For Non-Olympians Only
You may know that the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London wrapped up over the weekend. There was plenty of excitement, including
Michael Phelps becoming the winningest Olympian ever, and a shocking scandal in the Badminton competition. (That doesn't
sound right, does it?)
Olympic competitors have widely varying fitness levels. We see the tremendous aerobic capacity of marathoners, the incredible
strength of weightlifters, the amazing flexibility of gymnasts, the compelling uniforms of beach volleyball players, and so
But here's the thing about Olympic athletes: most of them have reached their physical peak. Some may return to the next games
in even better shape, while others may go on to (or continue) professional careers that allow them to grow further. But
generally, they have sacrificed and trained to be their absolute best. If that's you, here's the bad news: it's all
downhill from here. The sprinters won't get faster, weightlifters won't get stronger, and the badminton players won't
get more scandalous.
For the rest of us, though, there's probably plenty of upside. We can get stronger and faster than ever, even if we're no
longer in our prime fitness years. That can provide great motivation: it's exciting to hit PRs (Personal Records) any
time in life, but seems even more special when we're "past our prime" (not that I'd know, being just a kid myself).
Whether running our fastest mile or deadlifting our heaviest weight, PRs rock.
But PRs, particularly strength-related, are more than just feel-good moments, because with age comes an inevitable loss of
muscle. Beginning at age 50, an untrained body will lose one to two percent of its muscle mass per year. Even the best-trained
athletes lose ten percent or more per decade. And strength declines twice as fast as muscle tissue. While weight training can help
slow the process, there is currently no known way to stop it. Consider the recently departed and totally awesome
who lifted fanatically. (In fact, he
might still be around had he not tried to train his way out of pneumonia.) While he still had impressive strength at age 96,
it was a far cry from his peak and his body was significantly smaller than when he whipped Arnold in a Muscle Beach strength
contest (when Jack was 54 and Arnold 21).
The loss of strength and muscle is inexorable, but here's the thing: the more of it we have when the age-related atrophy
(known as "sarcopenia
the longer we can remain relatively strong. It's basic arithmetic. Or maybe rudimentary algebra.
So it's never too late to reach your peak, and the higher you can go, the longer it will take to descend. And that's a good
thing. I know I still have PRs in me and look forward to reaching them. Someday, in the far distant future, they won't happen
any more, but that's OK. By then, my peak will be high enough to afford me a wonderful view and a long, slow descent--kicking
and screaming--that I can really enjoy (yes, that's right, I really enjoy kicking and screaming) until I finally get that long-promised
. (The linked one is actually kind of lame. Where's the
version?) But I plan on still being able to push it if it gets stuck in the snow.
That's actually kind of a cool life goal for the over-30 crowd: "I will be able to push my flying car if it gets stuck in
the snow." Now get out there, non-Olympians, and set some PRs!
Be seeing you.