If you want to run faster, lift heavier, or have larger calf muscles, the path to achieve results is pretty clear. But sometimes the goal is more elusive and that is when you should focus on your weaknesses until they become your strength.
I spend a good amount of time as the Get-Fit Guy defining and re-defining the word fitness because I think people get it confused or conflated with either being skinny or being muscle bound. But it is both more simple and more important than either of those ideals. Being fit can be boiled down to being able to move through this world with as few limitations as possible. To achieve that goal, we often need to focus on our weakest parts rather than our strongest.
I get at least one email per week asking me "I want to get fit but I don't know where to start," or "I used to be a runner in college but I let myself go and don't know how to get back in shape," or some other variation on that theme. I feel for these folks. I really do! With all the information out there about fitness, exercise, and the "perfect" workouts, it is hard to know where to start. So what is my answer to this questions? Well, that's easy.
Pinpoint Your Fitness Weakness
You know the old saying "use it or lose it," right? It's true, but humans have a bad tendency to do the opposite of that. When we start to lose the ability to do something (like bend down to get something off the floor) we often simply stop trying to do it or we find an alternate way to achieve the same end. (Is that really why you had kids?) And in a vicious circle, because we are doing that movement even less than we were before, we get even worse and worse at it. And so on and so on.
We often blame these deficiencies on age, too. I cringe when I hear people say things like "Well, you're 40 now, so of course you can't do that anymore," or "What do you expect, you're not a spring chicken after all." Not only is this defeatist attitude depressing, it's also untrue.
Slow Down Aging
A study called Age-Related Rates of Decline in Performance among Elite Senior Athletes gave us convincing evidence that what we consider to be "typical" loss of muscle that starts around the time that we blow out candles on our fortieth birthday cake has more to do with lack of use than aging.
In the study, 40 recreational masters athletes (usually defined as an athlete who is 35 years old or older) between the ages of 40 and 81 performed a series of fitness and strength tests. Their upper legs had MRI scans to measure muscle and fat content. These athletes trained four to five times a week for running, swimming, or cycling races—so yeah, they were in pretty darn good shape and it showed. Neither the size of the muscles in their legs nor the strength of those muscles had declined significantly with age among the subjects. The researchers concluded that engaging in regular movement training had in effect staved off the muscle-wasting effects of aging.
One study shows engaging in regular movement training staves off the muscle-wasting effects of aging.
Driving this point home, the MRI samples showed virtually identical quadricep muscles in a 40-year-old triathlete when compared to a 70-year-old triathlete. In sad contrast, the quadricep muscles of a 74-year-old sedentary man were obviously encased in fat and noticeably shrivelled.