PART SEVEN: Training Customization and Longevity
By Stuart McRobert
Reading time: ~ eight minutes.
To get the full benefit from this article, please read all nine parts in sequential order. The first is HERE.
For about eight years in the 1950s—shortly before drugs started to blight the bodybuilding world—one of Joe Weider’s most important employees was Englishman Charles A. Smith. In the late 1950s, Charles left New York City and went to Austin, Texas, where he went into Law Enforcement and worked there for 20 years before he retired.
In 1990, when I was 31 years old, and soon after I’d started publishing HARDGAINER magazine, I began corresponding with Charles, who was in the last year of his life. He also wrote some articles for HARDGAINER. Charles was one of the final links with the pioneers of bodybuilding. Shortly before his death in 1991, he told me something that made an indelible mark on me. It encapsulates one of the most important messages for everyone, not just bodybuilders:
“You never know how important good health is until you no longer have it. Let health be your priority rather than greater strength and bigger muscles. This I’ve learned after having lived 75 years. With health, and a good, tight-knit family, you have everything.”
Of course, you can have greater strength and bigger muscles as well as good health. But don’t compromise on your medium- and long-term health while you improve your physique over the short-term.
Take good care of your body right from when you’re young. Growing old is challenging enough without having the difficulties compounded by self-inflicted health problems.
But properly done, bodybuilding is one of the most rewarding and healthy things you can do. As well as improving your appearance, bodybuilding will help you age well, keep you young for your years, and perhaps add years to your life.
To substantially improve your physique, you need to sustain effective training for a few consecutive years. That’s medium-term dedication to your training.
Then to maintain a good physique and the accompanying good physical conditioning, you need long-term dedication to your training.
To do both, you need to be highly motivated, and highly knowledgeable on how to customize your training to adapt to changes in your body and/or your goals.
Key lessons to share with you from my 46 years of training
I’ve trained since I was 15 years old and am 61 now. So I’ve been a young trainee and I’m nearing the end of my middle-age period of training. And old-age is coming up soon. So, I’ve had 46 years of first-hand experience of training, and 39 years experience of writing about it. Some trainees have had even more years of working out than I have.
Although I feel as vigorous and enthusiastic about my training now as I was when I was young, some of my physical tolerances have changed.
If I was to train now like I did when I was young, it would wreck me. How I train now is very different to how I trained when I was young.
Through training customization, I accommodated my physical limitations and thus I can still train hard today. But no one where I work out thinks I have any limitations, because all they see is someone training very seriously albeit with none of the terrible form that’s common at the gym. With the exercises I use now, I do fine and there’s no sign I have any physical restrictions.
But compared with most other people of my age—who don’t train—I have far fewer limitations. So my training has been a big positive in my life.
There are three major ways my training is different now to how it was when I trained in an abbreviated manner as a youngster: a different selection of exercises, much better exercise technique, and a much more controlled rep speed.
Here’s the massive lesson: Had I trained with correct exercise technique and a controlled rep speed when I was young, I would have fewer physical limitations to cope with now. And I wouldn’t have had to customize my training so much.
My limitations are primarily in three areas: back, knees and abdomen.
The back limitations are because of congenital matters (of my spine) and poor lifting form.
The knee limitations are probably because of poor exercise selection and poor form in squatting motions.
And the abdominal issue is training-related but probably due to overdoing some stretches rather than anything to do with resistance training.
Different people have different physical limitations—be they related to congenital issues, illnesses, accidents, aging, and/or training-related injuries. Each person has to find the best way to manage, through training customization. And that usually includes the same changes I adopted: different selection of exercises, better exercise technique, and a more controlled rep speed. It may also include changes in training volume and frequency.
Customize your training so you can train effectively over the medium-term to make the really big improvements to your physique and physical conditioning, and then further customize your training, if needed, to maintain the improvements thereafter.
Next time: Part Eight—More on Training Customization and Longevity.