I think all of us have a memory of a time in our lives where we never seemed to get tired. Work was simply a precursor to grabbing the gym bag and heading off to hit the bag, or do a weights session, or go for a run, or whatever the feeling was that day. Time was plentiful, and a little bit of muscle soreness was just a signal you’d trained hard.
Maybe it was early 30’s when things started to change a bit around us. Kids came along, work got serious, money became something that was finite, and limited, and had to be prioritised. The gym stopped being something that you did because you had time and something that you felt you had to.
By 40, you started to look around you, at your life.
National Geographic says that when you are in high school, you have on average 17 friends, and by 40, the average is two. Self-motivation starts to become a necessity. We felt different to how we did when we were young, not more pressure but different pressure. The question of who we would become seemed almost resolved, and there seemed to be less time to write the end of the story. While we felt in our minds like we were 21, it was undeniable that the body was no longer responding like it once it did.
The mark of a man is how we respond to the pressure we face, and it is no more apparent than in the choices in front of us when we start to feel our natural strength start to leave us in our mid thirties. I’m not talking about opening jars here, I’m talking about that feeling you have when you are walking the streets at night with the family after dinner and you see a group of louts up ahead.
That feeling that your best years might be behind you. That fear that maybe, you won’t come out of this one alive.
Getting older is hard.
The young guys are strong, and quick and explosive. The reality though, is that it what made us train hard in our twenties wasn’t convenience, or time, or an abundance of money.
It was a drive for strength and power, to exert, and to push ourselves, that took us to the gym, onto the track, into the ring, onto the mats. It was a deep seated urge to continue to strive for the top and to beat ourselves and our limitations, and while we might be older, and a little bit slower, and we might get a little bit sore, that hasn’t changed. If anything, the fact that it now seems a little harder, and the stakes are higher, makes the fire burn more strongly and need a little less kindling.
With less people around you and less time, you draw upon a power source far more potent than you ever had access to in your twenties and even your early thirties. Muscle memory, and understanding your body, how to treat it, how to train, how you learn and how you respond, gives you an advantage that you never had in your youth. Sure, the young guys might be faster, and more naturally explosive, but you’ve got 40 years in the university of life, and there is no greater teacher out there than the school of hard and persistent knocks.
Old man strength is not a state of mind. It is a reality.
Over 35, 40, 50 years of age, men harden up and strength and power becomes something that forms a core part of who and what we are, and a reaction to everything we have been through to get us here.
There are high watermarks of course – Chris Dickenson won Mr Olympia at the age of 42, Greg Chrun benched a winning 518 pounds in his fifties at the International Powerlifting championships in Denmark a few years ago, Randy Couture fought four times in the UFC after turning 40, George Foreman won the heavyweight championship at 45 years of age – but the real battles are happening every morning at 6am in gyms all over the world as ordinary guys overcome injury, face their own limitations and overcome them.
If you’ve ever been grabbed by a 40 year old guy with grips of iron, been caught in an old guy’s guard while he relentlessly chokes you from every angle, been terrified to take your elbows more than 1cm from your body for the sake of your arms, or been in the ring with a guy who has been there so many times that he feels every inch of the canvass and knows every thought you’re having, then you’ve been on the other side of old man strength. Its real, and its hard, and its to be respected.
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Train hard and stay strong.