Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Longevity in Training

Among other things, martial artists are athletes. As such we can learn from athletes in other endeavors how we can continue at the top of our game for a long, long time.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appears at The Art of Manliness blog, describing the incredible sports longevity of Nolan Ryan. There are lessons to be had. The full post may be read here.

I turned 40 last December. 

No, I haven’t had a midlife crisis. 

But that number did cause me to self-reflect. 

How did the first 20 years of adulthood go?

What can I do to make the next 20 years great?

Around that same time, I happened to watch a documentary about one of my childhood heroes: baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan. 

That movie showed up in my life at the right time. 

What caught my attention in the documentary was that Nolan Ryan made his 40s the most productive and successful part of his career. 

Despite his age, or maybe because of it, from when he was 39 until he retired at 46, Ryan did his best pitching.

Between the ages of 19 and 28, he averaged 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. 

Between the ages of 29 and 38, he averaged 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

Between the ages of 39 and 46, he averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. 

He even notched two of his seven record-setting no-hitters while in his 40s. 

Not only did Ryan’s professional success impress me, but his personal success in midlife was admirable as well. His marriage to his high school sweetheart, Ruth, continued (and continues today) to thrive, and he raised three good, down-to-earth kids.

When you watch clips of Nolan Ryan on the mound in his 40s, he’s got a presence that commands respect. He looks like a man who knows the talent he’s got and will continue to express that talent for as long as he can. He’s got the grit. 

I started calling that quiet, determined confidence that Ryan exuded in midlife “Nolan Ryan Energy.” 

It’s the kind of energy I want to foster in my life during the next ten years. 

So I dug into some biographies on this legendary pitcher to find ways to nurture my own Nolan Ryan Energy. Here’s what I uncovered. It’s helped me as I’ve started navigating my 40s. If you’re into or approaching midlife, maybe it will help you, too.

Train Hard and Smart

A key to Nolan Ryan’s middle-aged success was his rigorous and innovative training regimen developed with his trainers Gene Colman and Tom House. 

Instead of taking it easy in his 40s, Ryan spent five hours a day, six days a week on physical training. Before Nolan Ryan, doing marathon workouts like this was unheard of in baseball. Players might hit a few weight machines, perhaps do a little stretching, and call it a day. But Ryan understood that if he wanted to continue to thrive as a pitcher in his 40s, he needed to continue to develop his strength and endurance, and the way you develop those qualities is through hard training. 

Weightlifting played a big role in Ryan’s exercise routine. He loved squatting because it helped him develop his lower body power which was the key to his trademark windup and delivery. 

After weights, he would run foul pole to foul pole for laps and then end his conditioning workout with five 60-yard sprints. 

Ryan stuck to this workout schedule religiously. When the Rangers traveled to other cities to play, he made sure there was a gym he could use to get his workouts in.

Even though Ryan went hard with his training, he also understood that the body of a 40-something differs from the body of a 20-something. The stress and strain of heavy exercise could wear down his joints and connective tissues. Moreover, muscles don’t recover as quickly as they get older. 

So besides training hard, Ryan trained smart in his 40s. Working with Tom House, he devised innovative training protocols for his aging body. He dedicated considerable time to water-based exercises to minimize joint stress. He spent a lot of time stretching. He loved riding a stationary bike after a game while he talked to the press because it allowed him to get his cardio in without stressing his tendons and ligaments.

Takeaway: For many men, their 40s are a season when they let their foot off the gas. Physical activity slides to the back burner as other things take priority in their lives. Even if you’re not a professional athlete, physical health is the foundation for remaining dynamic and effective into middle age. Find a workout regimen that suits your stage in life and do it with vigor and consistency. 

Be Open to New Ideas

By the time many men hit their 40s, they’ve developed a well-worn rut in how they approach life. It makes sense. They’ve likely discovered strategies and tactics that have worked for them, so why change things up?

But sometimes staying the course with what worked for you in the first twenty years of manhood will only lead to stagnation in midlife. 

Nolan Ryan understood this tendency and its potential trap, so he countered it by remaining open to new ideas. He was, as his wife Ruth put it, “a sponge wanting more information.” He would seek mentors and coaches who could help him continue to succeed and thrive into midlife.

Ryan’s relationship with Tom House, his pitching coach, illustrates this openness. House’s innovative approaches to training included utilizing new technologies, like the Motion Analysis System. Despite his initial skepticism, Ryan gave House the benefit of the doubt and let himself get analyzed by the computer. This led to a revelation about a subtle flaw in Ryan’s pitching mechanics — a tilt of the head — that was impacting his overall performance. 

When faced with the physical demands of pitching nine-inning games and the toll they took on his body as he aged, Ryan displayed adaptability again. He developed new training protocols with House, incorporating unorthodox methods like throwing footballs for warm-ups. Many pitchers thought Ryan was a weirdo for throwing footballs before a game, but once they tried it, they discovered what Ryan knew: it allowed a pitcher to loosen up without putting too much stress on his arm.

Takeaway: Instead of getting stuck in your ways in your 40s, be open to new ideas. Read new books. Keep making new friends. Find mentors. Maybe hire a coach to help you improve your career or physical fitness. To thrive in midlife, keep what continues to work for you, but do some exploring too

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