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Fitness: Hanging with the Younger Crowd

Stew Smith, CSCS

This week’s email strikes home on a daily basis as we all age and try to do the things we did in our teens and early twenties. Here is an Eight Step explanation of what to do and what NOT to do to keep on going strong.

Stew – I am 41 years old and still try to hang with the younger soldiers and athletes. Can you give me an estimate on what percentage you believe you have lost in your aging process. Strength, speed agility things like that. If when you were in the SEAL Teams you were 100%, what are you now and if you tried hard enough could you accomplish what you did then. I am really struggling with this, I am working hard and I am still not able to achieve what I used to.

I know your pain. Everyday, when asked how I am doing, I joke and say “if I were 20 years old and felt this way I would be concerned.” Needless to say, years of hard work in the military or law enforcement can and does take its toll on joints, lower back, strength and speed / agility. The GOOD news of being alive longer is that the years of learning HOW to train properly (smarter not harder) can help you with your training longevity.

Personally, to answer your question, yes I am at 39 right now, BUT feel really good. HOWEVER, I need to train smarter now even though I train still very hard.

Here is a list of things I do (and do not do) now to stay healthy and how I fared twenty years ago:

1. Strength. Weight lifting heavy weight after 35 increases injury – most weight lifters who injure themselves are over 35. So, I do not try for my heavy lifts anymore. Heavy for me is defined as anything not much more than my body weight. I do not try to get two times my bodyweight like I used to do at 25 years old. Instead for instance, I shoot for how many times I can bench press my bodyweight (195 lbs.) or bench 225 lbs. which is used by the NFL Combine and has great comparisons of today’s best college aged football players lifts. So you can see how you fare against players in any position in the NFL.

2. Running. After every running injury you can think of (stress fracture, shin splints, tendonitis in knee, hips, ankles, torn ligaments in the past 20 years) I am not running over 30 miles a week anymore. I change shoes every three months and wear prescription inserts too. I am not as fast as I used to be in sprints or maintaining 6:00 mile pace. I can do 7 / mile easy but 6:00 / mile hurts more than it used to. I do not care to run more than 10k races anymore either. Sprinting and agility is off slightly, though I have noticed some loss in short explosive speed compared to athletes 20 years younger. My stamina makes up for it and I can usually use the first 5-10 sprints to hang back and warm up and then win the final five sprints with the younger guys. I think it just could take me longer to get warmed up to run faster now. Overall, I run less and swim more as running at 195-200 lbs is challenging when doing distances greater than 10k personally.

3. Stretching like a mad man daily. Check out the lower back plan download.

4. Numbers on PT test – nearly as good as when I was 22 – still beat 95% of the kids around here going to BUDS / SF. Mainly, this is due to never having stopped the pushups, situps, pull-ups, and other exercises using the bodyweight. This has been a staple to my training for decades now and has proven to me that calisthenics work well for longevity. Now, after months of training the students can beat their teacher, but I can still push them. I do lift weights for about 12 weeks a year to break up the monotony of high repetition PT to give the joints a time to rest for 3-4 months.

5. Swimming. I am still improving each year. The non impact helps with not slowing me down. My cardio is as good as ever and it seems my technique gets better as I swim more often than I run. My best season is the winter, as I do not run as much and tend to replace running with more swimming.

6. RECOVERY. That is the biggest area I see the age. It takes me a few days to recover from a long / hard workout as my young guys can bounce back the next day even if I worked the group hard and exhausted them. I always give myself 48 hours before working the same muscle groups and try to limit hard workouts on back to back days.

7. Eating well and resting. This is the Food Plan that I use. I eat mostly fruits, fresh vegetables, drink 100+ oz of water a day, and lean meats of fish, chicken and steak. Whole wheat pasta, breads and nuts have replaced white bread and chips.

8. The Importance of SLEEP. I cannot stress it enough. The human body needs sleep. 7-8 hours a night is optimal to aid with recovery from stress, training, and work. See the Importance of Sleep Article.

For me now, gone are the days, that you can workout everyday, eat anywhere / anything you want and stay up all night long out on the town. So there are not only training changes you have to make but major lifestyle changes as well. I do think I could hang with the Stew Smith of 20 years ago in most events, but I would not like myself very much the following day when the pain sets in. Sometimes there is just not enough Motrin to make working out that hard worth it.

Hope some of these ideas help you with your training and beyond. Email me at if you have any questions.

Want to improve your workouts? Visit Stew Smith’s PoliceLink Fitness Store for customized, downloadable ebooks written specifically for law enforcers.

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