Recently, I sent out a “community query” and I’m delighted to state that I received some outstanding feedback. First of all, to everyone who commented, thank you very much. I appreciate your participation and assistance with this project.
In that inquiry I asked 3 simple questions:
- What performance or health topic are you most interested in seeing featured, or covered in greater detail?
- Currently, what is your most important goal?
- What media do you prefer for obtaining information (long-form articles, podcast discussions, YouTube videos, or Instagram posts and reels)?
The responses I received were very insightful. They both validated what I’ve been doing and enlightened me in several ways. Regarding the first question, I’m going to paraphrase and highlight the top 5 answers. Then I’ll summarize the responses to the second and third questions.
In addressing Question 1, the topics of interest and burning questions (for myself as well as our inclusive community), I’ll provide a little substance in these areas today. Then we’ll take a slightly deeper dive in podcast form, probably in a separate episode for each, in the near future. Here we go.
Personalized Program Design: This is indeed an art form and I find many clients asking “Just where in the world do I even begin?” I’ll often describe the process of programming as first having a VISION (of what you want to accomplish or how you see yourself), then arriving at the answer to the question “Just what exactly is the GOAL?” From there, it’s easy to create the PLAN. Once the meaningful goal has been established, there is a series of relatively simple points to consider.
- Figure out where you are right now. Determine your level of conditioning, injury status, and current ability level. It’s a great idea to have an awareness of your genetic gifts and potential weaknesses and how they may relate to your objectives. This is where I use my AnimalFIT system to specifically delineate the unique traits of each individual athlete.
- Analyze your sport, activity, or performance goal. Recognize the demands of that pursuit. Tailor your plan to address these characteristics. I use my Athletic Capacity Rating System in which I determine the levels of strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance required in the sport. These elements then get leveraged in the training program and adjusted based on the athlete’s proficiency in each capacity.
- Establish a timeline. Sometimes, when you sign up for an event…the timeline is already set for you. You’ve got from now until the date of the competition, trip, or festival. But many times you may not have an arbitrary date. Look at what is a reasonable time frame in which to accomplish the goal, and then maybe add 10-20% more time (because life has a way of throwing the occasional curve ball).
- Create the schedule, or training split that lines up optimally with your lifestyle. What frequency of certain stimuli work best for you? The more you synchronize what you need with what you can realistically balance around work, family, sleep, etc…the better.
- Design the workouts to match the properties you are trying to develop. Look at those 5 capacities and the type of training that is known to elicit the desired results. Find the workout types that work best for you in this pursuit.
- Target some key performance indicators (KPI’s). Identify an output metric that relates to your goal. Average or peak power, pace in a session, a time trial, weight or reps in a lift, heart rate recovery, weight or waistline measurements…the list goes on.
- Manage workload and insert some planned regressions. Workload is the magical impact of session duration/frequency/intensity/density and their interaction with total volume over a specific time period. Apply some increases periodically, but avoid making your acute:chronic workload ratio much higher than 1.2:1 or so. In other words, adding 20% more work in a given week or month is probably absorbable by your body, but twice as much might lead to a crash of injury or exhaustion. As opposed to a totally linear progression, insert in some plateaus and even regressions where you occasionally do a bit less and allow your body to catch up and supercompensate.
- Assess progress at regular intervals. Hit those KPI’s from time to time and if you are tracking an upward trend, you are on point. If not, there is either a problem with your training being not specific and personalized enough, or your recovery inadequate.
- Make adjustments as necessary. Related to the last point, always fine tune workouts to be a little better, and make sure your readiness, or appetite for training, is consistently high.
- Appreciate the value of recovery. It’s really where the conditioning gains are made. And this is more than just the passage of time. It’s easy training and other practices that facilitate repair and adaptation.
- Utilize tapering and peaking. Generally speaking, cut back on volume in your last cycle as you are going into your target event or season. But keep the intensity up. This is also called sharpening.
- Make sure you have fun. Do stuff you like. Don’t suffer. The more you enjoy the process, the more you’ll be consistent. Nothing needs to be perfect.
- Consider getting a coach. All of these things are easier when you work with someone whose experience and expertise is in this wheelhouse.
Strength and Body Composition for the Mature Athlete: I think I can boil this one down to three relatively simple areas. Then I’ll flesh it out in greater detail in the podcast in the future. The three pearls are training, diet, and recovery, and each one has a strong hormonal relationship. Hormones are signaling molecules and they respond in kind to how we apply those 3 aforementioned practices.
- In order for gains to be made, training needs to stimulate testosterone and growth hormone, among others, in both genders. Strength is maximum force generation capacity and hypertrophy is cross-sectional diameter increase in muscle fiber size. Both happen with resistance training and there are nuances in training for each. But the hormonal stimulus for muscle protein synthesis is triggered by those hormones, which is initially stimulated by training at maximum (or near) intent. Interestingly, this can be done with heavy weights or light weights as long as the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is high and the repetitions in reserve (RIR) are low. Blood flow restriction (BFR) training has also been shown recently to be effective. It’s this training-hormone relationship that actually signals the body to build and retain muscle and ballast fat. You’re repetitively telling your body to muscle up and be strong and lean. If the message is on point, the body has no choice but to comply.
- When considering body composition, diet has two main considerations. These are protein and calories. Extensive research in older athletes has shown that 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of target lean body mass per day needs to be consumed. For example, a 200 pound person with 20% fat would have 160 pounds of lean mass and thus would need to eat up to 160 grams of protein per day. This might look like 4 servings of 40 grams each throughout the day for a muscle-focused individual. Or at least getting close. Most people don’t get anywhere near this and when they consume ideal protein levels for a while, they are amazed at the results. Studies have also shown that adequate protein consumption in itself stimulates muscle retention and preferential fat-burning. Animal products are best. Older folks have something known as anabolic resistance (the body gets reluctant to build muscle and burn fat) that this approach to nutrition tends to override. Then comes calories. Gainers need a surplus. Maintainers need an isocaloric point. Those focused on fat loss need a slight deficit. There is a lot more to the timing and fluctuations of feeding but those are the keys.
- Recovery is related to those hormones. When we get enough sleep (quantity and quality), optimize our stress levels, and space the hard workouts appropriately…magic happens. But if those things are off, we tend to go into a higher than desired cortisol level, and this effectively blocks the body composition enhancements. I’ve seen a lot of clients have a major breakthrough in their gains when they simply applied all the well-known sleep hygiene principles (cool and dark bedroom, evening wind-down, morning sunlight exposure, etc.). Fat burns in a flame of calmness and muscle grows when you sleep deeply.
Mixing Performance with Longevity: Most of the responses in this category had a sports emphasis. Came down to 2 key considerations. “How can I maintain peak performance through the lifespan…And how can I train for and achieve peak performance at any age without sacrificing my long term health in the process?” Much of this thinking stems from the thought – and some evidence – that pushing yourself to the max, come hell or high water, with relative disregard for any consequences other than your best athletic outcome…can have some negative impacts. Chronic inflammation, cardiomyopathy, joint degeneration, and cancer have all been linked to such behavior patterns.
Without being snarky, the answer is to be very intelligent about our training, competition, and lifestyle. In actuality, doing the very things we are always talking about at TLA, such as good program design, sleep, nutrition, recovery, and life balance…ensures ideal health (first) along with great performance capacity. I’d even make the argument that the extremely healthy person will outperform (over time) the possessor of extreme fitness. Sure, there might be a percentage point or two that the truly obsessed person will temporarily gain, but if it comes at a huge cost down the road (injury, surgery, early retirement, illness)…is it worth it?
The main point I always try to emphasize in my messaging is that there is a broad middle ground between two very polar extremes. One extreme is fear-based, sedentary “bubble boys (and girls)” – and I’ve known quite a few – who never push themselves because they are inappropriately afraid of perceived risk. The other is overly gonzo, tough-talking maniacs who over-leverage youth (and many times performance-enhancing drugs) to push themselves far beyond reasonable limits and ostensibly into an early grave. Some will say let’s wait and see on those two conditions, maybe giving it a generation or two in order to make a more positive assessment. I say “hogwash” to that because we already have plenty of data to show that doing nothing or doing everything is not the answer. A little athleticism is good. More is better. Lots is best. But chasing the most – at least if doing so continuously without occasional, natural, dynamic fluctuation – is probably not so good.
That felt more like a rant than a true answer to the proposed question. Performance and longevity can, and certainly should, coexist. Sometimes this is easy and often it’s not so simple. But if we blend good science with our innate, instinctive wisdom (also known as common sense), and try to limit dogmatic thinking and bias, we can live the life optimized. It’s necessary for us to be high-performing animals. We are genetically programmed to be so. And, if we do it right, athletic beastliness significantly escalates quality of life, without ever impacting longevity potential.
The Safe Way to Develop Speed, Power, and Agility: This topic showed up several times, in large part because I’m always talking about it. I’m thrilled and honored that many are listening.
I often talk about slow fitness. Put simply, these are exercise and training activities that are done relatively slowly, and that do not to any great extent develop the capacities of speed, power, and agility. For example, let’s say somebody bikes a little, lifts a bit, and stretches some. Sounds like a lot of fitness programming, even that which is recommended by government organizations and medical “experts.” That stuff is not bad. In fact it is good. It’s just not good enough because it doesn’t adequately work on fast-twitch physiology and multi-directional movement competency. These are properties that we all are designed to possess through our lifespan. Watch a bunch of kids playing on a playground, or any professional sport, and you’ll see these properties expressed beautifully. But sit at a desk or behind the wheel of a vehicle for 30 years, only train in a straight line (and slowly), and suddenly your athletic skillset is cut in half.
Speed, power, and agility define athleticism and my point is that they are not optional. They are absolutely necessary in every human. When you think of winning at sport (and LIFE), most people won’t argue that the winners have these properties in relative abundance. But those same abilities equate to reduced fall risk, better ability to balance, react, and move safely, and longevity overall. I won’t give up trying to convince my healthcare colleagues as well as everyone I meet that speed, power, and agility must be trained at every age.
That was my position but the respondents were already convinced. They either heard my message or came up with it on their own. Kudos. They wanted to explore how to safely utilize this type of training at any age or entry level.
I already used intelligent to talk about a prior topic so for this one let’s go with sensible. We have to be incredibly sensible when initiating and progressing any of this ballistic training. It takes months, and even years, to retrain the central nervous system, Type II muscle fibers, and connective tissues to move elastically and explosively. But, done right, this is arguably the most fun type of training that we can do. Sprinting, jumping around, throwing, tumbling, grappling, etc. are both childlike and animalistic joys in movement. You have to scale this type of training and adjust/modify it to fit where you are right now. Then be extremely patient in the process. The rewards are exponential in sports, health, and self-confidence. In our training groups, we use the saying “have fun, get results, and don’t get hurt.” Honestly, it takes a fair amount of knowledge to train (yourself or others) in these methods. Getting yourself a good coach (doesn’t have to be me) is really essential if you want to get fast, powerful, and agile…and avoid injury in the process.
Another super cool aspect of speed, power and strength training is that it does not have to be a substantial part of the total training workload for most Lifetime Athletes. Small doses are entirely adequate. Brief exposures of several minutes, just a couple times a week, is all that most of us need. Good old slow fitness should make up about 80% of our training. We just shouldn’t skip this essential 20% of explosive, agile work/fun/play.
Finishing up on this topic, I’ve gotta say that we are victimized by crappy societal messaging regarding training for speed, power, and agility as adults. “It’s not safe, you’ll get injured, the reward is not worth the risk” and other naysaying comments are abundant. They are all true, if you don’t know what you are doing and you jump in foolishly. But I already talked about how intelligent program design, sensible progression, and expert coaching can eradicate those concerns. The other thing that bugs me is that there are too many people in our society who are not fixing their health and wellness issues (which must come before athleticism) and this is biasing their training behaviors. When you are in a state of chronic high stress and swimming in a sea of cortisol and exhaustion, the last thing you want to do is activate your sympathetic nervous system and go hard. Instead you will naturally seek calming, relaxing, gentle, parasympathetic training such as low-intensity cardio, yoga, breathwork, and meditation. This stuff is great and it’s a big part of the training and recovery process. But the balanced human needs some yin with the yang. Fix your lifestyle first so you’re not stressed out all the time, and you’ll naturally crave some high-intensity beastliness. Panther speed, wolverine power, and otter agility will return to your nature.
Defining and Maintaining Athleticism within a Modern Lifestyle: Several folks provided input in this area and it challenged me to think very reflectively. Being athletic doesn’t have to mean that you are good at a sport or many. Sure, this can be a big part of it, but I like to think of athleticism in a much more global context. We need (and deserve) to have athletic, plaque-resistant arteries. Athletic, dementia-free neurons. Athletic, supple skin. Athletic sexual function. Athletic, optimistic attitudes. And there are many more examples. Being athletic is a state of robustness, resiliency, versatility, and durability. Certainly on the playing fields, but honestly in every situation we encounter. Doing yardwork and chores. Playing with kids and grandkids. Having the energy to crush a project or presentation at work. Carrying your bags across the airport. No matter what, when you are athletic, you win every time.
There is also an interesting and amazing crossover/carryover effect with regular athletic training. There are innumerable ways to achieve the athletic state. Nobody has to do the same thing in training to get a reasonable balance of strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance. Genetics, lifestyle, and preferences play a big role here. As long as you have baseline levels of those capacities, it doesn’t matter one bit how you get there. Everyone likes and responds best to different approaches. That’s what we embrace. It’s not necessarily what you do specifically in training or how you approach athleticism. It only matters that you have it. And once beyond the baselines, you can always concentrate on higher levels of one or more capacities to fit your preferences and needs. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s probably worth touching on the whole consistency topic. We need to be relatively consistent. What does that mean? Oh, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s doing 81.4% of your “stuff” 85.9% of the time. Or more. Or less. They don’t give out prizes for who hits the most workouts (actually they do in some messed up organizations). They give medals to the ones that win. Work ethic matters but talent strategically developed and applied generally takes the trophy. Some people definitely need to be held accountable and they thrive on high consistency and data management. But honestly, those people aren’t usually the champions. Lots of ways to look at this. Food for thought. No judgment. Just keep your athleticism alive. Let it flow up and down through the year and periodically focus on different sports or capacities.
Now we can look at “What’s your big goal right now?” Goals, and goal-setting methodologies, are indeed interesting. What perhaps gets talked about most is whether one’s goal is broad and general versus specific, clear, and concise. A general goal is to perform well, lose weight, feel better, or exercise more consistently. Examples of specific goals might be to break 90 for 18 holes of golf, run a certain time, lift an exact amount of weight, lose “x” pounds, or hit 120/80 for blood pressure.
We are often taught in program design “class” to always strive for, or drive clients toward, very specific goals. It’s thought that we can then most effectively apply behavior to achieve the desired outcome. While goal specificity is relatively important in most sports (and some health) applications I don’t believe it is imperative for every Lifetime Athlete. My view has been evolving in this area, driven by my interactions with many clients, my own maturation process, and the responses that came in on this project.
I alluded to that vision-goal-plan relationship when I discussed the program design process earlier. As I reviewed the responses, I found it intriguing, but not surprising, that almost every respondent provided a somewhat general goal. I don’t view this as a negative at all. I think it’s a reflection of the long term perspective most of us acquire along with our wisdom and gray (or thinning) hair, or the gift of insightfulness which can occur at even relatively young ages. Specific markers still matter to us, they just don’t matter as much as does being vibrantly engaged in our passions and relationships. Being able to do things, such as going on backpacking, fishing, or hunting trips (or trekking across Europe as some clients have done recently), completing a renovation project, or playing with the grandkids – at a high level and without pain – now that’s the goal. Sure, you still want to kick ass in the triathlon, on the ski hill, or the pickleball court…but that’s just a small part of the bigger picture. We can still identify specific metrics for each person, yet they really are just steps along the way to a more global and awesome life experience.
In describing their big goal, almost everybody gave a similar response. They defined a LIFESTYLE. I’ll bullet some of these out, but keep in mind this is not a ranked or prioritized list by any means.
- Maintain outstanding functionality through the lifespan.
- Perform highly in an athletic specialty.
- Possess versatile and well-rounded athletic abilities.
- Be able to do a variety of things without pain.
- Keep enjoying my passions and pursuits for as long as possible.
- Have a state of readiness so I can jump into just about anything.
- Stay healthy all the way to the end of the journey.
- Be here to see my kids and grandkids grow up and be successful.
- Avoid winding up in an institution for a prolonged period of time.
- Feel good…or great!
What impressed me most about the answers I received was the acceptance and understanding regarding the path to these goals. It’s what I call the athletic avenue into wellness and longevity. Back when I used to do a lot of corporate consulting in employee wellness (still do some) I used to get resistance and pushback when I suggested that attaining a high level of athleticism was not only the secret to performance but also the most direct path to health and organizational productivity. I don’t get much of that anymore. Most folks are knowledgeable and motivated about not just fitness, but higher level output capacity. They see the relationship in training for LIFE. And it’s most evident in our TLA community.
Many of you also commented that you greatly appreciate the concept of life balance. Athleticism certainly addresses the physical aspects of our existence, but it is also integrally connected to mental health, relationship harmony, career success, and life satisfaction. The message I got was the same one I preach. Athleticism is not the only thing, but it is really an essential component that is non-negotiable in the optimized human.
I think we are on the cusp of something here, and I’m pleased to say I see it as a cross-generational demographic. Boomers, GenXers, and Millennials were all represented in our survey. A mature and wise life perspective, regardless of age or even socioeconomic status, was revealed. I find this very empowering and it gives me reason to keep learning and sharing.
The preferred platforms for disseminating TLA content were ranked in the following order:
- Podcast: I’m not surprised by this at all. The Lifetime Athlete Podcast has been my largest and most successful outreach by far. Many folks stated that what they love best about listening to podcasts is the portability and ease of access to the auditory experience.
- Blog: Conversely, I was a little surprised by the written word earning the second position. People still like to read. And I like to write. It’s great that this form of verbal communication is alive and well as an ancient tradition.
- Instagram: Photos and quick video clips, along with brief captions, provide that quick nugget of education, and often entertainment.
- YouTube: The video experience certainly appeals to visual learners, but several people commented that it can sometimes be a challenge to find the time to sit and watch programming.
All of this was great stuff. I really value your input. You’ve given me some great topics to dive into as well as some guidance on how I can make that information most convenient and accessible. As I mentioned, over the next several weeks and months, I’ll be dropping some deep dive podcasts on the nuts and bolts of these subjects. Onward and upward!