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.
Feb 4, 2018 — 10:29 pm
Great post. Agreed. When I was a young lad back in the ancient 70’s, the prevalent outlook was that jogging was for health, and lifting weights was for vanity. If I had been in the weight room even 10% of the time I spent running, I would be in a lot better shape now. Such is life. 🙂
Feb 5, 2018 — 11:52 am
“We are too soon old and too late smart.”
Mar 4, 2018 — 9:54 am
Not sure if 16 is the right age. Remember when I was that age, I’m 47 now, trying to get in the gym and minimum age everywhere was 18. For years heard that you had to be of an age or your bones would bend as you were still growing. (I’m from England)
In fact remember a chap in PE probably 15, he was short and really muscular, low body fat percentage. His legs were really bowed though, everyone said it was from the weights and steroids… how true i don’t know!
Even at 18 they only allowed light weights, back then.
Although last time I went to a commercial gym, there was a kid 16 years old max (i recognised his school uniform), deadlifting twice bodyweight, basically bent over and picked up, with mates cheering him on. It was like watching a health and safety video of accident waiting to happen.
Mar 4, 2018 — 10:09 am
To be fair the 16 year old could have been older, just shows lack of supervision at the gym.
Although at least he would have recovered from injury a lot quicker than me!
Mar 4, 2018 — 10:18 am
@Guy – Solid points. I updated the post.
Aug 9, 2020 — 3:30 pm
Greetings. I came to this website out of boredom to read articles about fellow ectomorphs and stick boys—I’m one, too, since I’m 5’9″ and 131 lbs. I was initially 115 when I first started lifting in 2017. Right now I’m slightly satisfied knowing that I’m at 131, but at least two questions remain. One, was the weight gain mostly muscle or just fat? Two, how much further can I grow until my stick boy genetics forbid me from becoming swole? I do know that I could have benefited more if I started lifting at age 16 instead of in my late 20’s.
I’ll also ask if you’ve heard of the website NattyOrNot, a site run by a fellow ectomorph. His humorous insights about fellow ectos and their uphill battles amuse and also enlighten, but I must ask for another ectomorph’s opinion, if possible.
Aug 10, 2020 — 8:46 am
@Tony C – Good question about the fat/muscle ratio in my gains. I wish I had a hard number. I know I carried more fat than I needed in my quest for size. I bought clothes that were too big for me too. I’m sure other ectomorphs behave the same.
In recent years, I’ve been leaning out. Size is no longer the prize I guess. Maybe I’ll post again on my mindset shift.
Thank you for sharing NattyOrNot. That writer clearly knows volumes more than myself.
Aug 10, 2020 — 1:13 pm
@MAS Hello again. Thanks for replying. I figured that introducing you to another fellow ectomorph was a good idea—we thin-wristed brothers and sisters must stick together in a world that thrives off of thiccness. I almost wish that we had cross paths long ago so that my fitness journey would have been easier to navigate. People say that we must accept our body types, but easier said than done since most of those who say that were probably born thicc to start with.
If I may, I’d like to ask if there would be future posts about the history of skinny stigma or how ectomorphs have been treated throughout history. Up to you, of course.
Aug 10, 2020 — 3:38 pm
@Tony C. – I don’t really have any thoughts on ectomorph stigma. I thought and posted a lot about my ectomorph journey in training on this blog. Not sure what else to say.
These days I’d prefer to sit back and listen to voices that know more than me, such as NattyOrNot.
Aug 10, 2020 — 3:46 pm
@MAS Any particular links to blog posts about your ups and downs during training?
Aug 10, 2020 — 3:54 pm
@Tony C. – At some point, I want to update all my “Best of” pages. For now, you can see those posts here:
Aug 10, 2020 — 3:59 pm
@MAS Thanks for the link. I briefly read the one about not caring about the bench press. After a few years of lifting, I STILL haven’t gotten attached to the badge of honor that is the bench press. My former classmates—male and female—would probably excel, though, thanks to their robust genes and bones. They might as well have been superhumans who may or may not have been on gear.