each need, I think, a little drill sergeant (an intelligent one) in us, the person who requires that we start moving even as inside Mr. Lazy screams NO! PLEASE NO! I find that there is no correlation between my motivation/enthusiasm just before I train and how satisfactorily (and satisfyingly) a training session goes. Some of my best sessions begin with groans and curses. Know when to ignore your feelings when it comes to lazy. I'm not talking about training hesitancy due to injury - that's a different matter. Still, looking for ways to train "around" and injury can be important.

Let's keep moving, people!

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