They Push Weight
As the body ages, muscle mass fades if you don’t work to maintain it. Fading muscle means fading strength as well as increased risk of injury, because tendons and ligaments weaken with age, too, making them prone to rupture. As a result, across all professional athletics, successful older athletes lift weights.
Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson, still a starter in his 18th consecutive season at age 39, says strength training is a big reason for his longevity. “I really was not a big weight-room guy when I was younger,” he says. “I would just show my face and do the minimum and then get out. But the older you get, you have to maintain strength.” Woodson began serious weight training only midcareer, at Plex Athlete in Houston, a private training facility catering to NFL and NBA stars, as well as professional martial artists. The gains he made there led him to convert his Northern California garage into a private gym. “I have a half rack for squats, a dual cable machine, dumbbells, and a weight sled that I pull in my yard,” he says. Each day in the off-season, after getting his sons off to school and then answering emails for his Napa Valley wine label, he lifts weights until lunch. “It’s about making sure I’m going into training camp 100 percent ready and not worrying about pulling a hamstring or something,” he says. So while most guys from Woodson’s draft year call themselves lucky to walk unassisted into the Burger King they bought out by the interstate, Woodson played on 1,067 out of 1,074 possible defensive snaps in the 2014 season, logging 113 tackles and a place in the Raiders’ 2015 starting lineup.
Older jocks tend to lift with great care and little regard for bragging rights, using routines designed to accomplish only their goals and little else. That’s because at 35 or 40, they can’t afford to waste energy or put the slightest unnecessary stress on their bodies. Steve Smith, the Baltimore Ravens wide receiver, is currently leading the NFL in career all-purpose yardage — despite being 36 years old and just 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds. Yet he isn’t impressed by teammates who can bench 700 pounds. “Do you want to be that sledgehammer that can hit hard one time, or that water drop, dropping on that same spot a million times?” Smith asks. “I believe it does me much more good to bench 225 pounds 30 times.”
Big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara, who rode a record-setting 100-footer off Portugal at the age of 45, stays ready with a personally designed mix of track sprints and body-weight calisthenics — all done while holding his breath to mimic the experience of being held underwater by giant surf. “I wake up early, between 3 and 5 in the morning,” McNamara says. “I’ve got a stretching program that’s specific to my body, to keep my lower back mobile and my shoulders strong. Then all of my strength exercises train the exact opposite of the motions I have to do in the water, to keep my body balanced.”
Kevin Garnett, the 39-year-old power forward with the Minnesota Timberwolves, runs on the sand outside his Malibu home, but drives north to Los Angeles to lift weights with Joe Abunassar at Impact Basketball, a private training center that draws about 100 NBA guys annually. Starting two weeks after the end of each season, Abunassar puts Garnett on a four-day split: “We start with two upper-body days of dips, pull-ups, and shoulder-stabilization stuff, plus core work aimed at postural support,” says Abunassar. “And two lower-body days when we’re doing single-leg dumbbell-squats, step-ups, and squat jumps to keep the glutes firing and stabilize the hips and knees.” If Garnett has any lingering injuries, or if Abunassar thinks Garnett’s bodyweight is drifting a few pounds too high or low, this is when they deal with it.
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