How to Keep Your Fitness Evolving While You Do

Three airmen compete in a weapons loading contest.
Airman 1st Class Hunter Leger, left, Staff Sgt. Ryan Amos, center, and Airman 1st Class Joseph Capshaw, right, all 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons-load crewmembers, lift an inert AIM-9 air-to-air missile during a weapons-load competition. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Daniel Snider)

One of the biggest mistakes I have both seen and made myself over the years is continuing to do the same exercises and workouts now that I did when I first started training, which in my case was over 40 years ago. Regardless of your athletic and fitness history, the need to treat fitness training as a journey cannot be stressed enough. Too many people try to start where they left off or continue each decade at the same intensity as previous decades.

Over the years, our bodies change, injuries occur, rehab and recovery are required, and the stress of life itself can make the athletic fitness training of our younger days turn more into the basics to be healthy and well. However, you still can be highly active and continue to be an asset in potentially dangerous situations as you age, retire from the tactical professions, and even do activities that help reduce the pain of prior aches and pains of a life well-lived.

But we have to be honest with ourselves and consider some changes to your training cycle -- especially if you are not seeing results and in constant pain and suffer from training injuries too often.

It's important to get smarter with training while continuing to challenge yourself. Here's how to do it.

Find physical activities you enjoy. The number one goal for taking fitness and health into your later years is to find types of physical outlets you enjoy. We all are different and finding that activity that gets you to the gym before work, during lunch or after work is by far the most important factor when it comes to staying healthy and able.

Be open to trying new activities. For instance, I recently rediscovered the stair stepper as a leg day activity that works the lungs and the legs without the impact of running or rucking. Plus, it is quite useful to be able to climb steps in many situations in life. I can see as I age my running and rucking will reduce but be replaced with some easier impact activities that are joint friendly like swimming or biking.

Face it: You're not 18 anymore. Even though you may be in better shape now at 40 than you were at 18, that's likely largely due to you being smarter about your training, learning about recovery methods and nailing down your nutrition. Energy levels and the ability to recover from physical training when you were a teen likely enabled you to do so much more compared to now. It's not possible to work the same muscle daily rather than using workouts that have evolved to include a more balanced split routine, with recovery built into daily training. While teens can pull that off for a while, even they will see negative results when under-recovered.

Recovery is key as we age through our 20s and beyond, and you will notice it. Even though recent studies have shown that our metabolism does not change that much from ages 20 to 40-plus, our ability to recover quickly significantly reduces with age.

Recognize the importance of mobility and flexibility. In my 40s, I created an easy system that is part spin class and part yoga class. I call it "mobility day."

I did this primarily out of the need to reduce the pain of running. We were in a peak running cycle, and my hips were really feeling it more than ever before. I cut my running volume in half and started to run every other day with non-impact cardio and stretching on the days in between. Doing that corrected my hip immobility and inflexibility issues within a month. I then kept that day in the middle of my training week and on Sunday (off day) and continued to run on the other days. Nearly 10 years later, after a time I thought my running was done, I am back to running five days a week and able to do higher volumes again.

If you think you are done doing a particular activity that you enjoy, try focusing on a potential weakness around mobility and flexibility. Doing that was a truly life-changing workout evolution for me and many others. Consider introducing at least a weekly session to your training schedule in the form of a mobility day. Then, never skip mobility day.

For some, a physically demanding job keeps them physically active, but these types of professions usually also come with challenges. Staying injury free is a constant battle, and as we age into such a job, we will be older longer than we are younger. That truth requires adjustments to training to build the type of longevity to keep you effective.

Consider training all the elements of fitness spread throughout the year to maintain your abilities without burning out on maximal training on all of them at once. That idea is the basis of Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization-style training where you focus on different exercises and workouts to maintain strengths and not neglect any weaknesses over 12 months.

Finally, work on your strength while maintaining a healthy body weight. LIfting weights and doing calisthenics while not overeating seems to be the key for building a solid foundation to all the other things you want to do. The lighter you are, the easier everything will be on your joints and ability to move and even run later in life.

With a foundation of strength training, healthy body weight will keep your bones and muscle strong to provide overall durability. The added mobility work and flexibility training will make movement less painful, and in the end, being as effective as we can and in less pain is the ultimate goal.

Remember: fitness is a journey, not a destination. Keep on moving!

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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