We’re now nearly two months into 2017. It’s flown by fast, hey?
For some, this time has been a period to set lofty goals and expectations for the next 12 months. For others, a direction has already been set long ago, nullifying the significance of the first day of a new calendar year.
With that being said, I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss a timely topic, one which should receive the same amount of attention at any time of the year.
The notion of longevity is often bereft from the mind of the average person trying to improve the way they look. In other words, as long as I look good now, who cares what I’ll be able to do in 15-20 years?
This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault, as it’s rarely talked about, and I can definitely see why. The appeal of the “now” is so much greater, especially when you place social media into the mix. No pain no gain, right?
Before I get more specific, let me outline a typical case.
You probably know one, two, or even a dozen acquaintances who manically proclaim (especially early in the year) their newfound devotion to losing weight, getting jacked and/or aggressively hunting down new PRs. You feign interest, attempting to share their enthusiasm, albeit with a healthy dose of skepticism. And then, as if magically, they stop. That means no more “motivational” posts on social media, no more carrying around a protein shaker as if it’s an extension of their arm, and no more weekly transformation photos.
Some may stop due to no longer having time, some may experience an injury and some may just become demotivated and directionless.
The first reason is the hallmark of a person who places close to zero emphasis on his/her physical health. Barring extenuating circumstances, there is always a way to incorporate fitness into your life, albeit for as little as 15 minutes a day. These people are typically poor at time management across the board, and the concept of prioritization is completely unknown to them.
The latter two reasons are what I will be focusing on in this post.
The Importance of Physical Longevity
In his talk titled Strength Training and the Biomarkers of Aging (linked below), Exercise Physiologist Skyler Tanner outlines 10 biomarkers in the human body that directly benefit from strength training and enhance physical longevity.
Simply speaking, instead of talking about your real age, a biomarker is the scientific way of measuring how old you are by looking at specific gene sequences in your body.
For brevity, I’ll list four biomarkers that strength training positively affects:
- Muscle mass
- Bone density
- Body composition
From these four, the main takeaways include:
- A 90-year-old who trained over the course of their lifetime will have the same amount of muscle as an untrained 50-year-old. I’ve included the relevant graph to stress the importance of physical training. See that exponential decline in muscle mass for an average untrained/sedentary 45-50 years old? With access to this information, I would expect (and hope) many of you reading this to not succumb to being another statistic on the damning untrained curve.
- Fast twitch muscle fibers, if unused, irreversibly revert to connective tissue. No amount of training will bring them back. What do we use these fast twitch muscle fibers for? Think of explosive movements, such as sprinting or rope climbing. Or, if you’re 90 – the ability to get up out of your chair with no assistance.
- Men can build upon bone mass/density up until 35-40 years old. This reduces the risk of osteoporosis (for both men and women), and can help prevent a premature onset of bone frailty induced by old age. While we may not be able to prevent broken bones from a harsh fall, we’ll be in a better position (physically speaking) to prevent the fall from happening in the first place.
- Strength training will shift you towards increasing your lean body mass; reducing the amount of body fat you hold. Coupling a neglect of strength training with an opulent lifestyle will decrease lean body mass, accelerate the aging process and trigger your body to produce more estrogen. That’s right; you, as a male, undergo a process of feminization as you gain excess body fat. Our human biology takes no prisoners.
If you’re interested, I highly encourage watching the presentation from which the above points were derived. Skyler Tanner has a laid back presentation style, and presents information in an easy to understand fashion. If you’re really interested, you can check out the bibliography for his presentation here.
Lastly, you need to look no further than bodybuilder/athlete Clarence Bass as a testament to what can be achieved with physical longevity.
At the time of writing, he is 80 years old.
The Importance of Longevity With Your Training Style
Understanding the theory above will put you in a better place than most. However, merely consuming the knowledge and not formulating any plans to apply it is a waste of your precious time.
A noticeable change to your physique is only experienced after a realistic, focused approach to your training over many years. Assuming you’re wanting to escape the realm of average and make real changes, you’re going to have to tweak your outlook.
Your new benchmark
One year of “newbie gains” is no longer impressive.
A single year is only the beginning on your lifelong journey to “bending the aging curve”, and looking good/feeling healthy well into old age.
If muscle growth is your #1 motivating factor (and I’d be lying if it wasn’t mine at the time) in your first year, I’d highly encourage you to add in longevity into the equation as well.
This is because, unfortunately, you’re not always going to make astronomical gains year after year; especially as a non-enhanced trainee. I’m not intentionally playing devil’s advocate, I’m encouraging you to think about the biological limitations of the human body.
The satisfaction from physical appearance alone will not ensure training longevity.
Let me put it into perspective by presenting the following table.
According to the McDonald Model, your muscle gain potential can be 30-37lbs (14-17kg) within the first two years, and 7-9lb (3-4kg) for the two thereafter.
Viewing the fruits of your labor after the first two years can certainly be intoxicating, but you’re not going to last longer if you don’t think long-term.
The lack of a long-term training outlook will cause you to burn out, lose the willingness to put in the work, and become another person talking about “what I used to do” rather than what your current focus is. Especially when your rate of muscular development slows down.
I don’t enjoy hearing others only talk about their past physical achievements, and I’m willing to bet you don’t either.
Four ways to improve your training longevity
To ensure training longevity, I will offer the following broad advice as a starting point:
1) Set yourself quarterly, quantifiable training objectives. I’ve found that 3-4 objectives is reasonable in my own training, which can include two upper body goals and two lower. Changing your training goals after three months will help to keep you focused on something new, and prevent everything from becoming stale.
2) Avoid pushing past pain. Listen to your body; you should be able to differentiate between pain and discomfort.
3) Prioritize quality sleep, and foster a balanced approach to nutrition.
4) Constant attention to mobility and pre-habilitation work. This will minimise your injury risks, and keep you on the path to building more strength.
For more information about the maximum natural rate of muscle growth, watch the FitnessFAQs video on the topic below.
The active choice to start considering longevity as part of your training will continue to pay dividends, from the first year right up until the twilight years of your life.
Only if you want it to.
“Being weak is a choice, so is being strong.” – Frank Zane
Readers, how long have you been training now? What advice would you give to others with respect to physical longevity and style of training? How do you keep yourselves hungry for progress and determined to keep getting better in the gym?