Learning from the silver-haired folks at the gym

People say wisdom comes with age. Decades of learning via experience probably helps with obtaining that wisdom. That can come to form in many ways like advanced knowledge in a particular field. The elusive "silver-hair" is associated with knowledge, expertise, experience and all kinds of positive factors that lead to "trust". Whether it's in obtaining funding to start your own fund or selling services, the business world looks for age. The bias is there. Where it isn't commonly sought after is in the gym. 

I've spent a minimum of 3,744 hours training at the gym (that is 8 hrs a week for 9 years). From that experience, I can say it is the place where ego and stupidity reaches the high point; predominantly in males... actually only males. It's actually where young folks could still learn plenty by observing the silver-haired. 


Patience seems to accumulate as you age. Counter intuitive since you'd think the young would be patient given their longer runway and the old, impatient as they reach the edge of their runway. Yet, it seems to be quite the opposite. 

I made a friend at one of the gyms I train out of. His name is John. A man in his early 60s. My experience with being a powerlifter has given me an eye for folks who are training for strength development. Folks who are serious about physical improvement vs. the idiots who are hoping to win the lottery and show off some ego. From what I saw in John's training routine, he was a serious lifter I could respect. It was not the amount of weight he was lifting. It was that he warmed up thoroughly throughout the movements. He recorded all his sets and reps on his notebook. Given his continuous reference to the notebook he was most likely following a program for development. To top it off, he had "fraction plates". The smallest weight you can load onto a free weight barbell is a 2.5lbs. Fraction plates are smaller plates that go down by increments 0.25lbs so you can just add on 1lbs or 0.75lbs. Powerlifting is a sport where people win and lose by 1lbs. Where you train day in and out to get 1lbs stronger every day. So when I saw a 60 year old man carry in his own set of fraction plates, you bet I was fucking impressed. That was the reason I decided to strike up a conversation with him. To start by complimenting him on such a thoughtful act. 

I used to train in the 6am time slot and the demographic was quite "aged". Just Old Man Dan with the old folks. What I noticed then was nothing too different from John. Old folks on their individual programs showing up same time every day. Many didn't disregard warm ups, like the youth do, and many didn't just slap on 100 lbs to their next set, like the youth would. 

Many were patient with their development. This patience may be tied with another factor they'd learned to embrace.


See, they were old. Because they were old, their bodies did not have the recoverable abilities of someone in their 20s. Hence, they can't risk injuries. So, they will have to be patient and make slow progressions in their strength development. Also, such a constraint forces many to learn the foundations and learn from trained professionals to focus on the basics. 

The silver-haired invest in trainers. They delegate what they don't know to the expertise of others. I use 'expertise' lightly here as I know there are many trainers who think they know when they actually don't. Just calling it as I see it. They embrace their constraints and use it to their advantage. They use the constraints to take the time to invest in starting off "right". 

The young don't like constraints. We find it annoying and we just want to do it our own way. Sometimes, such constraints become the reason people don't take action. Like not starting a company, even though plenty of great companies started from constraints of finances, opportunities and economic situations. Constraints forced many of today's great companies like Amazon or great inventors like the Wright brothers to innovate and succeed. Accepting constraints may be hard but it will show a road that may be the best road for the long haul. 

Despite constraints on their health and what I'd assume to be the "impatience of limited time" the many individuals I see in the gym have all done something.


They may only have 20 or 30 years to benefit off of the process. But they've started and patiently build away at it every training session. They've started and decided to compound the benefits of investing in their health. At 50 or 60 I'd imagine the thought of "Why bother trying? I'll die anyways. Why should I even bother starting from the bottom now?" To be a common thought. But the folks at the gym have proven that's not the case. Pavel Tsatouline, the man who brought the kettlebell to North America, had his father deadlift 407lbs at a bodyweight of 193lbs at the age of 75. He picked up the barbell for the first time at age 70 and that's one example of starting. Not late, but on time for the individual. 

The feeling of "starting late" is prevalent among the young. It's ironic because we haven't had much life experience. I would argue most haven't truly experienced 100% freedom of choice after they've left university and considering that fact many haven't done much. I'm not trying to belittle any accomplishment but in the grander scheme of your life, the 3 - 5 years of work experience out of school doesn't really amount to much in a 50-70 year career. I personally don't believe in retirement <link>, so hence the 70 year... maybe even 90 year projection. I commonly hear friends choose not to get into a sport because "it's too late and it'll be embarrassing to start now". A very short-termed mindset of not seeing what 20 or 30 years of consistent practice could result in. 

The most common fallacy of "starting late" is actually applied in their work. It's usually combined with a lacing of the sunk cost fallacy too. Friends in jobs they hate will not leave that profession. They say "But I've invested so much into it now. How can I bother switching and throwing it all away?". It's funny when you think about it. It's only 4 years of school and/or 3 years of professional experience. Not material chunks of time if you think about living until 80 or 90. The silver-haired in the gym may have had 20 years of not investing in their health but they all started for the next 10, 20 or 30 years they may have left. Yet, the young in their 20s can't look out at the 60, 70 or 80 years they have left to start something new. I mean even in business there is the famed story of Colonel Sanders franchising his KFC recipe starting at the age of 62 and continuing to build out the KFC empire well into the 70s. The limitations of living in the past and applying sunk costs as excuses to not accept the present and live for the future can only result in regret later in life. We'll all have regrets in life but obtaining the perspective to start now would help minimize it. 


It's a mindset thing. 

I believe many start out with a fixed mindset but eventually morph into a growth mindset. Some start out in the world with a growth mindset. It's not a race but a journey for each one of us and I think the experience will accumulate aids in that transformation. I think this is what I see when I watch the silver-haired in the gym. I see the application of a mindset that formed over the years and is now being applied to a singular aspect in their life. 

All it takes is a mindset to grow, and the wherewithal to slow down and embrace the present. There is so much we can learn from just observing those that came before us. 

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