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Learn From Your Elders

A young man recently asked why I share so many stories of older men and women who continue to exercise or compete. He then stated his preference for learning and observing from athletes in their prime. He finished by asking how it is beneficial for a young adult to observe an elderly person in competition.

My initial thought was that it is unfortunate a young man must ask what he can learn from his elders. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt however as I made my share of mistakes as a youngster. I suppose I had to grow older to fully appreciate how much we can learn from previous generations. I certainly cherish the time I spend speaking to my grandmother who is in her 90s and my aunt who is 101 years old. There is always something to learn from those with so much experience in the game of the life.

Unfortunately, experience in life is not always appreciated until after the fact. It is more common to praise experience as it relates to athletics or professionals in the work force. For example, the seasoned athlete is typically considered the more knowledgeable source when compared to the inexperienced rookie. Most seem to accept this notion yet tend to overlook the significance of experience in life.

Personally, I believe we can all learn from the examples set forth by those who continue to compete in the latter stages of life. A prime example can be seen below. Take a look at 92 year old Svend Stensgaard in a recent powerlifting meet. He deadlifts 286 pounds at approximately the 5:30 mark within the clip.

Svend is a prime example that we are never too old to pursue our passions. At 92 years old, he is more capable than many adults a fraction of his age. Meanwhile, I regularly hear from men and women in their 30s and 40s who are already complaining about old age. Svend on the other hand is willing to collapse to fulfill his goals. He actually falls to the ground upon completing the lift. To no surprise however, he gets right back up.

I also enjoy observing older athletes as they aren’t competing for anyone but themselves. Svend isn’t trying to convince the rest of the world to become powerlifters. And while that may not seem significant, it stands out to me based on how much nonsense I see spewed throughout the fitness industry. Too many experts preach a single approach at the expense of all others.

Svend offers yet another example that there is no single right or best approach. Almost anything works if the individual is willing to work. Throughout this blog’s history, we’ve seen older athletes involved in gymnastics, ultramarathon running, bodybuilding, powerlifting, and more. One example is not better or worse than another. Even opposing examples actually work together to reiterate that countless options do exist. For example, while one young expert dismisses powerlifting for the elderly, Svend provides a real world counter. While another expert dismisses aerobic training, we see two grandmothers running ultramarathons.

In each case, we see individuals who defy the odds and pursue their passions. They prove that it is never too late and that no one should ever pick your passion for you. If you want something, it is your right to pursue it. Don’t waste time trying to explain your passion to someone who doesn’t share it. Also stop assuming that you are too old to live out your dreams.  Too many people act as if there are stop and rewind buttons in life. In case you haven’t heard, there aren’t. This is the only life you’ll ever live and the clock is always ticking. If you want something, start working to get it. As Svend and others clearly demonstrate, age is not the excuse that so many pretend it to be.

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I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees. – Emiliano Zapata

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15 comments

15 Comments so far

  1. peter yates February 22nd, 2014 8:05 am

    HI ROSS, HAVING GRAY HAIR I FOR ONE APPRECIATE SEEING THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF OLDER ATHLETES. I GREW UP IN A PLACE AND TIME WHEN ALL AGES INTERACTED FREELY SO HAD MANY OLDER ROLE MODELS TO OBSERVE AND LEARN FROM. AT 63 I AM GRATEFUL TO STILL HAVE OLDER PEOPLE TO STILL LOOK UP TO. SEEING THESE WONDERFUL ATHLETES PERFORM PUTS LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE AND REMINDS US THAT WE TOO SHALL BECOME, GOD WILLING, OLDER AND THAT EVEN THOUGH WE MAY BE UNABLE TO MATCH WHAT WAS POSSIBLE IN OUR YOUTH WE CAN STILL LEAD HEALTHY, VIBRANT AND ACTIVE LIVES UNTIL OUR FINAL DAYS.
    REGARDS, PETER.

  2. Eric February 22nd, 2014 9:55 am

    Great post. And a great quote. I hope to at least be performing a regular walking routine, and/or maybe a light dumbbell routine if I am blessed to reach 92 years of age. But I can’t say I’ll be deadlifting nearly 300lbs. That is an impressive feat for someone of 90+!!

  3. dodo February 22nd, 2014 10:26 am

    I like to learn from eldery making progress because they don’t get away with stupid things as easily as a 20 year old with loads of Testoterone, probably no injuries or orhopedic problems and so on.

    Also, the older you get, the more mistakes you usually have done, and the more relaxed you see things. because you now know, that different approaches work, even for the exact same goal, usually. not so much dogmatism and crusade characters in the older age range.

    that said, I am talking about people who have this life experience. I am not advocating to praie people just because of their age. Eldery can be stupid too, you know. :D

  4. Tim February 22nd, 2014 8:56 pm

    Ross,
    What about the guy who is early 30′s and never had a girlfriend-I feel like a freak and am embarrassed(I was raised an only child, had trauma as a kid for being fat-my earliest childhood memories were group ridicule for being fat as a little kid). I really appreciate in the past how youv’e stood up against childhood obesity-feeding kids crap can really destroy their social lives and damage them not just physically but mentally.
    Should a guy in that scenario give up? It’s the social akwardness. It’s rough and I don’t want to lose hope. Any advice?

  5. Motojet February 23rd, 2014 4:32 am

    Thanks Ross. I enjoy your article about our seniors and their physical feats. It inspires me when I get aches and pains and gives me a longer term perspective on working out.

  6. Hobi February 23rd, 2014 5:08 am

    Keep all the different types of articles coming. I think the age related ones are some of the best as they show people living well. I find myself cheering for them in every video! Some day I hope to be one of them. ;)

    Great site you run Ross.

  7. admin February 23rd, 2014 6:37 am

    @Tim – Of course you shouldn’t give up. The past is the past. Don’t let it control your future. Don’t let the bullies from the past continue to haunt you. Take it one day at a time. Email me if you need anything.

  8. Eric February 23rd, 2014 4:57 pm

    I think if I would have read this article as a 25 year old it wouldn’t have had as much of an impact on me than it does as someone over 50. Sure, I knew even as a young man that the body wears down, but I never had to experience it firsthand. I’ve kept most of my strength because I’ve focused on that more, but have lost a good deal of flexibility and stamina, and that is due to neglecting those aspects of fitness. It is so true as they say, “use it or lose it.” I imagine the excuses one someone over 3/4s of a century could come up with as to why not to train. Easy to train as a carefree, strong, youngster who can get away with little sleep, bad diet, etc. It is always easy to train when you see improvements in strength, physique, stamina, etc., but to keep training when those increases cease, takes an extra kick in the arse.

  9. Lee February 23rd, 2014 8:57 pm

    Ross, thanks again for being a voice of reason in this increasingly complex landscape of fitness training. I am 32 and often feel like my prime athletic days are over. I watched this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baR57TLvxhc) recently and completely identified with Nash in his despair about not knowing if he can get back to the same mountain peaks he once scaled so easily. I feel like I am in a period of transition where I am learning how to be more forgiving to myself and how to maintain a consistent training routine, thinking of each day as part of the marathon.

    Again, thank you for your commitment to helping us all achieve our goals, even if we do not yet know what those goals are.

  10. john February 24th, 2014 6:20 am

    I just watched a 92 year old man deadlift more than I can manage. I’ve got to get to the gym right NOW!!!

  11. susi February 24th, 2014 8:18 am

    Hi Ross, I am 62 and have trained EVERY DAY since 12/1/1977 when I decided to follow a healthy life style. This morning, for instance, I did 10 sets of 15 pushups and jumped rope for 45 min, and, yes, i am great at double unders. I have done road races from the 5K to the full marathon, bicycle, swim, roller blade, lift weights, and practically any activity you can think of. i also work full time as an RN at the VA and raised 4 very athletic daughters. In fact I beat my 29-yr-old in a 10-mile road race last year by 3 minutes. So keep the varied videos coming! I love them and love your website. Oh I almost forgot, my son-in-law is an MMA fighter and trainer and also loves the site. Thank you for everything you do!

  12. Crazy Dane February 24th, 2014 7:44 pm

    Ross – Thanks for featuring Svend Stensgaard in your blog. Both of you are very inspiring in your own ways.

    Truly that old age should not be a hinder to reach our goals. It is only a number. It is not even the number of times we fall, but the number of times we stand up and continue. What is important is that we are motivated and passionate with the things we do.

  13. Jim Caruso February 27th, 2014 1:02 pm

    I am 46 years old and have been doing some fitness activity or other since college. Back then, functional training, high intensity interval training, metabolic conditioning, etc. was not part of mainstream fitness. It was only at the age of 40 that I discovered these protocols. I can’t say based on any objective measure whether I am more fit now than I was in my 20s, but I sure feel that I am. My workouts are more intense and quite frankly I just feel like a bad-ass after I complete one, and I don’t remember feeling that way after my workouts in my 20s (except when I did muay Thai!)

    I was a martial arts practitioner in my 20s, then gave it up for 15 years before getting back into it at the age of 42. A year later I discovered Brazilian jiu jitsu, my first foray into the grappling arts.

    The point of all this? I often wish I knew about these conditioning protocols when I was younger. And I wish I had kept training martial arts in my younger years. I wish I could get in a time machine and go back a couple of decades. It is hard not to feel inferior to the 20- and 30-somethings I train alongside.

    But here’s what I try to remind myself: The joy is in pushing your boundaries, finding your edge, overcoming challenges and improving performance. And that is always a *personal* standard to strive for, that cannot be compared to anyone else’s. Even the 20-something fitness fanatic is nothing compared to a professional athlete. There is always someone bigger and better. Only be concerned with pushing your own personal edge, at whatever age. Enjoy the journey, as I try to do in my martial arts training, which in theory should be an equally satisfying struggle to achieve technical mastery, independent of age. Enjoy the endorphins, the feeling that you can conquer the world, which should come at any age.

    Young or old, these are the values we all share. What the young can learn from the old is how to sustain motivation and discipline over time, and how to push boundaries and keep fighting limitations even when more obstacles arise and life gets in the way.

  14. marcus February 28th, 2014 2:42 pm

    I love posts like this. Absolutely love them. Your inspirational and age related posts are a very big reason why I started following your blog and do so to this day.

    Your pick people up and don’t people down attitude is so refreshing in the world of fitness “experts.” It really is. Thank you for what you do, Ross.

  15. Catherine March 1st, 2014 5:38 pm

    Another great post. I must say I enjoy the philosophy even more than the training tips! :)

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