Training for longevity.
And the long arc of health and fitness.
“How do you look like that?”
It’s a question I get on a regular basis. I’ve even written about it before.
Most recently, I was asked this last week as I was back home for Thanksgiving and working out at a local gym. Aside from the awkward nature of being asked as I stood in a towel waiting for the steam room, I could tell the guy asking was looking for a genuine answer. He was in good shape, 32 years old, and seemed to soak up what I told him for the next 10 minutes.
My favorite conversations about health and fitness are those ones - where the person is truly seeking answers, not just looking for an excuse for why they’re different.
Like the guy I met at the pool 2 summers ago. He asked me a similar question. He wasn’t in great shape, but was looking to change. We ended up chatting for 30 minutes about all things health and fitness. I didn’t think anything of the conversation until I saw him 1 year later at the pool again. It was the first time I’d seen him since that previous summer.
He was ripped.
He walked up to me and said…
“I just have to thank you for our conversation last year. I did everything you said and I’m in the best shape of my life. My wife even jumped on board with me, and she’s in the best shape of her life too. So sincerely…thank you.”
I probably could have shed a tear were I not so shocked. Shocked at the transformation, yes, but my shock was bigger than that. I was shocked that he took what’s worked for me and ran with it, which is what so few people do. And now he’s reaping benefits that will positively impact the rest of his life.
After that interaction at the gym last week, I realized I’ve never actually captured my approach to health and fitness on paper. But that changes with this post.
When it comes to health and fitness, we should start by getting clarity over what we’re training for.
I’m not a professional athlete, and don’t train like one. Nor would I recommend a professional athlete or aspiring athlete train like me.
I’m not an endurance runner, and don’t train like one. Nor would I recommend an endurance runner train like me.
Instead, I train for longevity. I want to be as fit as possible for as long as possible.
I recently led a personal growth session at a company’s annual meeting, and told the group that I intend to be in better shape at 50 than I am now at 38. That’s the context of my training. The north star if you will. And when I’m 50, that goal will push out to 70. It’s directional, not specific, and intentionally so.
Continually improve over the long arc of time. That’s the name of the game.
Will that play out? I have no idea. But past evidence tells me it will, because I’ve incrementally improved my fitness every year for the past 15 years, and barring tragedy, I don’t see that changing.
Here’s the catch.
Much of what I tell you below will be contrarian to what you hear from people smarter than me. And that’s okay. Because the internet, and the people that incessantly post their health and fitness thoughts on it, are more concerned with how that post performs and how quickly they can drive “transformation” for someone.
But I don’t care about those things.
Because real change, the kind that transforms the rest of your life, comes from doing the same boring shit over and over, without the need for gratification from quick results or social media engagement.
With that out of the way, let’s dive in.
I fast, pretty much every single day. A normal day is around 16-18 hours, from dinner time until lunch the following day. Fasting is one of the few tools that is continually tied to longevity in studies. There’s plenty of science to back it up. Whether those longevity benefits come from being in a caloric deficit or from some other mechanism is up for debate. But the results are not.
But I also use fasting as a reactionary tool. If I want to spend Saturday drinking beer and watching football, fasting is my tool to counteract that day by doing an even longer fast the following day (anywhere from 16 - 20 hours). This is quite literally how I can have my cake and eat it too. On any given day, there’s a good chance I’m in a caloric deficit. And that’s intentional, because it gives me breathing room to have days where I eat and drink what I want without beating myself up about it.
There’s another benefit of fasting that’s not as sexy, and that’s your gut. Your gut is like every other part of your body - it needs time to rest and repair itself to function properly. If you’re eating from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, your digestive system never gets a break. I almost never have stomach issues or get stomach bugs, which I largely attribute to fasting.
I eat the same things, pretty much every single day. For lunch, it’s eggs and toast. For dinner, it’s some combination of meat, veggies, and rice or potatoes. Boring? Yes. But it also works. The more variables you control in your health and fitness, the better. And you control them by reducing your options. This is the same reason we don’t keep a bunch of junk food in the house. If it’s not available, I’ve reduced my options in the best way possible.
“But that’s not enough protein!” -the internet, probably
You’re right. And there’s plenty of studies that tell me I don’t get enough protein. If I wanted to put on 15 pounds of muscle, or lose weight as fast as possible, I’d assuredly need more. But I don’t want to do that. My goal is longevity, not maximizing my current state. And after 15 years of consistently doing everything in this post, my body doesn’t seem to want or need more protein. On an average day, my protein intake is around 75 grams, less than half of what I’d need if I listened to the 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight rule. And yet, no one’s ever told me I’m not getting enough. It’s usually the opposite. “You’re one of those guys that drinks protein shakes all day, aren’t you?” That was an actual question from a woman at the gym. No ma’am, I’m not.
I’m not rigid on the weekends. Because I’m typically in a caloric deficit during the week, it’s actually beneficial for me to let loose on the weekends. If you’re consistently in a caloric deficit, your metabolism and muscle mass will decrease over time. By eating and drinking more on the weekends (and eating and drinking what I want), I ensure that my metabolism stays high and I’m not withering away. I still fast, because I’ve fasted long enough that I don’t actually want food until lunch. But after that, the rules go out the window. But note that this only works for me *because* of everything else in this post.
I lift a heavy barbell, a lot. Typically 4 days per week. Squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press. Nothing fancy. 4 or 5 heavy sets of 3 to 6 reps per set. I don’t follow a program. My goal isn’t to get stronger with progressive overload. My goal is to do the work. Rinse and repeat. The key for me is that those sets have to be heavy. If I’m doing a set of 4 reps, those 4 reps should be hard.
“But what about hypertrophy?!” -the internet, probably
My goal is to be strong, not big. Muscle density. Real, raw strength. I’m not stronger than every person in the gym. But I’m likely stronger than every person my size in the gym. And that comes from years and years of lifting heavy.
And of course, there’s the longevity component. Our bones become smaller and weaker as we age. It’s why broken bones increase in the elderly population. I want to keep my bones as dense, strong, and healthy as I can for as long as possible. And I do it by lifting heavy, consistently.
I row, a lot. My heart is the unseen muscle powering the rest of my body. Most mornings, before the world wakes up, I row anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Typically low and slow, in zone 2, where you can still hold a conversation if you had to. Sometimes fast and hard if I get the itch to suffer. It helps my cardiovascular system age well, and it helps start my day on the right foot. But you don’t need a rower obviously. A 15 minute fast walk or slow jog would suffice. Or a stair stepper. Or literally anything that elevates your heart rate for a bit.
I almost never overtrain. In fact, my goal is usually to “leave some in the tank.” Why? Because my task is to always come back to the work. And when you overtrain, it’s incredibly hard to come back the next day and do it again. Longevity > instant gratification. Doing a really hard workout feels great in the moment. But you’re borrowing from future workouts when you do it.
I listen to my body, all the time. I will have days where I start to workout, and it’s obvious that what my body needs is rest. So I rest. I stretch. Or lift lighter weights. Or do random lifts that I never usually do. Or I just go home. These days are few and far between (see my point on not overtraining), but they do happen.
“Tough it out!” -the internet, probably
No. I’m not David Goggins. Nor are you. I don’t need to transform the suffering between my ears into suffering physically. That might work for a few months. But I’m not training for the next few months. I’m training for the rest of my life. Work with your body, not against your mind.
I don’t neglect athleticism. I don’t just want to be strong. I want to be agile. And coordinated. And to move my body in space in athletic ways. So I mix in power cleans. And snatches. And overhead squats. And kettlebells. Movements that require speed and agility and strength in unnatural positions. I’m usually mixing in at least one of these per week. I don’t know that these movements impact my physique that much. But they allow me to approach anything required of me in life knowing I can likely do it.
I avoid injury. I tore my tricep in the spring. It was the first real injury I’ve ever had from working out. And I did it by breaking one of my own rules - not overtraining. I put a heavy weight over my head when I was already worn out, and the rest was history. When you train for longevity, you’re inherently trying to avoid injury. It’s why I don’t do high volumes, where form typically breaks down. It’s why I don’t delegate my programming to someone else. It’s why I don’t “tough it out” when what I need is rest. No one would trade one workout now for being injured for several months, yet people are constantly putting themselves at risk of doing so.
I’ve captured the scaffolding of how I’ve approached health and fitness for the past 15 years, and will do so for the next 15 years.
It’s not complicated. It’s consistent. It’s contrarian. And it works.
✌️ and ❤️,
Certified High Performance Coach™
👉 Forward Coaching