By Michael Krueger
I recently had another birthday. I hesitate to say “celebrate” since I’ve had enough of them to consider them “just another day.”
That being said, I do take note of them by making a few personal assessments. It’s obviously an easy day to remember, so it’s a good day to check out how I’ve done over the past year.
So, how did I do?
The Physical Checks
I vary the things I check from year to year, but the two things that I always check are weight and body fat. I will admit that I check these two things every week and have for a very long time … and yes, I do keep a log of the numbers. I once went an entire year checking them every morning and every night. It was a pain in the butt, but I gained a lot of knowledge regarding how my body responds to various “inputs.” Fatty foods, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, sweets, greens, and water can all make for some wild day-to-day fluctuations in both scale weight and percent of body fat. That year taught me to be aware of trends and not to panic.
This once-a-year weigh-in gives me a regular, but very imperfect, snapshot of where I’m at on a basically arbitrary day. But when I couple it with what I learned during the year of daily weigh-ins, I can more accurately interpret that singular data point. Today, I found that not much has changed in the past year. That is actually a good thing, since I wasn’t trying to lose or gain any weight but merely maintain where I’m at.
This year’s variable test was my one-minute and 100-meter row performance. It was disappointing. I set a personal record in both about two months ago and had trained well since then, so I was hoping for a good showing. This didn’t happen, so I was tasked with figuring out what went wrong. My determination was that I simply tried too hard; my form broke, and I pulled too many strokes per minute and therefore I didn’t use my legs efficiently. I’ll test this theory in eight weeks.
Not doing well wasn’t that big of a deal because there are always ups and downs in training. Of course, I wasn’t thrilled, but a time trial on such a short distance can often go sideways. A small error at the beginning can doom me to a sub-par performance. One good thing about age, experience, and good log keeping is that I know I will do better as time goes on … exactly when I’ll see this improvement is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure it will happen.
My go-to test distance used to be the 5K. I haven’t done this recently, since I haven’t been training for that distance, and to test something I haven’t been working on is unproductive. If I do well, I’m all pumped, and if I do poorly, I either rationalize it or descend into a funk; neither reaction is remotely useful.
When I was running, I really enjoyed testing both speed and distance. Since the timing of the events wasn’t terribly accurate (pushing the start/stop button on my watch is a far cry from the PM-5 monitor on my rower), the stakes didn’t seem as high. Sometimes I miss that ….
When it comes to yearly comparisons of my lifting progression, the choice of exercise to test depends on what I have been emphasizing. Some years, it’s chin-ups; other years, it’s bench press. My favorites used to be squats and dead-lifts, but my left knee has relegated those to light/high reps–not something worth testing.
This year was a maximum repetitions test of body-weight bench presses. I have always maintained (and to be honest, with no empirical data to back it up) that a male should be able to bench press his body weight plus 100 pounds for one rep and body weight at least 10 times. These are easy benchmarks to remember, and they are doable for many men after training on a good program for a year or so.
I was pleased that not only did I do it, but I tied my best performance at body weight (18 reps), which I first attained three years ago. At my age, this was very exciting and almost made up for the poor performance in the row.
Another touchstone I look at is how my head is doing. It’s been a busy year, and those kinds of demands tend to weigh on me. I’m an anxious person by personality, and if I let it get out of control, it can take weeks or even months to get back to an even keel.
I’ve sought professional advice in learning how to keep this under control, and I’m generally good at doing just that. My fitness routine is something that I do in part to keep my mental/emotional health nice and stable.
I’ve done OK in this department this year. I reviewed my log (yes, I make note of my mental gyrations in there right along with my workouts), and I only had a few episodes that caused me concern. They didn’t last long and were effectively investigated and resolved rather that waited out and then ignored until next time. I’m pleased with that … it’s what I was taught to do.
So, another year and some new goals and challenges. I’m hearing that new goals and challenges at my age are beginning to look like just trying to maintain rather than breaking new ground and setting new personal records. I don’t like that idea and will be fighting tooth and nail against it. Someday, I will not record a new PR in a year, though it hasn’t happened yet. Someday, what is even simply a normal workout might be a major accomplishment; but I’m not there yet. Someday, just getting out of bed might be a feat to celebrate, but not now and not soon if I have anything to say about it … and I do have a lot to say about it!
Aging is inevitable, unless you die young; getting old is optional. There are things I don’t do anymore, but it’s got more to do with wear and tear from an active life than just giving in to the march of time. Many people choose to get old. They stop moving, start sitting, rust out, and die.
Keeping an eye on your progression through life can help you avoid the slow and incremental effects of time. In your 20s, aging means growth; you are getting better and stronger. Once into your 30s, the rate of growth slows, and many people begin slowing down as well. Others see their 30s as the time to use what they’ve learned and push to even greater achievements. Once into your 40s, if you’ve taken care of yourself, you can still outperform those 10 and 20 years younger because you’re still strong and you’ve got years of experience to call on. Hitting your 50s means you no longer feel the need to compete with anyone but yourself (but you still could if you choose to). Your training changes only slightly, and your achievements are still exceeding your past performances on a regular basis.
Once you get into your 60s … well I don’t know for sure, since that ride has just begun for me. I’m going to do my best to stay positive, work hard, and keep my forward progression going. I’ll let you know how it goes…
…but I’m sure it’s going to be great!
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.