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I was talking to an old friend the other day and she asked if I was still doing “crazy weightlifting challenges.” The answer: No. Not really. The conversation got me thinking of just how much my mentality has changed over the years in regards to exercise, the goals I set for myself and how I treat my body. As I close in on 35, my approach to the weight room is not what it once was. For older men who plan on staying active I highly suggest checking out Elliott from the YouTube Strength Camp videos. He puts it perfectly: Stop trying to slay dragons that no longer exist.

From Elliott’s “The Truth about Muscle Building for Older Guys”:

When you’re young and you’re in full warrior mode and you’ve got that sword in your hand and you’re slaying dragons — as you should be — look, if you haven’t slayed your dragons at this point, you’re 40 years old and you haven’t slain the right dragons yet, you’re going to live your life in a constant state of sympathetic overload, stressed out trying to slay dragons that don’t exist.

The only dragons left are the dragons inside us at that point. … What are you going to do? What do you have to prove anymore? There comes a point where if you haven’t proved yourself to yourself — because that’s all that really matters — (young guys, write that one down) the only one you have to prove yourself to is yourself. But I get it. You have to prove yourself to daddy and the world. Okay. I did it. I understand. But you need to get to a point where you’re done proving yourself.

You [need to get to a point where you] can just relax and breath. Just take your time. Enjoy life. You’ve got to become a lot more Yin in your behaviors and attitudes. That place of low stress, high integrity about of the choices you make about your nutrition and the rest that you give your body will … preserve the foundation of vitality that was there when you were young … that allows you to do that you to do a select amount of physical activity that you deem important to you and your self development.

Don’t do things you feel you “have to” do. You don’t have to gain 50 pounds of muscle when you’re 40. Again, you have nothing to prove. And if you still have something to prove at that point then you’ve got deeper issues than building muscle. Engage in things that you enjoy that will support your health.

Yo Elliott

Boom. Amazing advice. And it doesn’t just apply to the weight room. Living and working in the nation’s capital, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met over the years who are searching for dragons that no longer exist. They drive themselves crazy trying to prove themselves to their mom, their dad, their brothers and sisters, fellow industry professionals and God knows who else when the only one you ever need to prove yourself to is you.

Elliott continues:

“What kind of story are you telling yourself? [T]he most resourceful stories that I tell myself and that I see in the older men that I train tell themselves is: ‘I’m not necessarily getting older and that means I lack vitality. What’s happening is that I’m becoming more sensitive and my body requires requires that much more attention to detail.’ This is what begins happening: When you’re young you can beat the fuck out of yourself. You can eat whatever you want to eat. You can be nasty. You can stay up all night … [When you’re older] you have to make better choices. You can’t eat double-cheeseburgers dipped in gravy after you’re hungover and play football the next day. …

… Structural integrity means more to me than squatting 1,000 pounds. … Structural integrity should be a word that you brand into your brain. … Consider what that means. Consider what it means when [I say] ‘instantaneous access of rotation of all joints.” That basically means that you’ve got balance throughout all of your joints, namely those around your hips and shoulders. You’ve got to stretch.

Forced to pick between brute strength and flexibility, I’d pick flexibility every time.

Look at your friends and family and loved ones who allow themselves to go into a state of disrepair well before it has to be that way. When you lose the ability to squat down and pick up those keys that fell off the dresser … when your can no longer reach that high shelf to grab a good book … when you can no longer bend and twist with those sheers to trim the bushes on a perfect summer afternoon, you lose independence. As humans, we are addicted to freedom and when we lose it — when we really begin to lose it — our spirit starts to yearn for greener pastures.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Elliott when I first ran across his videos, but over time he’s grown on me. He’s got a wealth of information at his disposal and he dispenses it to anyone who wants to listen — for free. He’s always positive and he gives it to his audience straight. If you want to build a better you, Elliott’s videos are worth your time.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

23 comments

  1. I didn’t begin training troops at a military MOUT, running drills, jumping in and out of windows, roof top to roof top, carrying an assault rifle and ammo pouch until the age of 52… and I’m good at it. Been doing it for over three years now and love it. Yes, I go the gym… when I can. You are right; lifting heavy weight and doing a lot of reps isn’t the answer, but flexibility and endurance are.

    I do it for the troops, but also for myself. My dragons are making up for a youth spent not exercising and keeping fit, and am doing it now to help these guys (yes, all young men) train and come back home alive to their families. Whatever threat they meet over there, they have first had it thrown at them here in training. God bless our troops!

    1. Diana, it sounds like you have a pretty cool job! Do they hire civilians to play Op-For? Whatever the case, bravo! I think when I was in Germany and we were training for a deployment they may have hired civilians to play the role of protesters. I can’t quite remember if that’s what they did or if they just used soldiers from another Company.

  2. He seems to have a very common sense approach which far too many people ignore. I intend to subscribe to his videos when I get home.

    I have been dieting/exercising for almost 12 months and will use his tips. 52 pounds lost so far.

    1. I’ve lost almost 10 pounds since the New Year started. I went back to my old stand-by of eating smaller portions and that seems to work.

    2. I’m not sure what you were eating before Carl (or how much), but if your goal was to lose a few pounds and you’re eating healthier portions then that’s outstanding. Diet plays such an important role. Simply cutting down on things like soda, fruit juice, etc. can yield impressive results. Most people consume way too much sugar and they don’t even realize it. I was guilty of that as well — and then my metabolism slowed down when I hit 30. Suddenly I couldn’t eat anything I wanted, even if I was exercising. That was a real wake-up call for me.

    3. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that my problem was that I was eating when I wasn’t hungry. That, and the portions were too large. The irony is, I weigh more now than I did when I was working at McDonald’s and when I ate their food every day. I’ve lost about 10 lbs; I have a ways to go, but eating smaller portions seems to work. That, and I do situps every night before I go to bed.

    4. Wow. Congrats, Andrew! Consistency is key. It’s good that you’ve kept up your exercise regimen for a year. Elliott has a ton of videos, so I’m sure if you have questions on a particular topic he probably has one that covers your concerns.

    5. My regimen is very basic. Sit ups every morning and I have some small weights (they are fiancée’s and bright pink!) and I spend my hour lunch break walking. I want to join a gym in the next couple months.

      My biggest issue was eating for the sake of eating. My first job from school came with a free 3-course meal at lunch. I then ate a normal meal at home as that is what my family were having.

      I now weigh everything (sounds extreme I know) and check the nutritional info of every thing I buy.

      I actually went for a meal last night and had a mixed grill. I’m not used to that much fatty food now so I felt really crap the next day.

    6. I think the biggest thing for most people is really honing in on what they want from a workout regimen. Is the goal just to maintain a certain body weight? Is it to gain muscle? Is it to simply lose weight? Is it to get lean and tone? For you, sit-ups might work perfectly fine for maintaining a certain body weight. If you said to me, “Doug, why am I not getting those six-pack abs? I’m doing sit-ups every day!” I’d have plenty of answers for you.

      My biggest beef with a lot of people who are into fitness is that they seem to think everyone should want what they want and that everyone’s idea of what is beautiful should be theirs. Well, no, it’s not. The body one gets from doing yogo is a lot different than someone who lifts heavy weights. The body of a runner is a lot different than a swimmer, etc.

      For hitting my specific goals I’ve found that a heart rate monitor works very well. It tells me how hard I’m pushing myself with a mere glance. My wife laughs and says, “I have a heart rate monitor, too!” and puts her finger against her neck. Funny, but while I’m in the middle of a set I might have my hands full with weights. Or if I’m on a rowing machine I can’t really take my hands off the handle to feel my pulse.

      I’m glad you’re being mindful of the food you eat. I’d say diet is probably 90% of meeting individuals’ goals. It sounded like you were actually weighing out a pound of broccoli and a pound of chicken, for example. You have to be careful with that because how your body uses a pound a vegetables is different than a pound a meat or bread. That gets all science-y, so I’ll stay away from discussing it. Long story short, you might be able to eat more of many foods you like without any problems.

    7. I am very mindful of what I eat. I eat a very varied diet which contains enough of everything I apparently need (benefits of knowing a nutrition expert)

      I’m not interest in six packs or anything like that. I just got fed up of hauling around 263. We are planning on having children and I want to be able to keep up with them when they run around.

    1. My God, man! Who would wear that in their sleep?! That’s the kind of stuff I had to do the VERY short time I was wrestling, which is why I quit. That’s insane. I remember wearing trash bags and winter jackets and then riding a bike in a steam room to lose weight before weigh in. You could pull the bags from your body and water will literally run out all over the place. That is not healthy.

      I did that for one season and then said, “these people are crazy.” I wouldn’t mind, but I had basically zero fat on my body to begin with.

      Dehydration and kidney damage is not cool. The person who made this commercial needs to be punched in the face.

    2. I don’t recall having to do that at all during my brief time wrestling. In fact, I think we only went to the weight room once that I can remember. And we practiced every day of the week, even during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I quit because my coach was a douche and a hypocrite to boot; he was also my 10th grade health teacher and as he preached about healthy living…. he would scarf down an extra-large bag of Doritos and a 2-liter of Pepsi. During class. Virtually every day.

      I agree that whoever created this commercial needs to be punched in the face. This commercial looks to have been released in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I first saw it on the Nostalgia Critic’s commercials episode and watched it several times. I thought, “this was real?! And who would be stupid enough to buy something like this?!”

    3. Haha, have to laugh for two reasons; 1: I vaguely remember this commercial in the mid 80s and 2: I also wrestled briefly. The good news was I weighed 90 pounds and the lowest weight class was 98, never had to even contemplate extreme weight loss; the bad news was I weighed 90 pounds, was all arms and legs, and sucked at wrestling. One day, with my face buried in a guy’s armpit, I said to myself, “it can’t get worse than this…”, that thought quickly disappeared when my head was between some guy’s legs; it can get worse! Maybe I can find relief by getting my exposed skin dragged over this nasty, filthy wrestling mat that has been exposed to years of blood, sweat, and tears….stupidest sport ever!!!!!!! 🙂

    4. When I worked in American University’s gym the wrestlers would always take weights into their own workout room and never return them. The thing was, when they weren’t wrestling the lights were off and the switches were kind of hidden. I had to wander through the dark looking to find the switch and then I had to find the weights that were often underneath junk. One day as I was wandering through the dark I said, “Fuck wrestlers.” Then out of the darkness this “three-time Uzbekistan National Champion” goes “Hey! Did you say fuck wrestlers?!”

      Doug:”Yes, because…”

      Crazy Wrestler (getting up in my face): “You never say ‘fuck wrestlers!'”

      Doug: “Well, no offense, but you guys keep taking the weights and…”

      Crazy Wrestler: “No! You do not say ‘fuck wrestlers’! Never!”

      Doug: “Umm, yeah. Okay. Whatever. Sure dude. Just stop taking the weights and then leaving them in here. We have paying members looking for them.”

      The dude just steamed off. I think my habit of smiling when people go insane made him more upset. He looked like he might rip my head off.

      Sorry, but wrestlers tend to be very weird. My dad was a great wrestler…but in general they’re a strange bunch.

      Side note: I once had a teammate who lost in 14 seconds. When asked what happened he said: “The guy smelled so bad. I lost on purpose.”

    5. “One day, with my face buried in a guy’s armpit, I said to myself, “it can’t get worse than this…”, that thought quickly disappeared when my head was between some guy’s legs; it can get worse! Maybe I can find relief by getting my exposed skin dragged over this nasty, filthy wrestling mat that has been exposed to years of blood, sweat, and tears….stupidest sport ever!!!!!!!”

      LOL. That was another reason why I quit, Patrick. It was pretty disgusting. I didn’t like having my face pressed against some guy’s armpit or getting dragged on a disgusting wrestling mat. About two years after I quit, in my junior year, there was actually a fungus going around that cancelled much of their season. It sounded pretty gross and made me glad I quit when I did.

      Plus I hated taking showers with the team. That was terrifying, especially since my teammates always did borderline-gay shit in there such as whip each other with towels and play naked tag. *shudders* Talk about nightmare-inducing. I always hightailed it out of there as soon as I could.

      One day as I was wandering through the dark I said, “Fuck wrestlers.” Then out of the darkness this “three-time Uzbekistan National Champion” goes “Hey! Did you say fuck wrestlers?!””

      I remember my coach always claimed himself to be the “world’s strongest man….” and frequently got his ass handed to him, not only by players but also the assistant coaches. He also tripped over his own feet on a regular basis and was a total klutz.

      “Sorry, but wrestlers tend to be very weird. My dad was a great wrestler…but in general they’re a strange bunch.”

      My dad wrestled when he was in elementary and junior high school. He didn’t continue in high school, because he was “outclassed,” in his own words. And yes, wrestlers are weird. Very weird. See my above comments.

    6. I do respect the work those guys put in, and I like sports; can still play a decent outfield and get around the bases well for my age; give me a diamond, pitch, field, and hoop (even though I’m awful at basketball) anyday of the week; wrestling and the unitards with stinky mats and stinky/hairy/sweaty competitors to roll around with is not for me!

    7. I remember that there would always be some kid who ended up with ringworm, and usually he thought it was funny. I was like, “What? Who thinks ringworm is funny? That’s gross.”

      I was 115 lbs. soaking wet and they wanted me to go down to 98 lbs. I was miserable all the time, and I believe one of my teachers even called my mother to say she was worried about me.

      We had one kid who took laxatives to lose weight, and at one point he was so exhausted from pooping he had to be helped off the toilet. I just said to myself: “This is nuts. I’m not doing this.”

    8. “We had one kid who took laxatives to lose weight, and at one point he was so exhausted from pooping he had to be helped off the toilet. I just said to myself: “This is nuts. I’m not doing this.”

      Ha. I remember a few kids who did that, too. One kid would eat them as if they were candy. It was pretty gross. He got sick from doing that.

      I remember that there would always be some kid who ended up with ringworm, and usually he thought it was funny. I was like, “What? Who thinks ringworm is funny? That’s gross.”

      That’s what it was. Ringworm. Pretty nasty stuff, from what I’ve heard.

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