Invincible. Yes, I was.
I was strong, lean and could lift the world. Or so it seemed.
The thing about invincible is it most always feels normal until you it’s gone then you in reflection you realize what you had.
Like all humans, I too have experienced the burden of years on the body. Of which there are two distinct kinds:
- There is the burden of weight, of lethargy, of inactivity that can lead to all manner of disease and ironically, wear and wear on the body from carrying weight with weak muscles.
- Then there is the burden of activity which can include injuries, and excessive wear and tear. Of course, not all injuries can be avoided but there are certain adaptations to my weight lifting that I’ve made in my 40’s and would strongly encourage you to consider as well.
Now, let me add that some of these may have been wise to put away earlier but reinstated (pun intended) until I was forced to forgo them, of course.
Here are three lifts that I have given up for wisdom since turning 40… three lifts I wisely concluded were not serving my greater well-being…
1. Overhead barbell press
Be they seated, standing, behind the neck or aft… these are one wholly unnecessary, shoulder wrenching potential nightmare of a lift. The shoulder is an amazing joint… if you can call it that. It’s more like an attachment than a joint… for the shoulder is sort of strapped on there.
And the shoulder is used in just about everything you do, especially training. Thus it is trained with chest, with back, with arms.. shoulders are like your bitch slave joint… always working.
And pressing overhead… it’s focused on a pretty narrow and small band of shoulder muscles that can be better enhanced through much better, safer growth exercises..
Blow a shoulder and it’s for life… you can fix it but you’re never free again… so don’t’ waste your shoulders with a fool-hearty lift…
Be clear that there are no hard and fast rules for what you can at can not do at any age. Fact is where are all built differently with different levers, strengths, tolerances. I certainly know guys in their 40’s and 50’s that can heave huge weights overhead and it works for them. They generally have super thick shoulders and short arms and are just built for compact power.
Such is not the case for most of us and these are three exercises that have nominal benefit (sans squats) for most with maximal risk of eventual injury or at least overuse syndrome.
2. Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns
Back to the shoulders again…only this time focused on the back. (Yes, that is a bit confusing. Read it over…)
I grew up (and out) believing all manner of muscle folklore popularized in the mags and this was one of them. That wide grip lat pulldowns developed a wider lat spread.
Yep, now that’s some profound logic. Right. Sort of taro card approach to muscle building. But that’s how it worked. A muscle icon said it and we all believed it.
And I followed it for years until I noted that my shoulders we taking a beating and my back wasn’t. That’s when I opted to engage my own experience and note that my back was more fully engaged and engorged when completing a narrower grip on the pulldown.
Fortunately, science has sense affirmed my experience:
There is actually conclusive evidence from a study by Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies I discussed at length in the SuppVersity EMG Series that an optimal stimulation of the latissumus dorsi is achieved with a shoulder-wide and thus probably 10-15 cm narrower overhand grip; and not with the popular “grip-as-far-apart-as-possible crucification” grip generations of bodybuilders considered the “optimal wing builder.
Keep it tighter and grow bigger. Safer, easier on the joints.
3. Heavy (heavy) Squats
Now this is a difficult one to admit because I love heavy squats. I think they are good for making a “man out of ya.” Even if you’re a woman.
I love how they can develop true strength of body and mind. They are a great challenge that teaches but I also see in hindsight that my years of heavy squatting did more damage than they built.
Sure, I have great quads and I can attribute them to squats, because that sounds bold and brave. But fact is my quads would likely build about the same from a mix of other intense work.
The downside is seen on my MRI’s of my back… namely spine. The discs are essentially gone, paper thing, in the lower L4, 5 range. And that’s not good. I can attest to the debilitating pain of back problems. When the pain starts your life comes to a screeching halt.
If I had to swap the sweet victory of a few heavy squats or years for some more life sustaining discs, easy trade.
Barring a choice to be a competitive powerlifter, I’d choose a more moderate rep range. Less 3, 2, 1 reps. I wouldn’t bother setting PR’s but focus on building muscle mass with a variety of movements, squats included.
My Rear View Mirror Of Muscle
That’s my advice to my 20 year ago self—and perhaps to you or any coming up along who thinks the path of muscle is for them. Know it’s a good path—in fact one of the best paths. For muscle is the engine of youth and quality of life.
I hope that you find some wisdom in my words and experience.
Here’s to your life at Full Strength, now and in the future.
PS Here’s how the Over 40 man builds more muscle every day… (50% more according to the research)
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