By Vincent Corvino
I remember the first time a wine store didn’t bother to proof me and the first time someone called me, “Sir.” The second incident happened when I was thirty-six. Now, at forty-one, I understand that this moment was an omen, not a death sentence.
Over the past five years, my body has responded differently to diet and exercise than it had prior to my first completely anonymous purchase of a California Merlot, and I liken my new fitness strategy to the delicate process that winemakers employ when developing a product that improves with age. The winemaker’s craft requires close attention to nature. Turning 40 forced me to take the same tact.
I learned to work with my body, not against it, and I’ve now achieved fitness goals that evaded me when I was a young dude. I no longer miss him. He’s no match for an established, accomplished, and confident man who is also physically fit.
Before I became a “Sir,” I was mostly training as I had since college. I used a split routine, working one large and one small muscle group on each of my four lifting days. I did some cardio on these days and only cardio on my non-lifting days. I typically performed twelve to fifteen sets for each muscle group.
This regimen ballooned my muscle size and strength — though in an earlier article on my transition to vegan bodybuilding, I do mention that fat loss was a constant struggle. For a long time, Vincent Corvino was getting bigger and stronger.
Then, he was unofficially knighted by a deli-counter kid with facial piercings. Thereafter, Sir Vincent Corvino’s dorm-days workout stopped working. His muscles and joints constantly hurt. The pain disturbed his sleep. He caught colds more often and his mood was in the toilet. For a while, he didn’t know what was wrong. Why did a health-conscious person feel like he was tilting toward death?
Fortunately, I’m a naturally curious educator inclined to doggedly seek answers until I find them. It was psychologically difficult to Google “bodybuilding after 40 .” I felt like I was signing up for AARP.
I envisioned myself driving slowly in the fast lane with my turn signal on for no reason; hitting a restaurant for the early-bird special; wearing holiday-specific sweaters.
Pain can be stronger than pride. In this case, I’m grateful for that normally unfortunate reality; my research taught me how to exercise in an age-appropriate manner, and the results have been better than ever.
I learned that my fitness program would have to conform to the natural conditions of getting older. My car was running as well as ever with over one-hundred thousand miles on it, but my body was no machine. My parts were worn. I simply couldn’t expect them to perform exactly as they had when they were newer.
I doubt that Evel Knievel would have attempted his jumps on a shoddily refurbished junkyard bike. I discovered that I would have to allow more time for my body to recuperate between weight training workouts. So, I started pumping iron three days per week instead of four. I also stopped lifting on consecutive days and started alternating between bodybuilding days and cardio days.
I’ve since acquired an addiction to speed walking. It burns fat, and it’s easy on my joints. My German Shepherd, Dante, is an enthusiastic companion who guilts me into doing it when I’m thinking otherwise.
I’m still using this routine, and it has had many benefits. The more frequent cardio days have made me leaner, something that had become a lot harder to achieve as I got older. Because my muscles are recovering between workouts, I’m once again making strength gains.
Psychologically, it helps to know that I can still improve my body while also delaying its inevitable decline.
At its core, this discussion about bodybuilding after 40 has really been about listening to one’s body, learning, and adjusting. All fitness enthusiasts are disciplined people who achieve results via dedication to routines. Though this diligence is admirable, it can turn on a person if he or she pursues it with zero flexibility.
Had I not been so insistent on sticking to my old routine, I might have responded to the first signs of its obsolescence and avoided a lot of pain and fruitless labor. Everyone is different. When something’s not working for you, find out why, and don’t be afraid to try a different approach. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Fighter, George Foreman, managed to compete and win well into his forties. Forty-eight-year-old Bernard Hopkins is the current IBF Light Heavyweight Champion. With age, both men’s styles became far more efficient and strategic. They adjusted. I’ve adjusted, and I’m planning to age like a fine wine.
About the Author:
Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake. He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt. He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.