By now, you should all know that I absolutely, unequivocally champion **performance** over aesthetics 8 out of 7 days of the week! Simple fact is this: what good is it to look good and have ‘an amazing “bod”’ if you can’t do anything with it? And then, there’s the other end of the spectrum – when we’ve let ourselves go for so long that neither performance or aesthetics are on the cards…
I believe we should all strive to have a decent level of musculature that will serve us through to old age. But unfortunately for the overwhelming majority of us, life seemingly gets in the way the second we “settle down”, and there in lies the problem – we just hunker down into a life as utterly cozy and peachy as we can make it, with a level of inadvertent sheer abandonment of our health that we later grow to either regret/resent down the line.
The irony is that we so fervently pursue lifestyles that set us up for failure in the long run, but that are fun and [apparently] fulfilling in the short term. What I mean by this is that as so many people enter the big, bad world of adulthood (getting their first “real job”, earning a living, having a family, etc), it is deemed our God-given right to “enjoy” our “hard-earned cash” by thriftly spending it the second it enters our accounts.
More often than not, that expenditure stacks up against our health because the way most of us like to spend our time and money is by congregating with friends and family…and usually this equates to inordinate amounts of food & drink being consumed, and this oft-regular occurrence repeats itself unashamedly week after week, month after month, year after year… until we’re ten to twenty years in and realize that we’ve lost 20lbs of muscle, and gained 50lbs of fat in the process of it all.
Or… again, swinging back to the other end of things… you get those who are so hell-bent on “carving” out ‘the body of their dreams’ (what they won’t admit is that it’s really the dreams impressed upon them by Social Media and Celebrities) that they slave away maniacally just for a physique that they’ll only be able to maintain for a few years before it all starts to go tits up…
But okay, let me reign it in a little as I don’t want this to turn into a rant!
Let me use a documentary as an example to segue this into the real “meat” of today’s discussion; see I remember a couple of years ago there was a phenomenal documentary that appeared on the BBC (How to Stay Young) that really hammered home the message of why it is so important to maintain muscle mass [and functionality] through to our senior years.
One visual that they used that succinctly summed up their point was that of a sagittal cross-section MRI of three pairs of legs. The first pair belonged to a man in his early thirties, the next in his fifties, and the last in his eighties… All the legs had a very similar circumference, and the bone mass was almost identical. The stark contrast came from the fact that the amount of mass that was comprised of muscle and fat changed ratio dramatically as you went “down the line”.
The younger man had a very good amount of muscle, and fairly minimal levels of fat. The fifty-something year old had a markedly lower level of muscle, but had accrued more fat. And the eighty year old had seen further diminished levels of muscle, and even greater accumulation of fat. Want that visual? Check out these screenshots:
The trend is nothing short of horrific – just a constant loss of muscle paralleled by an equivalent [or greater] level of fat gain! There is actually a term for this: Sarcopenia (the loss of muscle tissue as a natural part of the ageing process).
But the good news is that this is all totally preventable! And you don’t have to be revved up on steroids or a competitive athlete to achieve results. After all, we’re talking about having a level of muscle mass that is *functional* not hulk-like…
One thing I have noticed over my years as a Trainer is that former [Elite] Military and Athletes tend to retain a good level of muscle (and [comparably] far healthier level of bodyfat) well into their later years. I’ve trained alongside [retired] ‘Bootnecks’ (Royal Marines) who have been approaching their *60s*, and yet they move better than 90% of others in the gym (and that figure doesn’t discriminate either – that’s inclusive of both the overweight/obese members dwindling on the treadmills, as well as the “pumped-AF-gym-bros” who are heaving ungodly amounts on the Bench Press!).
So, there are lessons to be extrapolated here…
As you’ve heard me say on multiple occasions by now, the ‘Elite’ should be looked towards as our proverbial model as to how to attain optimal health & fitness. Look at most Athletes and the Military – are they going and simply doing “3 Sets of 10 Reps” in the gym, then done and dusted? No. Are they performing eye-popping “One Rep Maxes” of insane amounts of weight? Also, no. Are they plodding along on the Elliptical for 40mins at a time? Again – negative!
What are they up to, then? How can we emulate their training methods? Well, first up, we have to break free from the bonds of “one dimensional training”. It is not enough to simply do Zumba and call it good. Or accrue the suppleness of a pretzel through Yoga and that be suffice. No endless string of Aerobics classes will do the trick either. It’s virtually essential to take a “multi-pronged” approach.
In the Military they do Obstacle Courses for Agility, Long-Distance Yomping/Rucking/Tabbing (load-bearing hikes that utilize Orienteering skills with the stress of harsh conditions under heavy loads) for Endurance, Bodyweight Exercises (Pull Ups / Push Ups / Squats / Lunges / Sit Ups) for Functionality, and [though you won’t see it AS much] Gym-based Strength-Conditioning to iron out the kinks.
And take ANY Pro-level Athlete… they’ll do thousands of hours of training in their unique discipline, but they’ll almost always incorporate some kind of Weight Training as well as some type of Yoga/Stretching [and Massage] into their routine. Heck, quite often you’ll find that they have a totally different sport that they go to “just for fun”; consider the pros who have retired from their “primary sport” only to take up a “secondary sport” soon after – usually to fill the emotional void of not being able to do the sport they love day-to-day, but also to stay ACTIVE!
So, what can YOU do? Well, the short answer is: f*cking PLENTY!! I mean, really… there is an abundance of options at our disposal. Whether you *like* any of those options is a totally different thing altogether. But hey, let me give you some personal examples of various sports and activities that I have dabbled in over the years (all of which I thoroughly enjoy):
As far as Gym-based activity goes:
HIIT Sessions (both Group and Individual)
Weight Lifting (Light for Endurance, Moderate to Heavy for Hypertrophy, and HEAVY for Strength)
Functional Training (with equipment like Kettlebells, Battle Ropes, Sandbags, etc)
Calisthenics (Bodyweight Training)
Sports-wise, I’ve played the following:
Basketball (used to play back at School, but nowadays – you’ve probably seen my videos on Instagram – ya might say I kinda like just casually ‘Shooting Hoops’)
Rugby (I played for several years at Boarding School and University, as well as a Provincial Team in Spain)
Bouldering (a roommate from University introduced me to it, and I love it! It even triggered my desire to go Rock Climbing in Thailand! Now, here in Oregon I’ve met a number of new friends who like it too, so that’s frickin’ sweet!)
Track & Field (I did just about every event that my School competed in back in the day, and I still enjoy a good Sprint or Jump here and there)
Then to satiate my ‘Inner Fighter’, I’ve done the following Martial Arts [to varying levels]:
Karate (my first Martial Art – did this as a young kid for a couple of years [age 8-11])
Muay Thai (kinda just “dipped the toe” with this one – off the back of a couple of serious Rugby-related operations, I had to be careful)
Taekwondo & Hapkido (a number of years “post-op” I dedicated a year of my life to living in South Korea and delved headlong into 15hrs of the two per week [on top of Weight Lifting at the Gym])
And to find that proverbial “Inner Zen”, I have even tried:
A couple of styles of Yoga [over the years] – totally dependant on what country I was in and what “version” (?) the Instructor taught… (Ashtanga/Vinyasa/Bikram/etc).
And even a little Tai Chi!
Almost always I have taken an “inter-disciplinary” approach. At the very least, I have tried to do three different things – usually a Martial Art, something Sports/Gym-based, and some kind of Yoga. The variety in and of itself has proven to be very fulfilling. But just using my body in such different ways has ensured that I get the ‘best of all worlds’, and I’ve reaped the benefits as a result.
I truly believe that it is possible to look good and perform like an Athlete all in one. Will you look like a Cover Model whilst being capable of bounding through Tough Mudders? That’s a tall order! But can you have a [visible] six pack, be flexible and crush a Spartan Race? F*ckin’ ‘ey you can!!
But let’s not forget the other parts of the equation:
Nutrition. Rest & Recovery. And [to an extent] Supplementation.
Yes, you absolutely need to get your fitness up to par. You need to take things up a notch – some of what you do needs to be [relatively] intense exercise, while other things can be more “low-key”. However, overlooking your diet – for one – is going to trip you up at the Start Line!
Now *how* you fuel yourself is something you need to figure out – whether you “go Keto” or try Atkins, give the Blood Type Diet a go, try the Alkaline Diet or “go Paleo” – the most important thing is that you fuel yourself adequately! All too often I see/hear people reeling off the stuff they eat, and 9 times outta 10 they’re either eating at a severe deficit (taking the ill-advised “less is more” approach), or they’re just stuffing their faces with way more calories than they realize!
If you haven’t already, you should have a read of the following articles:
Absorb the wisdom I divulge in those three [alone] and you should find yourself having a much better idea of where your Nutrition needs to be at. Because, remember this: Athletes do NOT starve themselves. The Military needs plenty of fuel for peak performance. Think of your body as a f*ckin’ sportscar: treat it like sh*t, and it’ll perform and [even] look like sh*t. Treat it like it’s worth a million, and it will perform like gold, and look incredible!
So guys, that’s all for today – I hope it’s got the cogs turning a bit, and that you’ll consider “switching things up” a little. Just this week I had a staunch ‘Yogi’ try out one of my HIIT sessions, and she was surprised by how much she enjoyed it – sometimes, you’ll find that stepping outside your comfort zone can lead to unexpected things.
I’ll catch you in the next post, but for now, if you’re thinking of getting kitted out with some new garb ready to tackle those workouts, then click the link below to get $20 Off Your First Purchase from Hylete – you’ll see me wearing their stuff in almost all of my Instagram posts, and they are legit!
In the meantime, remember: Train Hard, and Train Smart.
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO