It was a proud day for me as a father last week as I spotted my son on the bench press at the gym, for the first time he was able to bench press with the 45 lb plates. I sort of remembered doing the same at his age of 17 years. It is, for most adolescent boys and young adults, a major milestone. Finally they can put on those big plates like the adults. I followed my son and squeezed out 10 reps, but wow, was that difficult. I sure felt it the next day, not the same feeling I had when I was in my 30s. Unlike my son, my strength is slowly changing but not in the direction it had been moving since my teens. Pushing that weight is getting tougher.
It can be a tough transition for many men reaching midlife. Being strong is such a big part of being a “man,” starting to see ones strength go down is difficult, many desperately want to hold onto what we had in our younger years. Often it leads to poor lifting techniques, or worse, injury. We all realize that our bodies change as we age and that an 80 year old is not going to be able to move as much weight as a 25 year old. We know that as we age our muscle mass decreases by about 10 per cent per decade after 40. This change in muscle also happens to our organ tissues, this is partly why our maximum heartrate decreases by about one beat for every year we get older. Ignoring this reality will not change the process, we are better off accepting it and setting up realistic training routines to challenge our bodies but not push beyond them.
As a kinesiologist, there are many strategies I use with my “older” clientele to give them a good workout, a workout that is challenging but does not lead to an injury their body can’t repair.
A renewed focus on style, with slower repetitions and fewer sets works well for many. This often involves lightning up on the weight thereby taking stress off our joints, maximizing it in the muscles. Moving away from single muscle movements to more compound exercises, those using multiple muscle groups at once, is another fantastic way to get more bang for the buck without needing to move extreme weights or spending over an hour in the gym exercising every single muscle on its own. I also try to avoid plyometric exercises with my older clients, exercises that have high impact and explosive components. Switching from running to cycling is a great example of getting a good cardio workout without excessive impact on the joints.
While I may still be able to use those 45 lb plates and even do more repetitions than my son, I know my days are numbered and it won’t be long before he will be showing the old man who is the strongest. I’m coming to terms with my changing body and have changed my focus from muscle mass to health and will hopefully grow old with grace and not fight the changes we will all be experiencing. Now if I can just figure out what to do with all that missing forehead hair.