It’s very easy to think about how things once were; how you “used to be strong” or “used to be in shape”. Oftentimes we say things like, “when I was younger I could deadlift a house, and I had abs of steel”. If you’re in your 30s or older, you probably know what I’m talking about.
Why do we feel the need to tell people that we used to be strong, or in better shape? For myself, it comes down to one thing: validation. We want to hang on to what once was or past performances, but guess what? No one cares!
Let me say that I am not as strong as I was when I was in my 20s, and my physique was better then. (There, now I feel better.)
What I’m going to share with you is nothing earth-shattering, just my own take on how to better navigate the present moment and to not focus on “what once was”.
I promise you from my own personal experience that you’ll find a value in shifting away from this mindset, and it’s likely your training and goals will be better served. I’ll also add that I’m the first one to latch onto my past performances and photos of when I was at my leanest, so it’s taken some time to get better at not being so connected to my past.
So here’s my advice to those that are interested in hitting their training goals and being happy with their current levels of fitness.
Past performances are irrelevant: Sure, having time in the trenches is paramount to your success and affords you the ability to know yourself and your process better, but how much you lifted when you were in your “prime” does not matter NOW. Where you are right now is what matters.
Reflecting on the past is a waste of time: It’s too easy to think “if only I was young again, if only I didn’t have the responsibilities I do now, I’d be in shape.” Guess what, that was then and this is now. Adapt and continue driving forward. Your energy is better spent focusing on how you can improve your situation right now.
Celebrate your success: Even if your success now pales in comparison to your past successes, who cares? The only thing that matters is what is happening at this very moment. No one cares that your deadlift now is 30 lbs lighter than it was when you were 21.
Own your lack of progress: We know it doesn’t get any easier as we get older, and chasing certain metrics may be a one-way ticket to self-defeat. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your dietary habits and lack of commitment to making it to the gym.
Be kind to yourself: You can spend your time (which for most people is limited) beating yourself up because you’re not as good as you once were. OR you could spend your time happy that you’ve been able to stick to your diet or made it the gym 4x a week for the past 4 weeks. There is zero value to being too hard on yourself.
Less is more: As we age, our ability to handle more volume and intensity declines. I will say I still hit personal records, but it’s not because I train more now. It’s because I’m smarter now then when I was in my 20s. I listen to my body and give it a break when it tells me it’s needed.
Recovery is key: If you ignore the signs of burnout, you’ll pay the price. This is a topic I’m sure I’ll be talking about as long as I’m able to type on a keyboard. RECOVERY IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF YOUR TRAINING!
Stress + Stress = Decrease in gains: While our own neuroses would have us think that if we are losing gains, then more training is in order, but the exact opposite may be needed. Remember, compounded stress will not serve you well, and will likely take you further away from your goals.
Consider decreasing your training frequency: Decreasing frequency with something I love doing is tough to wrap my mind around, but when I’m forced to decrease training frequency I always opt for a total body split. During these times I usually see that all aspects of my training improve, albeit I’m training significantly less. Funny how that works when you’re older.
Tomorrow is a new day: We all incur setbacks. How you bounce back from setbacks is the difference maker. Try not to be consumed by your setbacks and focus on moving forward.
I think there is a lot we can gain on our own journey to becoming better versions of ourselves if we don’t focus on what once was or how great we used to be. Overall, what we are at the present moment and where we are going is what matters. There is simply no future living in the past.