Monday, November 27, 2017

A Unique Approach to Aging and Fitness

A Unique Approach to Senior Fitness

When I started the Methuselah Fitness Project several years ago I had a vision to tackle the topic of longevity and fitness for senior citizens from an entirely different approach. After considerable thought, refinement and experience, I think I've finally succeeded in setting forth this unique strategy into a single, concise & compact manifesto. It is my sober and practical estimation that this program can be a significant development in the quest for meaningful longevity.I am also feeling confident and rather excited in the prospect that we will indeed be able to enable more seniors to embrace with vigor, the extra years that have been allotted us through advances in science and healthcare.It is my sincerest belief that in utilizing the concepts herein, our legacy will not be so much as one of the "Baby Boomer" generation, but instead in history, to be recognized instead as the generation of the "Functional Centenarian".

Three Defining Characteristics of the Methuselah Approach

I would like to begin by setting forth a framework of three unique characteristics that set this program apart from a program for the general population. In refining our focus on longevity we found it important to define three primary components from an entirely different perspective:
  1. Our overall definition of what fitness for seniors is, and why an expanded inclusion of often dismissed attributes to be critical. 
  2. We define two separate and distinctly different goals as an absolute necessity. 
  3. We define a two tiered, systematic application of drills, exercises and activities designed to simultaneously address both maintenance and growth. 

With this framework set from the beginning, I would no
w like to expand on each definition to explain the unique role each might bring to the table.

1). Defining Fitness in Relation to Longevity

The most significant concept we’ve learned to use as we approach a program with longevity in mind, is how we've come to define what fitness is from the start! For our approach, I’ve determined a list of 10 specific and unique attributes that are generally accepted by the fitness industry as a whole as an invaluable tool. (as developed by Jim Crawley and Bruce Evans of Dynamax). The 10 attributes that embody our very definition of our fitness are:
Strength        Accuracy           Stamina        Balance       Flexibility          
 Power            Coordination     Speed            Agility          CV Endurance

For those of us who are particularly interested in longevity, the inclusion of each of these attributes is especially significant in some very important ways.

As we age, our bodies naturally and unavoidably begin to break down. We literally begin to regularly and unavoidably lose our fitness as years go by.  Each and every one of us, by nature, is amazingly different in the way this breakdown progresses.

Perhaps the following diagrams will be able to illustrate the significance of this definition. Once the benchmarks are collected for each individual along each of the ten unique attributes of fitness, we could then graph the results to critically consider an integrated snapshot demonstrating their exact level on the fitness continuum. Consider, for example, the following two case study examples of Mary Bloom and David Jacobs:

Let's first consider Mary -

Mary Bloom.png

Mary was recently admitted to the hospital with a broken hip after she took a serious spill on her front steps. It appears her toy poodle "Jasmine" was happy to see her and rushed to her prematurely! It was assumed to be a problem with her balance (as is assumed in 90% of the time), but her metrics for balance are actually better than the general population for her age. The data above may indicate weaknesses in the attributes of Agility and Power instead. Even though Mary goes to the gym regularly, due to our general lack of inclusion of several key elements of fitness the attributes including Agility and Power have never been addressed. It doesn't take much of an imagination to see how agility (the ability to change the body's position efficiently) or power (the ability to quickly exert maximum muscle contraction to propel an individual up a step, for example), might have, in fact, been major components that contributed to her fall.

Now let's look at David:

Mr. Jacobs was just released from the hospital after running his car into the front of his local Dollar Store. It is believed that he simply confused the brake and the gas pedal. When asked what had happened, David appeared to be at a loss for an explanation. He will most likely lose his driver's license. The metrics above however may hint to the fact that his Accuracy and lower than normal scores for Coordination may have played a part in the mishap. While we'll never know for sure, there is evidence that he simply missed hitting the brake and his foot slipped down onto the gas. Perhaps some specific attention to Accuracy and Coordination might be the answer to ensure Mr. Jacobs untold additional years to drive and remain independent.

After several years of coaching seniors, the absolutely unique manner in which age causes us to decline in regard to each of these attributes was exceptionally striking. While one individual lost his flexibility and could hardly even straighten his arms, another was flexible but could not stand on one foot without falling due to deficiencies in balance. Another individual amazingly retained his strength and was strong as a bull but had become slow and sluggish in in everything he did.The variety and severity of performance in regards to each of these elements were remarkable! With that said, this definition now gives us a concrete means of identifying, quantifying, maintaining and correcting those unique and highly individual aging concerns.

2). A Distinction in Goals

Methuselah Fitness Project operates on this 10 attribute definition in two separate ways. Before I go ahead and explain how this two pronged approach will work, it would be helpful to delve into a unique perspective on how age and fitness collude.

A beneficial way to look at the aging process in this context is with an analogy I call “The Escalator of Life”. If we consider the following graphic we can see that during the first half of “the ride”, so to speak, other than a minimal amount of activity and some relatively decent nutrition, we really need do little to achieve a certain level of fitness. At some point in our lives, we each reach the age that signifies the apex of our fitness. At this juncture we simply have no choice but to recognize that the state of being “Over the Hill” has arrived. We can deny the reality as much as we like however, the fact remains that there comes a point in life where the natural tendency of the human body is to decline.

Goal #1 - Maintain What We Have

I believe the phrase "Use It or Lose It" should be the senior fitness enthusiasts recurring & constant mantra. If we consider this most important concept in light of our previously stated definition of fitness, we begin to see our need to utilize activities that specifically call upon each of those 10 unique fitness defining attributes.

Younger athletes, in general, need not specifically practice drills involving balance, agility, accuracy or coordination as these are naturally developed within the performance of life and the execution of normal athletic programming (outside of higher level professional or college athletics of course). Seniors, on the other hand are facing a deteriorating set of physical and neurological systems that can greatly benefit from regular and specific attention to each of these said attributes. This is especially true to those who are out of shape and have not been generally active and applying attention to them at all (balance, agility,stamina etc).

The Escalator of Life Down.jpgThis is especially significant when we’re considering that downward segment of the aforementioned “Escalator of Life”.

To “Use It Or Lose It” in this context simply means that we need to simply turn around and start climbing up that down escalator at a slow, smooth and consistent pace!

It’s really not even a difficult proposition to consider. Our requirement is to simply utilize our bodies in a casual manner, across each of the 10 previously defined facets of fitness, and to do so on a regular basis (By casual I think in terms of playful as opposed to earnest). How often, as we get older, do we neglect the facets of balance, agility, flexibility, speed or coordination by never using them in even the most casual of manners. A major tenet of this program therefore is to regularly and systematically schedule simple activities to ensure we’re keeping each of these 10 elements regularly engaged and ready for use in the real world.

Maintenance Vs. Growth

It’s now time to make the important distinction between Maintenance and Growth. Here is our quandary in a nutshell: After a certain age, we are basically running up a down escalator in attempting to maintain a position as far as possible from that bottom step! We know from the start that it will be impossible to keep up with it forever, but we've also learned that if we simply keep moving against the constant downward pull, we can delay that inevitable "end of the line" quite nicely.

The Escalator of Life At Bottom Minimal.jpgBut what if we're not happy with our actual position on the Escalator? What if we've found ourselves WAY too close to the bottom and are worried that a single slip or misstep (Or injury) would prematurely end our ride altogether?  Perhaps we’ve been afflicted with a health issue that’s prematurely thrown us off track, or simply waited till we’ve turned 90 years old and are uncomfortable with the view from the bottom. No matter what position you’re in, the first (and easiest) order of business is to work on the maintenance of what fitness you do have in regards to our defined elements of fitness! Easy as pie!

Goal #2 - Growth Without Injury

On the other hand, the prospect of propelling ourselves UP that down Escalator(growth) is another story altogether and can, in itself, present significant risks that can ultimately result in a lower position than where we originally started! It then becomes all too clear; Our goal is simply not a matter of avoiding that bottom step, but managing to reach as high a position on the escalator as we can.

A common mistake (almost universal actually), is that most fitness programs primary and usually sole focus, is to get in shape in as fast and efficient a manner as possible. It needs to be recognized here that there are risks to anyone of any age that are associated with beginning a fitness program of any kind. This is especially true for our older population and the level of care towards providing a slow, careful, systematic and consistent approach to growth can not be underestimated! The number one enemy we will face on this journey is injury!  An injury that keeps us from at least maintaining our position on this unrelenting fitness continuum (no matter how modest an effort we’re attempting), can easily cause us to lose ground we may NEVER manage to regain again.

A serious shoulder injury for example can sideline us for several months. When this happens we are facing a triple threat:  
  • Our ability to heal in the first place is severely diminished. A serious injury will take longer to heal and rehab of the injury in question will be more difficult as well.
  • While healing and inactive, the fitness level that we have struggled for years to attain in the first place WILL suffer at an alarmingly fast rate (damn that escalator!).  
  • The recovery of this all around loss in fitness that we’ve lost is considerably slower and a much more difficult prospect. To regain a level of fitness that took us a year of hard work to attain 10 years ago at age 50 for example, may theoretically take two years of equal effort to regain at age 60. It is important to mention here however that it nonetheless can be done!
As a long term prospect therefore, the program I am proposing has its first and foremost focus on doing the "easy" and simple "Use it or lose it" functions of maintaining our current fitness position in life. Growth, on the other hand is approached in an entirely different manner.  A successful coach to this population must seriously approach his clientele with a “Mother Hen” mentality that aggressively considers their safety as a number one priority.

3). Systematic Cycles of Maintenance and Growth

I will first address the fact that three of these attributes will take precedent and be approached in a different manner. While the reasoning behind this bias is beyond the scope of this treatise, we do tend to bias the attributes of Flexibility, Cardiovascular Endurance and Strength. Our program is designed to meet three times weekly and activities that address all three of these elements are included in each and every single session.

How then do we cycle through the seven remaining elements of "Stamina   Balance   Power   Coordination   Speed   Agility   Accuracy"?

We accomplish this by simply incorporating those seven elements in a regular, recurring cyclical and methodical manner. The trick is approaching each element from both a maintenance and growth approach concurrently. While there are considerations we take into account that we use in our final scheme that are beyond the scope of this introduction, a simplified version looks very similar to this:

Programming for Maintenance:

  • I'll first off cycle through each element of these seven elements of fitness on a daily, Per Session basis. The program is designed to meet 3 times a week so this will casually expose the member to each element every 2 weeks (2 and 1/3 actually). Our goal here is to simply "Use it or Lose it".
  • I'll then cycle through each of the seven elements every seven weeks with a Weekly "general" focus to give an extended attention to each as well. This will afford some extended attention to each attribute every seven weeks (approx. every two months). For the weekly focus, I'd also like to encourage the participants to engage in a weekly "Homework Assignments" throughout the week. I have numerous outside activities related to each of the attributes. For example, Line Dancing for agility or roller skating or biking for balance.
  • It must be emphasized here that the application of drills or exercises for the sake of maintenance are to be approached in a casual and easy manner. These activities, while they could appear somewhat challenging to some but not to most can best be construed as being fun or recreational. In terms of differentiating the modes of maintenance and growth, I often associate one as "Play" and the other as "Work".

Programming for Consistent Growth:

To program for growth however takes considerably more care and requires a slower but longer emphasis to adequately, effectively and safely achieve a desired progress (or higher position on the Escalator of Life). For growth therefore, I'd propose we cycle through all ten of these attributes on a Monthly basis with specific individual athlete metrics to be collected at the beginning of each month ("Metrics Monday)". Details will follow under "Combined Programming Fundamentals"

Putting it All Together:

So, what exactly will this all look like in real life?
Session Basics - What the program would look like:
  • Each group class would consist of 3 to 8 individuals with a coach to participant ratio to at least 1 to 4. Groups would ideally be comprised of individuals of similar levels of general fitness capabilities. While large differences can be accommodated, those requiring more one on one attention should be limited to 1 per coach (if class size dictates 2 coaches, only 2 less accomplished participants could be accommodated)    
  • There would be three sessions per week. Mon., Wed. and Fri. This frequency is perfect as it gives participants a day off between workouts and two days extended recovery on weekends. The schedule can obviously be skewed to Tues., Thurs. and Sat. if participants of that group would find it workable.
  • Actual class times would "officially" be 1 hour minimum with an expectation that it may very well go 1.5 hours. The ideal 1 hour session would hold to a general format of 10 minutes warm up, 20 minutes on strength, 20 minutes on general conditioning as well as 10 minutes cool down, stretching or meditation. Participants should be encouraged to arrive early to work on personal mobility “Junk” or specific warm up challenges and also encouraged to stay after to work on skills & technique. Care should be taken therefore in scheduling classes back to back and a 2 hour window should be planned for.
  • There are specific tests under development to acquire easy but accurate metrics for each of the 10 fitness attributes for each member. This will not only identify strengths and weaknesses from the beginning, but will make it easily to recognize growth or decline over the coming months and years.
  • I would also find it important to introduce the program to each member through a series of initial “one on one” sessions. This time would be valuable for the collection of the individual metrics for each of the ten fitness attributes, as an opportunity to determine their appropriate group and to individually instruct them on the movements and exercises they will most likely encounter during class. This could take a total of 10 to 15 “one on one” or “two on one” sessions as their individual needs may require.

Combined Programming Fundamentals

So, how does a general template for programming around all of these specific 10 elements of fitness for casual maintenance AND earnest growth work? Simple, but not so simple. This template regularly cycles through each of these attributes on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. The Daily and Weekly cycling of attributes are designated towards our maintenance goals while the Monthly rotation focus would be designated as opportunities for growth and would be slowly, carefully and systematically administered. Every month the first Monday is designated as "Metric Monday" where we see where we are and can gauge our progress from one year to the next.

For our Monthly focus I’ve determined that we include a period of focused growth and the collecting of metrics for those “Big Three” attributes of Strength, Cardiovascular Endurance and Flexibility once every two years as well (despite their inclusion on a daily, per session basis).  This works nicely as three monthly cycles of the seven secondary attributes make 21 months and the inclusion of these three at the beginning make for a complete two year program.

A monthly template for January, for example would look something like this:

As you can see, the first week programming should include the following:

  • Each Days regular program requirements of: Strength, Conditioning & Flexibility
  • The Weekly Attribute of Agility
  • The Daily Attributes of: Monday:Balance, Wednesday:Coordination and Friday:Power

As you can see from the this example, it can be quite a challenge programming activities that effectively challenge and utilize characteristics of the particular group of attributes for the day. Creative opportunities abound! I’m intending to introduce a myriad of new tools, skills & drills to accomplish these aims.

For the above month of January alone for example, we are intending to train for the unique but specific attribute of "Accuracy". How we accomplish this is open to interpretation and the drawing on from a myriad of different athletic disciplines: Baseball Pitching drills for accuracy, Martial Arts Drills for Accuracy, Dance Steps that require Accuracy, Tai Chi movements that promote accuracy, Soccer Drills & many, many more. The more creative, the more interesting and the more enjoyable the entire experience will be for the participants.

A small list of activities off the top of my head include: Soccer drills, Balance Beam drills, Hand Eye Coordination “Reaction Ball” drills, Juggling, Hackey Sack, Jump Rope variations, Yoga, Tai Chi, Etc, Etc.  After the first year, it is my intention to repeat and refine to learn, grow and continue to deliver the very BEST POSSIBLE fitness regimen for our “Masters” population.

*** A Special Note to My Trainer Friends Out There

To all of you who are reading this who are Athletic Trainers, Personal Trainers, CrossFit Coaches or General Fitness Instructors:

The entire concept of the Methuselah Fitness Project is designed to be a free and shared resource to be used as your project and as your resource...

I want to invite you to partner with me to utilize this unique approach and the template which I'll freely be sharing via We all have family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances who can benefit from a program such as this. I'd encourage you to put together a small group of like minded seniors to work within the parameters indicated herein. We have an unlimited freedom to design the drills, exercises and movements that touch upon each of these 10 attributes in varying degrees. I believe a collaborative, "Open Source" approach to refining and developing this program will absolutely deliver the most value and ultimately become a program that will benefit the most people, with the most significant impact, in the most meaningful ways imaginable.

My only request is that you register on the site and you share your success and log the unique ways you've individually approached and implemented the template. Through sharing, it is my sincere belief that we can all benefit and can ultimately make the reality of the "Functional Centenarian" a regular and common phenomenon as opposed to the occasional fluke as we currently see.

In Conclusion

There is much more to the Methuselah Fitness Project that is beyond this introduction regarding history, specific outcomes, volume of work, intensity, the value of socialization and specific methods used to challenge each of the ten elements of fitness. I will be sharing more in the future and a longer more detailed explanation can be found here:

I am hoping however that a birdseye view will be sufficient in showcasing the significant value this unique approach can confer to our senior population. I am excited and encouraged that this program will soon become a reality and am feeling that this upcoming year will indeed be the start of something wonderful!

Copyright (c) 2017 by Daryll Krivanos. This material may be distributed only subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License, v2.0