Thirty! A magnificent age. It’s the spot on the graph when you’re really hitting your stride – old enough to have put (most) foolish things aside, as your emotional, financial, professional and physical peaks start to coincide.
Well, hopefully, anyway. Because even though you’re at your physically strongest around the age of 30 (and actually still two and a half years under the average age of an Ironman triathlon winner), it’s also the time when the wheels can start to fall off.
A natural decrease in physical activity (no more five-a-side or impromptu dance throwdowns) can slow your metabolism, while declining testosterone and minor niggles conspire to make the damage less-recoverable. For that reason, it’s the perfect time to take stock: to put your body through a swift MOT, and make sure you’re in good shape for the upcoming decades.
We asked Joel Snape, Men’s Fitness’ editor-at-large and self-proclaimed motivational alchemist, to come up with a definitive physical check-list. If you can’t manage any of it, work out why, and take the steps to fix it. You’ll thank yourself when you’re 40.
Handle the Chair Of Death
Basic, but essential. Stand facing a typical kitchen chair, with your toes underneath the seat. Now, ‘sit’ down and back into a squat, keeping your chest up and back straight. Can you hit ‘parallel’ – the point where your hip-crease goes below your knee – without your knees hitting the chair? If not, it’s because your glutes have been lulled into inactivity by years of sitting: wake them up with the ‘Fire hydrant’, and add some glute bridges to your gym routine.
Sleep with one pillow
Be honest, how many are you propping yourself up on? If it’s two – or more – it might be a sign that you’re dealing with some kyphosis – excessive curvature of the spine causing a hunching of the back, possibly linked to all the time you spend on your laptop. A physical therapist will be able to help, but for the time being set a timer on your phone to ping you every thirty minutes, and use the reminder to stand up, take a couple of deep breaths, and fix your posture before you sit down again.
Run 5k in under 30 minutes (or row it in sub-25)
You don’t have to be a cardio machine, but having a decent baseline of cardiovascular fitness is protective against a whole slew of diseases – as well as aiding concentration, brain function and mood. The ill-effects of running on your knees have been hugely overstated, but if pounding pavement doesn’t appeal – or you aren’t built for it – the rower offers an impact-free, upper-body-inclusive alternative.
Balance on one leg (with your eyes shut)
Try it now: stand on one leg, close your eyes, and count to ten, slowly. Wait, did you fall over? That’s probably a symptom of another injury or imbalance you’ve never quite addressed – a lack of core strength, or even something more serious, like nerve damage or an inner ear disorder. If a bit of basic strength training (and practice) doesn’t fix it, consider getting it checked out.
Do ten press-ups
So few? Yes, but we’re talking strict: chest to the floor at the bottom of the movement, arms straight at the top, and a body straight as a board at every stage in between. It’s a fundamental test of core and upper-body strength, and as good an indicator as any that you’re maintaining the muscle and bone density you’ll want to shepherd into your later years. If you can’t manage this many, chop your current best total in half, and do that number every minute for ten minutes. When that feels easy, add one each round.
Carry another human
It’s fine if they’re slightly smaller than you: laudable if they’re larger. The ‘loaded carry’ is the missing link in many people’s fitness regimes, despite being one of the most fundamental of human movements (the others, since you ask, are pushing, pulling, hip-hinging, squatting and lunging). Ideally, you’d be able to carry someone in the classic over-the-threshold position as well as over (or on) your shoulders: if you haven’t got a willing volunteer, a slightly-lighter sandbag or medicine ball will work for practice.
Broad jump your own height
The box jump – beloved of CrossFit devotees though it may be – is often a circus trick, more representative of extreme hip flexibility than explosive strength, and also an easy way to scrape a shin. Broad jump instead: from a standing start, take off and land on both feet together, aiming for distance and landing softly. While we’re on, you should also be able to vault a medium-sized gate: the Parkourist’s ‘lazy vault’ is your friend here.
Sit On the floor (and get up) with minimal difficulty
By ‘minimal’, we really mean ‘Without using your hands or knees.’ In a study of more than 2,000 ageing people, those best able to manage it had a lower incidence of all-cause mortality than less physically capable volunteers. Assuming you can do this without difficult, spice it up by holding a weight plate in front of you – you’ll need new reserves of hip mobility and inventiveness to get up unaided.