Check your Ego at the Door, Part 2: Aging

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Who doesn’t love getting older?

No really, I’m serious. Getting older is great: you’re wiser, more even-tempered, more stable, better off financially, you waste less time sleeping, you know yourself better, and you have fewer fucks to give about stupid things. There’s a sense of calm ‘cause you know the sun will keep rising and setting. Perspective. Less drama.

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Aging is not quite as fun where physical performance is concerned. And that’s a rude shock if you’ve become used to being able to do just about anything and bounce back from it quickly.

Tissues don’t recover as fast. It takes longer to get warmed up. Injuries pile up. Even the ones that you maybe haven’t thought about in years, still add mileage to your body and may rear their ugly heads again. You don’t progress as fast. You have to train smarter, not harder.

This training smarter and not harder bullshit can be a difficult concept for the ego to come to terms with, and this is where I run into difficulty sometimes: what I figure I *should* be able to do just isn’t there some days and it takes some mental muscle to set my ego aside and roll with it. Here’s the thing though: if you can manage to banish the ego-monster from your training session, then you can really get some good and significant work done on the days when maybe picking up hundreds of pounds is not in the cards.

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Imagine for a moment that you’ve had a bad day – you had a fight with your teenage kid, work was long and frustrating, and you’ve just been hit with a giant vet bill because your dog ate the contents of your sock drawer and needed surgery. You go to the gym to do some bench presses (it IS Monday after all) to shake off your bad mood so that you can face the evening of driving your kids around, and – hey, these weights were easy last Monday! What the hell?

The reality is that added stress takes a marked physical toll…so a big deciding factor when you go into the gym on any given day is your physical and mental readiness. And though the stress may not be physical  – in fact, as we age it’s more likely going to be due to work, family, finances, etc. – it will affect your physical performance. Perhaps the biggest piss-off here is that our time in the gym should be the therapy to help us through the rest of the bullshit life slings at us, but unfortunately it can leave us weakened and vulnerable to injury.

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So, you can deal with this one of two ways: 1) Plow through the workout anyway, ignoring the pain and alarm bells, go home in an even worse mood because your workout sucked and wake up tomorrow morning with a separated shoulder, or 2) acknowledge that your stress level, on a scale of 1-10, is at roughly 11.5, and be proactive: take a little bit of extra time to warm up properly, then start your work sets at 80% of what you’d normally do. If that feels good, go to MAYBE 90%. Have fun anyway (because you checked your ego at the door) and show up the next time rested and ready to go at 105%. Autoregulation for the win!

It’s a good thing that rolling with the punches becomes easier as you get older and wiser. In fact, there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t keep getting stronger into your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond if you keep training intelligently and listening to your body. This is a skill that takes some practice though: knowing if, when, and how to modify the day’s program without babying yourself is a delicate art. (Plug: a good personal trainer can help you with this.)

One aspect of aging that I am particularly enjoying is actually being able to listen to my body – and although it took close to forty years for me to figure it out (and it’s still a skill that I focus on practising, every damn day) there’s no reason why anyone can’t learn how to do it. It helps that as I get older, I am less prone to absorbing the appearance-centred pablum that the media spews at us constantly. I spent my 20’s and an embarrassingly large chunk of my 30’s stressing over my appearance which never seemed to measure up. Those thoughts permeated every aspect of life – my relationships, my training, my eating habits…and you know what? As soon as I completely ran out of fucks to give about that stuff, I was able to quiet the outside noise and listen to my body.Then crazy things started to happen: fat loss, awesome strength gainz, heightened energy, and happiness.

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Getting older is well worth embracing, if you ask me. The physical creakiness that may slow you down in the gym is far from deal-breaking – in fact, if you manage to banish your ego from training completely, you can keep getting more awesome indefinitely. And the mental strength that comes from living life, constantly learning and growing, make you better all the time.

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The Bubble

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A couple of weeks ago the scale said that I’ve lost 19lbs.

I didn’t really do it on purpose – I’ve been training hard, lifting heavy, and eating (mostly) clean because it feels good. I’ve also set some lofty performance goals and I’m having fun chasing them down. Fat loss has been a pleasant side effect but not the objective, because fuck that  desperately-trying-to-take-up-less-space noise. It’s time to lift bigger, not be smaller – that’s way more fun!

A funny thing happens when you get to that point where you’ve lost a bunch of weight though: other people start to notice.

Sure, YOU noticed that your body feels different after the first five; maybe even less than that. People close to you notice little differences here and there too, but they also notice how hard you’re working. Then one day, a magic switch flips and suddenly the world sees you differently. You get compliments from random people – sometimes multiple times a day. You’re in the zone – this awesome little bubble that insulates you from the bad feelings that will eat you alive if you don’t eat them first. And it feels great.

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Unless you’ve been there before.

Unless your weight has gone up and down by hundreds of pounds over the years and you know the drill. You know that the bubble could pop any minute and six months of hard work could be undone in a couple of weeks and you’ll go plummeting to the ground…and if that happens, if a really good case of crippling depression and self-doubt get the better of you, all the cheering will disappear, leaving in its place awkward silences where people give you the once-over with their eyes, wondering what happened but not knowing what to say.

Weight loss can be a mind fuck, and the ever-present possibility of losing control and spiralling back to where you were is terrifying.

Right at this moment I’m not there yet. I’m still in the bubble but I’ve hit a plateau and mentally I’m struggling. Crushing self-doubt is lurking around the edges, making me question whether or not I’m doing things right. Whispering that I need to cut more, work harder, that I’m just a ridiculous old woman with a point to prove. The trainer in me knows, of course, that in my case, slow progress is better. That trying harder to control more only leads to disordered behaviour patterns, obsession, and failure. That the primary goal here is beastly strength, not an aesthetic.  But some days, the whispering is louder than the voice of reason. How do you deal when that happens – when progress slows (or stops), when that happy glow goes away and all that’s left is fear and doubt?

I’ll tell you a secret.

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There is no bubble. Lasting change doesn’t depend on the structural integrity of a film of soapy water. You won’t go crashing down if you lose that buoyant, in-the-zone feeling. Be patient with yourself and you WILL get it back, I promise.  I’ve been stuck in a rut more times than I care to admit or even think about. I’ve also coached countless clients through them, and I’ve learned that two things need to happen in order to shake things up and get moving forward again.

Acceptance

Self-acceptance, to be more specific. Who are we doing this for again? Why? Because we’re daring to imagine a better reality for ourselves, that’s why. But none of us are going to be different people if/when we get to where we think we want to be, so we’d better all make peace with ourselves and be happy with where and who we are now. Go toward the most awesome version of yourself. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Inspiration

Surround yourself with people who inspire you, who make you want to be the best possible version of yourself. Pick up a new project. Learn something new. Get out of your comfort zone. Do whatever you have to do to shake things up and re-ignite your enthusiasm. Stoke that fire!

What I do to keep things fresh is  give myself one training day in the gym to do whatever I want. Four days a week I do what my trainer/coach tells me to do; the fifth day is play day. And lately play day means Olympic lifting – it’s something I’ve always wanted to be better at, but it scares me a little bit because it’s such a departure from anything I’ve worked on before. So I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who’s a competitive weightlifter and has ridiculous drive and focus, and I’m gonna damn well learn how to do it right. New skill + Inspiring company = reinforced drive to be better!

Here’s something else to chew on: think of someone you admire. What is it that you admire about them? Is it their focus? Commitment? Intensity? Exuberance? If you’ve recognized something extraordinary in that person, that quality is in you, too.

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Above all, be patient. You may not be ready to re-commit to that goal just yet. Maybe you just need a break from all of it…and if that happens, it’s not a bad thing to just embrace it. Give yourself a set amount of time to let the bad feelings win, without doing anything to try and chase them away. Case in point: yesterday, I was done. I had nothing left – no fight, no will, no drive. I had lost control and I was terrified. So what did I do? I spent most of the day in bed, of course – I only got up to work and spend some time with my daughters. Here’s the thing though: that only works if there’s a time limit – I gave myself yesterday to wallow in self-pity; today it’s back to the business of smashing the shit out of my goals. Giddy up!