Are you really too old to be training? Part four.
OKAY SO. I said that this blog was gonna be about bone and joint changes as you age. It's not gonna be. I have moved on. We all have to move on in life. But the next paragraph has a summary. And we're closing this blog with four important reminders!!!!!!!, so if you don't feel like sticking around, scroll down to the payoff.
Summary of the lost blog: Arthritis is not a foregone conclusion and even when it becomes a conclusion, it does not necessarily mean devolution into incapacitation. (Devolution Into Incapacitation is gonna be the name of my new metal band.) One of the best known ways to take care of your joints is to move them. People who create impact in their body have the thickest, fluffiest cartilage. See pretty much any other blog I've written for more on this.
Mia, if we're not talking about bone and joint anatomy, why am I even here?! Glad you asked. We're here to revisit this question:
Does athletics get more difficult with age:
1) Because we're getting older
2) Because we stopped training fast and powerful things as often as we used to or
3) Because we think we're training fast and powerful things but we're missing something without realizing it?
Last time, I took a deep dive into question one, looking at what actually changes and deteriorates over time and what might be mitigated. I saved the other two possibilities for this blog. These are shorter answers, but no less important!
So let's aggressively tackle numbers 2 and 3, like Terry Tate, Office Linebacker would do:
OTHER POSSIBILITY BESIDES YOU'RE OLD AF #2) Athletics is hard not because you're old, but because you're not doing it.
Yeah, this is actually the most common culprit, and it sounds like I'm being a judgy douche by being like HEY DUMMY YOU'RE BAD AT MOVEMENT BECAUSE YOU SAT AROUND, YOU COW. But that's not where I'm at (and cows are awesome). I'm at the most practical interpretations of A) "Why would you expect to remain good at something that you haven't practiced in ten years?" alongside B) "Why would you expect to be good at something that you've never practiced?"
A) If you studied French but didn't take a French class for ten years, you wouldn't say your French is shit because you're old, you'd say it's shit because you haven't practiced. Our adult gymnastics team is absolutely full of people (myself included) who come in, try something they haven't done since they were 13, and then go, "Jesus, I'm so fucking old," when the trick doesn't work or feels absolutely horrendous.
The trick feels horrendous because you haven't tried it in seventeen years. That's not weird and it's not a sign that your body can't do it. It's just a sign that, like your first French class in a decade, you might not be able to read Descartes as a brisk warm up. No. Descartes is gonna be horrendous. It's supposed to be horrendous. It's fucking Descartes. You'll have to learn the stupid pluperfect subjunctive all over again, not to mention epistemology. But I won't talk anymore about that—I don't want to put descartes before the horse.
B) Similarly, when I'm taking a ballet class with Tiler Peck, principal dancer at NYC Ballet, I'm like damn, look at her extension. Look at her feet. Look how she turns and doesn't careen into the bookshelves like a drunk toddler. I don't look like that. I don't turn like that. I definitely careen. It's defeating. I feel stupid, even alone in my house.
But honestly. Why on EARTH would I ever look or dance like a professional dancer? I am not a professional dancer. I'm not even a trained dancer. My main dance training is seven vodka sodas and Britney Spears playing in a bar. This is so ridiculously basic when we step back and look at it, but we all forget it in the moment. Also, my feeling stupid and stopping is absolutely, for sure, guaranteed, one hundred percent, not going to make me a better dancer.
The easiest thing to do when you're feeling old is to start moving again. You'll feel like a trashpile of keratin and calcium in the beginning but I promise it gets better. (Trashpile of Keratin and Calcium is the title of my memoir about trying to make my hair look nicer.)
If you haven't studied French in ten years, you wouldn't say your French is shit because you're old, you'd say it was shit because you haven't practiced.
OTHER POSSIBILITY BESIDES YOU'RE OLD AF #3) Athletics is harder because even though you're doing it, maybe you're not doing it in the best way.
This is the trickiest one to navigate. This is a large group of people who train their asses off and still don't get the results they want, or still get hurt, or still slow down. This is the most emotionally difficult group to be in, because it feels like What on earth is the point of all this effort? That's a bad place to be.
Here's the deal. Improvement requires intense (you need to work out hard, which can be scary for those who fear injuries), well-rounded (you need to employ different modalities), regularly-escalating (progressive overload is a must), consistent (prioritize, even when you don't want to) efforts. Being beneath the bar for any of those four areas means that your training results might not turn out the way you hope.
It doesn't mean it's wasted time.
It doesn't mean you're a shit athlete.
It doesn't mean you won't get better at all.
It just means that your optimal result will probably be compromised.
And yes, results will likely come in slower, smaller increments as you age. So it goes, as Vonnegut and Billy Joel said. (Now there's a panel discussion about addiction that I'd pay to sit in on.)
If you're working out regularly and still feel like you're going down the tubes, it's worth taking a look at what you're really doing. How's your programming? Do you ever ask for coaching? Are you playing at a regular level of pain and just accepting that's how it's gonna be? Do you train hard but in random chunks, because you have the rest of your life to deal with? All of these things can have an impact over time. If you're a regular exerciser and still feeling defeated, you need to ask for help.
Improvement requires intense, well-rounded, regularly-escalating, consistent efforts.
Let's revisit. Did movement become harder for you because you got old? (AKA Getting old is 100% of the reason and depressingly unchangeable.)
Did movement become harder for you because you got old AND stopped moving / did easier things / allowed yourself to feel self-conscious / didn't prioritize it / are scared of getting hurt / stopped being a teenager who plays three sports a year / started a family / don't ask for help / are in constant pain / changed body size? (AKA Getting old is 9% of the reason and all of the others are encouragingly navigable.)
Yeah. I'm going with the latter.
The only thing that matters is if your workouts are productive and challenging.
Do we change with age? Of course. Do we slow down? Yeppo. Is it insane to think that a 70 year old could be competitive with a 20 year old? Sometimes, although not always.
But here's the really really really important part of this line of questioning:
Why does a 70 year old feel like they NEED to be competitive with a 20 year old? What's the point? Who are you competing against? People will answer, "With myself. I know what I used to be able to do."
OK, cool. Guess what? THAT'S STILL COMPETING WITH A 20 YEAR OLD.
If a workout is challenging and productive, that's literally the only thing that matters. If you're training for health reasons, it's the only thing that matters. If you're training to learn something new, it's the only thing that matters. If you're competing, it's still the only thing that matters. What gets you to improved health, new skills, or your best performances are challenging, productive workouts.
You can't compare your work to anyone else, including your previous self. You can use other people as metrics, but in the end, they are utterly unimportant to you. Forget them. Ignore them. Be a fitness sociopath!
FOUR IMPORTANT REMINDERS!!!!!!!!
Ways to improve your fitness levels that don't involve getting younger:
Number One: Give yourself time.
If you took fifteen years off, it's not gonna take you fifteen years to get back on again (thank god). But it's not gonna take you fifteen minutes either. I always allocate two years for new clients; two years for myself; two years for everybody. Don't worry. You'll see lots of changes way sooner than two years from now.
Number Dos: Allow yourself to be a beginner.
Even if you used to be an expert athlete, you may not be expert now. That's fine. Being a beginner is awesome. You learn so fast and you're a blank canvas to paint. WAY easier than trying to improve to Simone Biles's floor routine.
Number D: Hold yourself accountable to showing up.
I don't care if you go to the gym in a huff and sit on the floor and eat Doritos. Make the decision to show up when you don't feel like it. Odds are very good that once you're there, you'll begrudgingly do SOMETHING. You might walk on a treadmill for fifteen minutes and leave again. You might sit on a mat and stretch while surfing Twitter. That's fine, because you're gonna be proud that you showed up when you didn't want to.
Number √5: Ask for help.
Serena Williams has a coach. Michael Phelps has a coach. Tom Brady has a coach. Misty Copeland has a coach. LeBron James has a coach. Every phenomenal athlete in the world has a coach. You're not better than them. Go get a damn coach.
I always encourage people to bite into the things they can change. Biting into things you can't change is a solid freefall into bad places. You might be getting older, but there's still a whole lot you can bite into. It is NEVER too late for a bite. Go take one.
(Side note: Want more Tiler? Check out her jaw-dropping performance here, as the first ballerina to perform on Ellen's show. Those backwards bourrées give me life. [You'll know 'em when you see 'em.]) <---I love this punctuation orgy here.