At 76, I’ve noticed that people my age come in two groups: those who let their vitality slip away without contest, and those who fight to remain strong and active. Growing old well takes courage and a sense of humor. Old folks are cranky because they’re usually in pain, and it’s easy for some to fall into self-pity. This is tiresome to everyone. Avoid it by being strong and living a life where there’s nothing pitiable.
Though older than most kettlebell users, when Pavel sent me a copy of his new book, The Quick and the Dead, last summer, I studied it, tried the regimen, and was hooked. It has been a life-changer. The following points from my Q&D experience are for you like-minded senior men and women who, unlike the old leopard in the book, refuse to retire to your cave and die.
Everything you need to know about the program is in the book, but you do actually need to read and understand it. Relax, there’s no exam on the biochemistry sections, just refer back to it when in doubt, or if you need inspiration.
Your initial goal should be to prepare your body to handle the stress of the workouts without injury. So, if you have any muscular imbalances, weaknesses, or dodgy joints (who over 65 doesn’t?) augment your early, light load sessions with the necessary corrective exercises or stretches. This could take a few weeks. Be patient, a delayed start to the full-power regimen is better than an injury.
Once you’re good to go for the full load, use a light kettlebell and take it easy for the first month or so, especially if you haven’t swung one lately or are out of shape (as I was). No need for drama or heroics, just follow the schedule and do the workouts consistently three times a week with style and dignity. All of us with high mileage know from painful experience that happy joints mean happy life, so if you feel a sharp pain, STOP doing what caused it. Go lighter, go less, rest more, skip a session…whatever it takes to avoid injury.
Focus on the technique. It’s much more effective to develop the correct muscle memory from day one than to fix bad technique after you’ve perfected mistakes. Visualize Pavel and the formidable Ilaria Scopece scrutinizing your every move. Snap out each swing and pushup crisply using the five-rep method rather than violate the standard by attempting ten-rep sets before you’re ready.
Time of day to work out is your business. I found that getting it done in the morning set a great tone for the day. Late in the afternoon or early evening got me too revved up to sleep well. I am very unstructured in how I plan my training but here’s a look at what I try to accomplish.
Warm-ups and stretching are essential. Get your lungs, muscles, and joints working well before each session. For me it’s stairs, walking around with the kettlebell for a few minutes, a few slow pushups, and some shoulder and hip stretches. You live in your own body so do what’s best for it. After every Q&D session and whatever other exercise you may do, remember to cool down and stretch, especially when it’s the first workout after you’ve skipped a few. If not, you deserve to suffer, and you will.
Several weeks after beginning your Q&D training, you’ll start feeling fresh and good after each session. This might be a good time to increase the challenge. You could change to one-arm swings or snatches. It might be a good idea to go lighter or cut back from sets of ten to sets of five until you’re ready to kick it up a notch again.
You may find, as I did, that the pushups don’t progress as quickly as the kettlebell exercises. Try extra pushups after each session, or five-rep sets with a weight belt or vest during your sessions. After a week or so, you’ll almost enjoy the pushups.
It is essential to stick with the schedule. In a month or two, you’ll feel the strength building. You will look forward to the workouts. You’ll get even crankier than normal if you miss one. After four months your strength, cardio, endurance, and flexibility all will be improved. You’ll sleep better, have fewer aches and pains, and generally feel younger. You might even gain a few pounds of muscle. You might also experience unexpected “what the hell effects,” such as doing Q&D in the gym and seeing the heads of younger folk snap around. “Whoa, what’s that old cat in the corner doing?”
If you take a break for a month or two, when you start Q&D again, your cardio, endurance, and flexibility may have dropped off somewhat, but it will return quickly. Your strength will probably not diminish much at all. I consider it a ratchet effect in that once you build the strength, it stays.
Life is about balancing family, career, friends and one’s intellectual, spiritual, creative, and physical needs. These all have their place and finding the right balance among them takes discipline and thought. What works best for me is to keep strength, endurance, cardio, and power each in proportion to what my life demands. Flexibility and balanced development around joints helped me avoid serious injury during my time in the SEALs. And a proper attitude and overall strength and health hastened recovery from the illnesses and injuries I did experience. (Having good doctors and choosing one’s parents carefully are useful too.)
Here are a few final thoughts to all age groups. The coronavirus has changed life as we knew it. In addition to the threat of death and economic disaster, we may be under lockdown and cannot get to the gym or follow our preferred exercise regimens. Enter The Quick and the Dead. It’s perfect for these troubled times. You only need a kettlebell, a little floor space, and some gumption. For young people and anyone who has not endured prolonged adversity, the current pandemic will be a defining event in our lives. How we choose to react to it will reveal our character. We can blame and whine, spread the infection through self-indulgent behavior, and fearfully hoard things. Or we can stand strong, help others, and be thankful for our lives and the good things in them.
We will get through this. One day the coronavirus crisis will be behind us. Just another part of our history. And eventually there will be new challenges to face and adversities to endure. And then, as always, you’ll want to be strong.