Getting Fit Over 50 and the Recovery Myth
To start, I have no qualifications what so ever to give fitness advice. What I’m about to describe is what works for me as I pursue my goal of being fit over 50.
Remember, we are all different, an experiment of one. What works for me may not work for you.
Diminished Recovery Time and Fitness Over 50
A prevalent aging misconception is that people significantly lose their ability to recover the older they get. Whether it’s exercise, injury, hangovers, etc… I will often hear others whine how they just can’t rebound like they did when they were younger.
There is a biological truth to a diminished ability to recover after a workout as you age, but I promise it’s not nearly as bad as you think and it should never be used as an excuse to skip a a chance to workout.
Like speed, strength, balance, and endurance, recovery is something you can train the body to do more efficiently and quicker.
Improving my recovery time is now the central focus of all my workout routines. It has helped me breakthrough multiple fitness plateaus, and it has changed my view of what it means to be physically fit.
Maybe It’s a Generational Thing
I’m sure the concept of no recovery isn’t new to everyone. However, it is new to me. I come from the era where getting fit meant pumping iron and doing minimal cardio to preserve muscle.
If you’re my age, you will likely relate. As long as I can remember, it had been drilled into me the importance of recovery. I had always been taught never to work the same body part two days in a row and always to take rest days if I wanted to make fitness gains.
I followed this advice my entire life, and I consistently achieved average results. Then, a year ago, I decided to break all the rules, and my level of fitness exploded.
It all started when I was feeling the need for an adventure, and I decided to buy a bicycle and ride 1,400 miles from Hanoi, Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand.
If I were to succeed, not only would I need the right bicycle touring gear, I would have to rethink my current fitness routine. The demands on myself physically would be very different from anything I had done in the past.
Training to cycle 60 to 80 miles in a day is pretty straight forward, but preparing to ride 60 to 80 miles a day, and the next day, and the next day, for a month, would be a totally different undertaking. I had to train my body to recover quickly.
I decided the best way to prepare for my ride would be to beat my legs into submission every single day and never give them time to recover, thereby mimicking the physical demands of my upcoming bicycle tour.
The No Recovery Experiment Begins
I already had a decent running base. A typical week consisted of running a 6-mile route 4-5 times a week. The plan was to up my route to 9-miles and do it every day, seven days a week, for the two months leading up to my trip.
The schedule wasn’t very different from what I was already doing. Basically, I increased my daily mileage, and eliminated all rest days and easy runs.
It didn’t matter if I was tired, had to walk or even crawl. The plan was 9 -miles a day, and nothing was going to stop me.
As expected, I started strong. The first week went by without a hitch, but by the end of the second week, my times started to slow, and exhaustion began to creep in.
Eventually, I dreaded my daily run. My body screamed for a break. Every day I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly finish.
Then I entered my second month and noticed a change. I was still sore and tired, but I didn’t care anymore. I just ran. I was worn out, but my mind finally accepted my new reality of constant fatigue. I even started to enjoy my runs again.
I’m not sure if it’s because I was in better shape, if being exhausted all the time began to feel normal, or if I was so tired of being tired, I was too tired to be tired. Got it?
It didn’t matter. By ignoring everything I had bad taught, I was now in the best shape of my life, physically and mentally.
The date of my trip arrived and it was a total success. The physical demands of my bicycle tour were tough, but doable.
By running a hard 9-miles every day for a couple of months, I discovered how resilient and adaptable my body and mind really are.
Is Overtraining a Myth
Cue the lightbulb moment.
It would seem everything I thought I knew and practiced regarding recovery, and overtraining had been holding me back.
After returning from my bicycle tour, I became so confident in my ability to work through the constant pain and stress from daily exercising; I decided to push it even further.
In addition to running 9-miles every day, I added a morning gym session a few days a week.
During these morning workouts, I would also break all the rules by working the same body part multiple days in a row and skipping rest days.
Why not? If I no longer used recovery days when running, why should it be any different when lifting weights?
When I started applying the same no recovery principles to the gym, again, I made considerable gains in my fitness level. It’s not that I got bigger or notably stronger; I just felt better and had more energy than ever before.
I had become conditioned to go hard, day after day after day.
Suddenly how I worked out in the past didn’t make any sense. Scheduling workouts and recovery days so I could max out a lift every couple of weeks in an effort to build extra muscle, now seemed silly.
A Balance of Strength, Flexibility, and Endurance Over 50
I know that recovery is a vital part of building maximum muscle, but based on how I felt, I had to ask myself, why would I want to create more muscle than I needed?
As we age, at some point, added muscle becomes a burden. It adds additional calorie requirements, can restrict your movement, and becomes harder to maintain the older we get.
Of even more significant concern is everyone’s propensity towards some degree of body dysmorphia. Years of targeting specific areas for growth often produces terrible results.
I don’t mean to slam anyone, and I realize we all have different goals, but the last thing I want to be is that fifty-something, barrel-chested, chicken-legged guy.
I’m not against lifting weights. I do it all the time. There’s no better way to maintain bone density as we age, but I now firmly believe a slim muscular physique should be your goal when getting fit over 50. Your focus should be to build a body you can use and maintain for decades to come.
What you do in your 50’s creates the foundation for your 60’s, 70’s, and beyond. Train for the life you have ahead of you — train to live an active and vibrant life full of movement and play.
The Bottom Line to Getting Fit Over 50
I’m not saying that all recovery is bad and that overtraining isn’t a real thing. All I ask is that you listen to your body, and don’t always trust the pain. You are capable of more than you can ever imagine.
Work harder than everyone else. Set a higher standard for yourself. That’s what this is all about.
I didn’t name the website AgeHIGH because AgeMEDIOCORE was taken.
I have never aspired to be average, and just because I’m 50, doesn’t mean I’m going to start now. Neither should you.
Fit Over 50 Update
A year has passed, and I still practice my no recovery principles. It’ the core of my Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan. Obviously, life often gets in the way, but for the most part, I have remained reasonably consistent.
My 9-mile run has morphed into a 9-mile obstacle course. I call it “old man parkour.” It is hands down the most complete workout I’ve ever done. It’s full of multi-directional movements, balance exercises, sprints, vertical leaps, and drops.
I know I probably look crazy doing it, but I have never been in better shape, and my core, joints, and tendons are stronger than ever.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you have an interest. I will be posting more details about my full routine shortly.
Funny you talk about this. I started a weight lifting program about 9 months ago, strong lift 5×5. Not going to bore everyone with details of the program, you can Google it, but it requires me to squat 3x per week. Prior to this I have squatted about 2x in my life. Never more than 2x in my past years bc it hurt like hell for a week after. Fast forward 30 plus years I have not quit this 5×5 lift program. I now squat more weight than I could have ever imagined. Are my leggs hurting? Yeah everday for the past 6 months since I started using real weight. I call it a good pain, I can imagine it’s the same as a runner’s high, still yet to achieve that runners high. Can I still walk and run? Yes… until I feel something that feels like an injury and not tired muscles I will press on.
Tks for all the inspiration Buffer!!! You have truly changed my life and my wife’s.
Good pain. I like that. There is something satisfying about having sore muscles.
All your hard work shows. You both look awesome.
Ok now for gym closure update 0 squats for 2 months, 0 hikes, easy excuse, new house. past 2 weeks started running and doing tough hikes. WELCOME BACK leg pain I missed you!! No gym and no eating out equaled no weight gain so now putting no eating out plus working out equals more weight loss….we will see
I’ve had these injuries in the last few years, in China I was playing badminton and helped me lose weight, man after about a month my right wrist gave up and I rested it for about 2 weeks tried playing again and BANG the wrist went again and didn’t play badminton for 7 months then played again but much less to baby that wrist.
Recently in England, I thought let me try pull-ups but only pulled up my arms on a chair just to get myself used to it, they weren’t even baby pull-ups seeing as I wasn’t doing even a half pull up and bang, my left forearm went, the part on the inside of the elbow, I thought I’ll rest it, its been now 1 month and even lifting shopping bags results in pain and twinges, I wish I could recover like when I was 20 (now 53) Maybe I need to do warm-up and stretching before I do any workout from now on, I want to do weights soon. Good luck with your training.
I enjoy your writing but as a certified running coach and ultra runner of ten years this coming Jan 2020 I have to say with all due respect that recovery is not a myth. It is backed by science and measures of performance. It is true that over time with repeated breakdown the body will get stronger in order to meet challenge set before it but if you continued to do so will eventually result in injury, as you well know. For some it has resulted in adrenal fatigue that they never overcome, no desire to run/race and/ or lack luster performance. The body is an amazing intricately functioning system that when listened to will perform at its peak. It is not something to be beat into submission. If your body told you it did not feel like running it was trying to tell you something. To ignore it is to risk break down of the body which can lead to long term injury AND not running into old age which is what I hope for myself and the athletes I coach. Following this approach has led to my being able to consistently perform at a high level, as well as, outstanding results for the athletes I coach. Best wishes with your surf trip and aging high!
Thanks for your comment. I so appreciate the feedback. I’ll try to be brief, but there seems like a lot to cover.
First off, I think the clickbait nature of the title might have started you off on the wrong foot. I 100% agree with you; recovery is not a myth. In the context of preparation for an event, and trying to time peak performance, recovery is as key as the training. However, I don’t compete. When I enter a race, it’s always for fun. Most of the time, I don’t even bother to taper. If peak performance on a specific day were ever my goal, I would absolutely incorporate recovery time into my training. But for the average, uncoached person, just having fun or trying to get or be fit, I think recovery is misunderstood and should be occasionally ignored.
On the subject of listening to the body, again, I fully agree and firmly believe injuries should not be ignored, but I will argue fatigue should. As an ultrarunner, I’m sure you have witnessed the mind giving up long before the body. I’m obsessed with this divergence.
When my body tells me it doesn’t feel like running, either from soreness or fatigue, that’s when I have to go running. I see it as an opportunity. I view the process of deciding to run, especially when it’s the last thing I want to do as a sort of mental rep that makes my mind stronger.
Knock on wood, but I don’t have any chronic issues with running-related injuries. I’m convinced it’s because of my style of running.
Because I’m continually jumping and running on curbs and railings, sprinting, etc; I feel I am less prone to an overuse injury. It’s also why I think trail runners suffer fewer injuries. It’s the dynamic nature of trail running, not the softer surface. The repetitive pattern of left foot right foot without any other movements, in my opinion, is what leads to injury.
I haven’t heard of adrenal fatigue, but is there any chance it has more to do with training and racing, rather than running for fun?
Agree, Buffer. My workout has blossomed into five sets of 150 push-ups. (750) Over a thousand ab exercises in between sets and I get it done in less than half an hour. Approaching 74 in March. See no need to stop. Looking forward to another killer surf season and Paunch. My goal is 1000 push-ups – five sets of 200. Should reach that in a year. Work on.
You’re such an inspiration. I seriously need to head down and catch a surf with you. I’m putting it on my 2020 to do list.
Thank you for this article. I was reading it while sitting in a sushi place waiting for my lunch and I bust out laughing a couple of times. I am 56 and recently began exercising again after about five years of sitting behind a desk and it has not been easy. I’m just talking about walking one or 2 miles a day and doing light repetitions with 15 pound dumbbells. I get really tired and it goes on for days sometimes. It had me worried. But after reading your article and seeing the amount of effort you’re putting in daily, which must produce a much higher level of exhaustion, I’m not so worried. Sometimes you just keep pushing; the way out is the way through.
Thanks. It’s tough to stay focused at times, but the payoff is worth it.
Great to read your stuff, and well done!
Thought my experience might be of interest to some, so…
I am 67.
I spend about an hour per day doing weights and suppleness exercises. I do a 1 to 2 mile run every day and a 8-10 mile cycle ride as often as I can. I did tear a calf muscle a few months back which put a temporary stop to the runs and rides. My fitness watch tells me regularly that I need 4 days to recover – I ignore it. I don’t feel a need for recovery time, now. About 4 years ago I went vegetarian. My muscle mass started dropping and I also noticed that recovery and healing were compromised and I was getting some joint and tendon issues. Now, I try to maximise the protein in meals but I’m never able to get enough protein from just meals alone, though, so I use twice daily protein shakes to supplement my diet.
This has done the trick and I haven’t felt fitter since my 30s.