Both my dad and father-in-law are about 6’0″ tall and wiry. And strong. Both grew up on farms, which leads to both mental and physical toughness at a young age. My father diverged somewhat, going a blue-collar route that left some lugging of heavy objects and walking as a day-to-day existence in his job. The FIL did a mostly white collar profession, but in his personal life he was an outdoors man. He’s now retired and working his back 80 (or 120 or whatever it is, acres) regularly. Even before they both retired, I’d never want to scrap with them. They both have Old Man Strength.
Though primarily I refer to their physical strength (they are both still more-than-meets-the-eye strong), they are also so mentally strong. I’ve talked before about Grit. Both my dad and FIL are all grit, despite other flaws they may have.
With grandparents born in or shortly after the aftermath of the Great Depression, it shaped my own parents’ lives in agricultural families. Take care of the family and work your ass off. That is what both my dads dealt with. Milking cows, cleaning shit, slinging hay, plowing fields. They toughened up as youth.
When I was growing up, my father was a tough bastard. I remember one time I smarted off about something, and as I ran away to avoid being punished, he chased me around the house, caught me and smacked my ass. Maybe worse, maybe easier, than what you dealt with, but this is my story. My wife told stories of having her ass paddled by her dad with a paddle or spoon. Tough men raised by tougher men… shit rolls down hill. My dad camped in the winter with his friends, changed his own oil, and never asked anyone for any help. My FIL chops wood, hunts, and is intimidating to strangers (scaring one of my wife’s old boyfriends with the ole’ cleaning the firearm at the table while the date picks her up gag).
I am not my father or wife’s father. I am a white-collar cubical jockey within about a year now of 40 on the odometer. But I am starting to realize what “Old Man Strength” is. It is muscles and strength and grit gained over a lifetime of experiences. When I did BJJ I saw first hand what old men did to young bucks like me (at early 30’s): it was make them look foolish. Strength is different though. The guys swing the sledgehammer, or digging ditches over a lifeitme, will nearly always be healthier and stronger than those that are stressed in the off-hours and ride the cock of “The Man!” I should know – I do the latter and not the former. It sucks. It takes a lot of effort to build old man strength when you are live in a soft world. But start stacking up experience in the gym, or rucking, or running and you become strong despite yourself.
I’ve been lifting since I was about 12 years old. Not always with a plan, and I didn’t always look strong, but I often surprise people by my strength and stamina when doing stuff like hauling logs, or moving furniture, or whatever. I’ve been doing some sort of training for nearly 30 years. Running, biking, grappling, hiking, lifting. It all adds up. And as we continue to age, it is important to keep that up. From 30 to 50, strength loss is minor, but after age 50, without mitigating efforts, you can lose 1.5-5% per year according to this study.
- Testosterone level doesn’t have as much impact on your strength as you would think, because there are so many other factors involved (structural factors, leverage, muscle density, fiber type, connective Tissue), hence, even if testosterone levels drop as you age, it shouldn’t impact strength significantly
- Another part of the answer is genetics and part is a survival mechanism.“An individual who has developed some level of fitness at some point in life and then stops training, has certain slow twitch muscle fibers convert into another form of slow twitch muscle fibers. This takes awhile (6 months +). Let’s say the individual, while a teenager, participated in High School sports, got into shape, and because of good genetices; got into pretty good shape. 5 – 10 years later after no training now has these new slow twitch fibers. He is surpising strong for someone who does not train.”
Stories of Old Man Strength are around all over, if you don’t have your own:
- Lee Hayward says: My own dad is a great example of a guy who is really strong but yet he’s never worked out a day in his life. He did however, do a lot of manual labor. He was always working on things outside in the yard, building stuff, working with wood or any number of other things. One summer, my dad wanted to get rid of some especially big rocks on the property so we got to work digging… Once the dirt was removed I went in to move the boulders. Knowing how strong I had been getting I figured I could take care of the bulk of it by myself. I was shocked though to find out that I could hardly even budge them. But my dad-the guy who had never worked out a day in his life-was able to move them all by himself almost effortlessly. –
- Old Guys who kick ass: one of them “Ted Brown switched to powerlifting at age 40, and since then has racked up more than two dozen British trophies. Now 83 years old, the retired postal worker is still setting records in his 130-pound weight class. In fact, in the Great Britain Powerlifting Federation’s record book, “Ted Brown” is the only name in the 80-plus column—no other octogenarian has lifted more than the minimum standard in any weight class. In August 2013, Brown set two new records with a 178.6-pound raw bench and a 193-pound squat, adding to his already impressive 298-pound deadlift record set the year before.”
Hugh Jackman is 46 (as of early 2015), and dude is still jacked. He’s still fighting the good fight. And lest you think he’s a special snowflake, he’s not. This Average Married Dad rightfully fights every week to keep the wolves at bay. I may not be as jacked or as low bodyfat as our friend Wolverine, but it is still a good fight. And I look better than most my age. For example, this week I did the following: ran 6 miles, bench pressed my bodyweight, rowed (on the devil-machine the Concept2) 10,000 meters, squatted heavy enough to walk funny a couple days later, deadlifted 300# for reps (after not deadlifting anything for about 9 months, while 300# isn’t huge, for rehabbing and not really lifting that heavy over the last 6 months, it wasn’t far off my lifetime max), shoveled about 10 metric tons of snow, and did various other strength related workout like kettlebell swings and vanity lifts (curls for the girls). A more or less typical week for me over the last few years.
However, I have noticed that a lot of people get nervous when they start to close in on the big 4-0 milestone. They start to panic about getting old. I think it probably comes from a combination of sagging breasts, male pattern baldness, and a general fear that our biggest peak moments might have already happened.
The reason they’re not in a hole is that they never stopped looking for new roads to travel, believing that they’ve still got more successes waiting for them. They’ve passed age milestones, just like we all will. But they handled these times by searching for something, making up their minds what they wanted, and then chasing it.
Your accumulating years aren’t baggage. They’re ammunition. You’re getting smarter and more experienced as life goes on, so don’t be afraid to look for a new focus if you start to feel like you’re cracking up.
So if you’re like me drive a desk, you’ve got to do something most days, every week to gain that old man strength. You may not have a cabin that you need to chop wood to heat, or have to do manual labor, so you’ve got to do something to keep moving. Even bodyweight stuff, or throw on a backpack filled with rocks and go on a hike with a buddy. or build up a little home gym (doesn’t have to be expensive). Take satisfaction in knowing you aren’t the typical noodle-armed slack-jawed dad with a good sized paunch. Work at that old man strength and show those young bucks how it’s done with your mental and physical toughness and ability to start what you finish.
So one day, after a lifetime of experiences and exercise and health, you can go out wrestling in a tub of KY Jelly with two topless chicks. Old man strength people.