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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