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Aging & Athleticism: The Fight Against Father Time

by Alec Enkiri | 5/24/24

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Aging & Athleticism: The Fight Against Father Time

As I've gotten older and moved past full physical maturation, through the athletic physical peak, and into what most people would consider "over the hill" territory, I have come to view this period of time as a phase of secondary athletic development of sorts. An athleticism enhancement Renaissance.

Now, it's readily apparent that the bulk of athletic prowess is built during the formative years: through early childhood/adolescence, and in to puberty as physical maturation starts to take place. Coordination is gained and improved upon, basic motor pattern foundations are laid down and gradually honed and polished. Movement capacity is built and enhanced. 

Then in the early twenties and mid twenties as full physical maturation is completed, the size of the engine and it's horsepower are souped up to allow for greater capacity and performance. By the time the late 20s roll around an athlete has been given the time and opportunity to train hard enough and intensely enough at that souped up level of peak capacity to hopefully maximize their athletic potential. 

Then we hit 30+ and everything goes down hill!

...or does it?

Feats of athleticism performed mostly between 30-36

I don't think it has to.

In fact, at age 36 I currently find myself in what I would describe as an athleticism Renaissance. I'm still building, I'm still enhancing, and I'm still improving. I'm just doing so a little bit differently these days than when I was younger.

I have hit my lifetime best vertical jump and sprints both north of the age of 30, and those may be the purest markers of raw athleticism in existence! Yet, I have managed to improve upon both substantially more past age 30 than I was ever able to in my 20s, thanks in large part to an increase in training knowledge and the application of it. Recently I've also hit numerous other sprinting and jumping PRs across different variations, I've improved my overall mobility levels quite substantially, and I've continued to build raw strength and power in the process of all of this. 

So what have I changed now compared to my 20s that has allowed me to continue to progress in these realms so far into my mid 30s?

Primarily it's training volume and training emphasis. When I was a bit younger there was more heavy strength work in the program in general, as well as a greater volume of hard weight room work for the lower body overall. Now that I've gotten a little bit older, I'm still lifting heavy, I'm still grinding, I'm still killing it. But the total volume of work in that regard is much lower than it used to be.

I don't want OR need to lift thousands of pounds a week to make strength progress. I've built my base over the course of many years of very hard work and as such that base is incredibly resilient. This is where the idea of "dad strength" comes from right? You've just been around for so long and accumulated so many adaptations that you have built a lot of strength that just kind of sticks around. So I can maintain my current strength levels with an incredibly minimal amount of total work. This is where the Conjugate style of training that I have adapted in recent years really begins to shine as it allows me to build and maintain my strength through every type of movement/variation imaginable, and it allows me to do so with a minimal volume of heavy strength work. 

Given my goal set (maximal athleticism, not maximal strength & hypertrophy), I take advantage of that by lessening the total workload of hard and heavy weight room work. By doing so not only do my body and my joints feel fresher overall, but this also frees up time for me to do more running, jumping, and other explosive activities. Rather than wear me down the way heavy weights have a tendency to do, this style of explosive work charges me back up. It's still hard and intense, don't get me wrong, but it leaves me feeling sharper and more refreshed overall.

As well, with that reduced weight training workload I have also as freed up more time and training energy for what I call "longevity drills." So now we're talking about the work I do to isolate the functions of the hips, things like various forms of hip flexor work, Copenhagen adductions, abduction side planks, etc. Beyond that I've also incorporated other high intensity planking drills and core exercises to place a premium on the core musculature in general.

I've also started doing a lot of joint-centric work as well, for example, sissy squats specifically for the knees, tib raises for the ankles, and high rep leg curls for the knees, as well as large range of motion unilateral work for the hips where the focus is on movement quality and range of motion being as opposed to loading. All of these things are longevity inspired movements based on the idea of keeping my body feeling good by directly targeting my personal weak links and making them less problematic. 

So my general trajectory of athletic development over the course of my lifetime has gone roughly like this:

Obviously I can't continue making athletic gains forever. Eventually father time will catch up to me as he does all of us, but either way the landscape of what's possible is changing. Guys like Tom Brady, Justin Gatlin, LeBron James, the big 3 in tennis - Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic - have all shown us that when you prioritize your training demands appropriately for your age and place a premium on intelligent recovery that you can maintain even elite level performance for a very long time, well into your 30s and perhaps 40s, and that's at a level of performance where millions of dollars and GOAT status are on the line!

But if you're just talking about being reasonably athletic I see no reason why you can't maintain that into your 50s and possibly your 60s as well. Really the point is that by being smart and adapting your methods accordingly as you get older there is absolutely no reason why anything has to start going downhill just because you have crossed some arbitrary age threshold. You don't have to become a washed up meathead who yammers on incessantly about "well back in my day I could blah blah blah" to anybody who will fucking listen. Personally, my goal is to be as athletic as possible for as long as possible, and I think I'm on the right track! So if you aren't ready to throw in the towel just yet, join me in the Renaissance!

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