‘Old man strength’ is real. It is usually acquired by men and women around the age of 40. If you are above the age of 40 and reasonably healthy, you will get it. It can be used to do hard physical labor, or to prove to the younger crowd that you are not as old as they think you are. It is usually lost around the ages of 65-70 depending on your health.
In the years I’ve spent training Jiu-Jitsu I’ve come across many older team mates and competitors that had some sort of super human grip and tendon strength that was hard to explain and that I hadn’t experienced when rolling with guys in their 20’s. The young guys have speed, cardio, flexibility, endurance… what do older grapplers have? Three words for you: old man strength! These old guys have a lifetime of grip strength in their hands…Living in Eastern Europe where people are already naturally very strong, there are some older guys in my team that seem even twice as strong as the younger bucks. This phenomenon is of course not just exclusive to Jiu-Jitsu. Old man strength happens in most sports including weight lifting.
How is this possible? Are these guys just genetic freaks?
Testosterone level doesn’t have as much impact on your strength as you would think, because there are so many other factors involved:
– Structural factors (limb length)
– Leverage (tendon insertion points)
– Muscle density (ie number of muscle fibres)
– Fibre type (fast-twitch vs slow-twitch)
– Connective Tissue (tendon strength, etc)
Another part of the answer is genetics and part is a survival mechanism. Fred Hatfield in his writings for ISSA explained this phenomenom:
“An individual who has developed some level of fitness at some point in life and then stops training, has certain slow twitch muscle fibers (I forget which) convert into another form of slow twitch muscle fibers. This takes awhile (6 months +). Let’s say the individual, while a teenager, participated in High School sports, got into shape, and because of good genetices; got into pretty good shape. 5 – 10 years later after no training now has these new slow twitch fibers. He is surpising strong for someone who does not train HOWEVER these new muscle fibers self-destruct when used. The next day after moving furniture around, he will be no-where near as strong or have any endurance like he did the day before.”
“These muscle fibers are put into place as a survival mechanism. Early man didn’t exercise like we do today. He/She would go through periods of exertion, get strong and then go through periods of less exertion. Mother Nature gave man these conversion fibers so that he/she would not get as weak as kitten, be surprised by a bear and eaten. These fibers give the individual similar strength of when the individual was trained, but at a price, the destruction of these fibers.”
Another explanation is life cycle. Some older BJJ practitioners will start having more time in their 40’s to dedicate to physical fitness. Some athletes will come back to competition in the early 40’s once they have gotten their initial parenting duties taken care off. Staying in shape and keeping up with the young guys in the academy becomes their motivation.
According to Brandon Mentore, a strength and conditioning coach in Philadelphia and founder of TheBodyLogic.comOpens a New Window.:
“When men enter their 50’s, the hormonal activity increases, staging a last surge for reproductive functions before shutting down. This comes with increases in testosterone, cortisol, insulin, and growth hormone that contribute to increases in strength and recovery.”
As an older grappler, there is usually a tendency to hone in on fundamentals and concepts that can be the common denominator between multiple techniques. Having one aspect of a move be able to be used in several moves can help with ease of execution when put in bad spots when you need it. Strong grips on the belt or lapels when passing can be utilized when stapling someone down in side control.
Old person jiu jitsu is not just all about pressure passing from the knees and half guard. There are so many more fundamentals and concepts we can take from their games no matter what level and age we are.
Ten time world champion and MMA veteran Fabiano Scherner has put together all the secrets to “Mastering Brazilian Jiu Jitsu After 40” in this instructional that you will want to check out.