If you’re into the second half of life, your perspective on the “muscle” (or strength) component of fitness has likely evolved. Or if not, this is a friendly suggestion that it should.
Within OlderBeast fitness foundations—endurance, strength, flexibility and balance—the role of muscle is largely functional. We work strength mainly to help us keep performing in the physical activities we care about and get joy from, and ward off injuries and the A-word, atrophy.
For most of us (for me, I readily admit) there does also remain some cosmetic and self-esteem motivation: keep looking (at least) pretty good for our age, and keep feeling “like a man.” Nothing wrong with that, brothers.
The Strength Dilemma
But it’s hard to serve “strength” motivations without neglecting other fitness foundations, or the critical mind-body benefits of fitness that often come outside the gym.
Here’s my two cents on how to have it all…
Guys who focus a lot on gym-centered lifting should reorient themselves for the years ahead. The idea of one day working chest, the next one legs, then back, etc. has two main drawbacks for the OlderBeast:
1. It makes it very hard to fit in adequate endurance, flexibility and balance work
2. It usually keeps you indoors under electric lights and the video/audio assault of modernity – rather than having time to unplug your mind, be alone with your thoughts and feelings, and let some of life’s poetry come into, and out of, you. This part matters, man.
On the other side of the coin, runners and cyclists (and to a lesser degree, swimmers) need to make sure they don’t neglect the “strength” pillar. As do guys who just haven’t been that active historically, but know they need to start.
Even if you focus on fitness chiefly for cardio health, weight control, and stress reduction, it’s a must to work on all-over muscle strength in a time-efficient and smart way.
Wherever you’re starting from, here are suggestions for achieving strength goals as an integrated part of your weekly checklist.
1. “High intensity,” all-over strength workouts are great. They should replace some “lifting days” because they work cardio at the same time you’re getting or staying strong. And, they consolidate into one day the muscle groups in which classical lifting invests several days of the week.
These go by labels like HiiT (high-intensity interval training), boot camp, and numerous others. You can find classes all over, or pretty easily figure out how to do this at home.
2. On some formerly “pure” cardio days, add a 15-20 minute “mini-strength segment.” Obviously, if you’re doing cardio at the gym, there’s equipment there for a mini-strength segment. But this is 100% achievable at home, too – push-ups, pull-ups, core work, and maybe some quick dumbbell work (see links for a few suggestions on inexpensive basic home equipment).
To fit this into actual life and its schedules, you sometimes have to reduce cardio time…and it’s worth it. Reducing cardio (e.g. from 45 to 30 minutes) also preserves energy to put into the strength part. We tend to obsess about cardio—I’m guilty here. But this needs to be overcome if you want the most well-balanced and sustainable fitness (who doesn’t?).
Here’s one possible formula that works for many of us who really like cardio. Add a couple of “mini” strength sessions tacked onto a run, bike, or elliptical session during the week. Then have one dedicated strength day at the gym or at home. Don’t do any of these strength-featuring workouts occur on back-to-back days.
3. Strength doesn’t just come from “exercise,” it can come from “recreation” too. Not everyone has weekly access to muscle-working things like paddling, cross-country skiing, and rock climbing. But if you do, seize the opportunity!
And if things like this are more a once-in-a-while opportunity…then at least do them once in a while, dude. They’re fun, they require and build strength in more of a “primal” way, and they remind us of (another reason) why we want to maintain strength.
Guys, with your thriving in mind, I urge you to reflect on your routine and whether you can make adjustments like these, for strength work to have its appropriate proportion and role within your fitness- and happiness-seeking mix. There’s no one way to do this, so I look forward to learning from your feedback and experiences here!
“Ain’t I rough enough, oh honey…ain’t I tough enough?” (Rolling Stones, Beast of Burden – click to listen)