During the 1980s and 90s I did martial arts, achieving an international standard of skill and high level of physical fitness. Several months ago I returned to training after a 20 year break, training 2 to 3 sessions a week, pushing myself to duplicate the same level of ability and fitness I had decades ago.
Out of this experience I learned several things. First I am much older and my level of fitness is nowhere near the capacity it once was. The word ‘fitness’ encompasses cardiovascular, strength, endurance and flexibility, and although I wanted to train at the level I had decades ago, I was lacking in them all. This of course led to exhaustion and injuries, yes several of them in the space of three months.
My routine became train, soak in the bath with Epsom salts, stretch and get a massage, and this was when I was not recovering from injury. Injuries meant full recovery, time away from training, Myotherapy sessions and rehabilitation.
Over the years I had maintained a general fitness level and within weeks my cardiovascular fitness returned. Muscular endurance was lacking, though as the weeks turned to months even this improved. Flexibility was an issue, where in the past I could do the splits, however this time I tore muscles as I tried to emulate techniques from years past. Daily stretching was essential to avoid and recover from injury. This too improved.
Given time the physical body will improve its level of fitness and may even achieve or supersede its past levels; depending at what level you were previously at. What is important as we age is the time it takes to attain our fitness goals and how well we manage recovery. Maintenance is the key – massage, relaxation, nutrition, stretching and time.
There is one other key factor I have learned during my journey, and that has to do with ‘mental attitude’. It seems cliché, but alas true; ‘You achieve what you think you can achieve’ and ‘you become who you believe you are.’ As long as your goals are realistic in terms of what is possible and when, it comes done to mental attitude when achieving your fitness and health goals. In fact this can be said about achieving any goals.
I realised that although I enjoy the exercise and was motivated to attend classes, the mental determination and hunger to push my body to train daily to achieve the same level of skill and fitness attained decades ago was no longer there.
My mental approach is different. I have different priorities and no longer want to put in hour after hour of training to achieve an international standard. I still train to be fitter and healthier, though not obsessive about it. As my priorities have changed, so too have my determination and drive.
We see this many times with elite athletes who return to competition after retirement. Very rarely do they achieve or exceed their previous best. They may diversify into other sports and excel, but it is difficult both mentally and physically to push oneself to attain the high standards of years past.
So what have I learned?
1. Set SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals
2. Be true to yourself and accept you have changed physically and mentally
3. Take better care of yourself – e.g. Get regular massages, not occasional ones
4. Give yourself time to recover and rest
5. Life is to be enjoyed, do not make health and exercise a chore
I now realise that the type of exercise and the level of intensity I once craved is no longer relevant or necessary to me. I am no longer a single man in my twenties whose sole focus is training at an elite level. So why try and attain that which is no longer relevant?
Luckily with age comes experience and most of the time, wisdom. The wisdom attained over the past three months has enabled me to see clearly what I want from exercise, what I am capable of and how I can achieve it. Now it is a matter of doing it!
I wish you all the very best in your endeavours.
© SHAW 2017