The worst health mistake I’ve made in my life was that I didn’t start lifting weights until I was 24. I should have started at 16.*
Whenever you see an amazing male physique, you almost learn they started lifting as a teenager. Besides all the hormonal reasons that a younger man can pack on muscle faster, they also have the ability to recover faster from injuries and illnesses. Less downtime.
Less downtime is like compound interest. Once you get past the motivational stuff, recovering faster is the secret to succeeding in gaining muscle. Those that recover faster do better.
The best health decision I ever made was to start lifting at 24 and then never quitting. Only injuries have sidelined me from returning to the gym. Which brings me to the point of this post. As we get older our recovery rates decline. So not only is it harder hormonally for an older athlete to gain muscle, it also takes more time to recover. And not just from the workout, but also injuries and illnesses.
In 1988, I had surgery on my knee to remove bone fragments. This was before the slick surgeries of today. As a result, I had to wear a full-leg cast for months during the healing process. The very next year, I ran a 3:42 marathon, which was not only my first marathon but my first race ever. To go from a cast to a sub 4-hour marathon in a year was remarkable.
The ability of my body to recover that rapidly was a gift of youth. The knee issues I’ve had in recent years have been less serious, yet the recovery is taking much longer.
Recovering from a workout or an injury takes time. It takes far less time when you are younger. Every week or month that passes by without lifting you are robbing your future self of an ideal physique. There are examples of older people that make tremendous gains and we do celebrate them, but they are the exceptions, which is why they are newsworthy.
Photo by Jesper Aggergaard
My guess is that the people that read this blog are already lifting and don’t need any motivation. Maybe this post can be forwarded to someone that needs a gentle nudge to get started. If I could go back in time, this is the one message I’d hand to my 16-year old self. That and buy AAPL stock. Maybe I wouldn’t have listened?
The reason lifting at 24 was my best decision is that I have been able to lock in gains I made years ago. As I deal with my knee injury and feel broken, I still look good. Muscle has memory and even though my recent workouts have been low intensity, I can easily maintain what I’ve already earned. The thousands of visits to the gym have paid off. God, I’d hate to be a Stick Boy over 40 with a bum knee.
Update (3/4/2018): I’d like to clarify my statement about lifting at age 16. That was for me, not for everyone. I had reached my adult height at that age. And by lifting I mean some form of strength training, which could have been a bodyweight (aka Hillfit style) workout. Guy’s comments below are valid. If I had a son nearing this age, I’d get the best information available and pass it along, all while erring on the side of doing less. At this age, doing any amount of strength training is going to have powerful effects.