Strength at Any Age with Tom Furman
What does it take to stay fit and strong as we age?
Tom Furman has been training men to stay fit and strong for decades, and now he is going to share how men can be strong and fit at any age.
In fact, being strong is not about how much muscle mass you can build. This unhealthy thinking comes from what men are exposed to as boy.
Real strength comes from taking care of the body as we age, but how can a man stay fit without grueling workouts and the time to engage in training.
Find out on this next episode with Tom Furman.
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Ep. 24 - Strength at Any Age with Tom Furman
Hello, and welcome to the Strong Men Podcast. I'm Anthony Treas from strongmencoaching.com, and I want to welcome you here once again. Let's get into this next episode. This is amazing time, you know, because there's so many things that are happening, and I want to focus on the good things, but unfortunately, we are so bombarded with negative things happening. So, I'm excited to have my next guest, who's really going to help shed some light on how to maintain our fitness level and how to maintain a fit body no matter what age we are. So, no matter what age you are listening to this, it will definitely help you in that. I want to welcome my next guest to the show. Let's get this going. Tom Furman, How are you today?
I'm doing very well. Thank you.
Excellent. Well, Tom, you have been in the fitness industry for quite some time. We talked briefly about this at the beginning. But you know, you've kind of been in the fitness world so to speak since the 80s. And so, you've seen our lot of changes over the decades. And so, for those listening, how about a brief introduction of who you are, what you do.
I originally got interested in fitness because I was a bad athlete. I luckily, I grew up around a lot of good male role models who at least for my background, the male members of my family on both sides were usually war veterans World War Two, Korean War, they either worked in mills in the Pittsburgh area, or coal mines in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania area, and later gravitate towards some of them towards other things. And so that was my standard for being a man, you grow up, you should be able to fix things, defend the family, and put food on the table. And it's pretty simple thing. It doesn't mean any other better lifestyle or, you know, you can fly country to country is a bad thing. It's just that happened to be the one I grew up in.
So, a work ethic was important thing, getting up and doing it, whether you liked it or not because you had to, or you should do it, was a very important thing. So, I didn't find myself athletically gifted, not the fastest runner. I was fairly tall and lanky, but not the strongest guy and stuff.
I started looking at what did these people do, who had these athletic skills. I didn't always look at athletes. I looked at people in the media. And I looked at things like, obviously, like Bruce Lee, and the Green Hornet, or Wild Wild West for Robert Conrad, or things like this. And like, what did they do, and a lot of them came from combative background. So, I had an early interest in martial arts and the supplemental training, which was weight training, hitting the bag, running, skipping rope, that sort of thing. And my interest group, the only available literature at the time, there was very little, you went to a health and fitness section, it was nothing back in the late 60s, because I was born in 1957.
When you went to those areas, there was the only magazines available on the east coast at the time were ones out of York, Pennsylvania, which were strengthen and health and muscular development. The Joe Wieder magazines that made Arnold famous, were on the West Coast, they were harder to find. So, my influence was the York Barbell Club back in those days. And a lot of people who wrote for them weren't professional writers. They took submissions from all over the country from different body builders, power lifters in Olympic lifters. And it was a mix of all those things.
So that exposed me early on in different influences. I started martial arts around 15-16 years of age, and the supplement that. Make myself stronger, more flexible, and so forth. So, I started to apply it to myself and I saw changes in myself. And I gravitated towards an interest of helping others because while this work for me, what a tremendous thing people should be learning about. And when you have enthusiasm it is contagious, you want to spread it. I started spreading it to friends or people. I was always the guy talking about eating better, training to the point of really making people sick about it. Because sometimes people don't want to be told. Yeah, it's more important that they come to you and ask the question, provide a compelling example or something like that.
Basically, through high school, I moved to Florida, and I got involved in a Sports Clinic down in Fort Lauderdale. And I had a mentor Mark Jones, who was an exercise physiologist. And he had just missed out playing for Canadian football for his skill level. And he took a bad head shot and actually partially lost vision in one eye. But he had the answers to the questions and quite often would answer my questions with questions, to further deepen my ability to ask and look for the answers. He taught me how to learn and it was a very strong guide, along with other people and other physiologist, athletes and so forth that kind of woke me up to what is the evidence versus what is the belief. What is profound evidence in this case and looking at it. And I've always looked at that as like a light through like darkness. And rather than work on anecdote and say, Oh, well, this work for me, or I took vitamin B2, and my legs got longer or something like this. It's anecdote and it sounds great and it's compelling, because testimonial evidence is a great form of advertising. But it has little to do with evidence.
I'm kind of an evidence base guy and I'm a consistency based guy based on like a level of blue collar background. And that's pretty much guides my fitness, the way I teach, the way I live my life, I can try to help others.
So, you've seen a lot of changes in the fitness and health industry over the years, many decades, and you're in your 60s, what are some of the things that you see men are struggling with the most when it comes to fitness and health and wellness?
I think the biggest thing in the recent years has been hormone replacement therapy for men. Women have been on the ball for many years and years ago, doctors were looking into this, obviously women with it, say their late 40s, early 50s and have a dramatic hormonal shift, where men's were much more gradual. The men went from, you know, chopping wood in the back yard to reproducing kids, to sleeping on the couch and what watching football all day and drinking beer. We didn't regard this as bad other than getting old.
When I was younger, I thought 40 was old. Okay, it isn't just because I'm older. I'm just like, well, I've looked everyone 40 and like their athletic days are gone. They had fight in a war. I mean, they're kind of worn out at 40. I'm like, okay, I'm 13 or 14. I see that happening and then you know, a wake-up calls like fighter Randy Couture, fighting his last fight at age 47. He is probably an outlier in that respect of his body and his brain but says something. Liotta Machida who he fought in it when he was 47, and just turned 41.
So, we're seeing fighters after 40, just barely, there's probably so much injury and head trauma they can take. But I'm looking at fighters in MMA field capable of maintaining the training necessarily to compete, okay, because it's surviving training situation and your health. Beyond that point, we're going to, like I said, HRT is made a big difference. It isn't magic. It'll be like magic for some people who are really on the downside. But the other part of that is, if you train recklessly as we do, when you were young, there's a price to pay for that. When you seek your limits, you will find them and it's part of the athletic experience. There's no one that says athletics is healthy. Being athletic is healthy and training as an athlete is healthy, but to compete and be obsessed with winning is a part of a field that we go through our part of a portion of our life potentially we go through, but there's nothing healthy about that type of obsession session.
Once again, about the limits you will find their limits. And a friend said to me once it was a martial arts colleague, he said, we are a martial artist all of our life, but we are a martial athletes only part of that life. Meaning you're competitive during a certain phase where you can repair from the injury, when repair comes less or becomes chronic are repetitive, there are going to be problems. And the other half of the martial arts is the idea that how to heal and maintain the body.
I've kind of carried it over into the fitness and weight training where I don't necessarily separate what is this aesthetic, what looks good on the beach with what is healthy.
Some people say why I don't really care what I look like, I just want to lift this amount which lends itself to excess body fat, higher blood pressure, maybe higher blood fat levels. But if you optimize everything, and that doesn't mean paper, thin skin, which isn't healthy either. But if you optimize all those things, you end up a good balance. And it's not that hard. It's manageable for a lifestyle. Most people who have extreme conditions of either being too thin or too heavy, or always playing with the extreme within the middle is the best. And the same thing with hormone replacement therapy.
People hear that they'll look up steroids and I'll see some guy with three eyes who is 600 pounds and covered with the acne on his back. And, also, I don't want to do that. And it's all drugs or are all chemicals, shall we say, it's drug dose and duration. If you drink two gallons of water forcibly over an hour and a half, you'll probably have seizures, you could die, and it's happened before in contests. So, water then could be lethal. You could drown in water. So it gets back to dosage, dosage in exercise, dosages in food, dosages if you get to a certain age, and you're using HRT, and I think that's the big change in the last few years is becoming acceptable for men where it was acceptable for women many years ago, and has gotten more and more refined as time goes on. Less is more type of thing.
Yes, and so you mentioned when you were young, you saw 40 as somebody who's old and kind of used up in a way, you know, now today, we have so much more information and 40 isn't old, right? 40 is a great age. And so, what would you say for men who are in their 40s about what it takes to be fit and healthy, you do talk about being the athlete, and then also kind of still being not necessarily competing athlete, but still living, you know, a healthy lifestyle? What would you, if someone comes to you and they're 40, have rarely participated in physical activity, what something would you say for them, and helping them to make this change in their life?
I would fundamentally say that we have to stop looking at things, training and diet and other things in a black and white mode, either on or off. For example, if we're both in warm climates, so we can have the air conditioning and turn it blasted down to 50 degrees, and you know, the windows frost up and then shut it off and have it go up to 95 degrees. That's not optimal. Optimal is finding a comfortable room temperature and letting it run. And we can look at the same thing for the holidays here. They'll be New Year's resolutions and people say, it's time for my January detox, which means to me kidney dialysis, by the way. There's no other form of detox and others a few. I think if you fall into a pit of mercury or lead in Pittsburgh working in the mills as people did my day, there's probably detoxes for that, some sort of collation or something. But it's either on or off. So, they're going to say, I want to do something in a month. I want to lose all this weight in a month. And I'm like, well, what's going to happen after the month? Oh, the switches on this month. Is it going to be off next month? And they look at conditioning that way. They look at dieting that way, rather than a shift towards a better lifestyle.
After 40, you can get away with murder when your hormones are optimized, you have youth on your side, maybe you have some genetic gifts are naturally kind of a muscular person. You go in the gym, you kind of blossom well. But that's going to start to diminish or injuries will catch up. You heard back when you were 22 and it didn't bother you. And then at 31, you're playing golf, then you slept on a bad bed when you're 40, and you could barely get out of bed. So those things need to be addressed.
When you hit after 40, you need to assess what your weak points are. Not what your strong points are that your arms look great when you do curls. What are your weak points? Is your posture bad? Is your neck weak? Are your feet in great shape. These are all things that are trainable. They're all manageable, but you need to make a strong assessment. And it's not always kind to yourself. It's very hard to look at yourself in the mirror and think about how bad you suck. So that's, that's one thing. You need to take an assessment.
So at least with clients, I do three pictures, we do a weight, we do a waist and so forth. And I've had a few women. I train a lot of men. I trained women. I train women locally. But I'd say mainly men in my age group is a common training thing. And getting in athletic shorts. And taking those photos is rather sobering for them. They can talk themselves into any type of thing they want. What your way in high school? Oh, 185. What do you weigh now 265? Let's say, well, I will probably look for something like 180. Like, why lighter than high school. I'm like, well, you have less muscles and your hormone, your testosterone levels for probably over 1000 in High School. You're not going to train as hard as you did in a football team and all, but I think I'm a heavier person. I'm like, Well, what are they do turn up the knob on gravity. I mean, they can talk themselves into all types of things. And that honest assessments, the first part and then there's you just reverse engineer it.
If it's your over fat, it's just a matter of decreasing the calories, bouncing out the macro-nutrients and watching paint dry, because it's going to take a while. First week, you're going to get a lot of water flushed out of the body and glycogen in the liver and muscles. And you're going to be having less sodium. You're going to take that dump the first week, and none of that's probably fat, a very small amount. But then you just watch the paint dry and watch the pound slide off. I have charts on clients for a year. And every week, they do what I say weight comes off, they'll stall a couple weeks, maybe then boom, it drops right off. And it's a consistent thing.
So that would be the first thing is get lighter. The other thing would be to get stronger. The third thing would have more usable range of motion that involves posture, your core strengthening, joint mobility, stretching, that sort of thing, which I emphasize, I'm kind of known for in the athletic field amongst my peers. That's kind of my specialty. Although I bounce around and all of it. I don't do like Olympic coaching or power lifting. I'd refer out to that to some friends who are incredible in that arena. But I'm known for mobility and fixing things that are kind of broken, the people went through rehab, they say, I'm still not the same. Well, let's look at it. Let's get you up to the skill level on that and start with zero, start with zero and work your way up and a year down the line. You're amazing. And it's nothing more than just showing up.
Absolutely. And you mentioned you keep track of people, or you keep track of your clients and you take these weekly assessments. And as you mentioned, watching paint dry, but something where for anybody it's, I see it more as like a lifestyle change, right, and how it's more about making these smaller changes. What do you say about longevity and making those changes as far as looking at it, not from a short term perspective, but a long term for perspective?
That's a very good question. I'm involved locally and I have a lot of friends in life extension foundation, which is up in Fort Lauderdale in Boca and I wrote an article on medium.com, Why life extension is getting it wrong. And what they do is they'll do everything but exercise, everything but exercise. A lot of them are on Metformin, which is a diabetic drug, okay. And it may have some properties to help us resist cancer, but they just go well, this evidence looks good. I'm going to take this drug. There on the intermittent fasting which the evidence is kind of hazy right now. There's no evidence it's better for fat loss, okay, still gets down to calories. There is evidence if you fast for short periods, certain cool things happening yourselves, whether that makes you live it over 100, we don't know. They have caloric restriction, eating less.
Well, if you eat less and lose your muscle, you're affecting your immune system. If you get grandma who is 85 pounds breaks her hip because she stumbles because her legs are week from lack of muscles, she will have pneumonia and die. If you get grandma, who's 130 pounds, and maybe some of that is fat, doesn't mean she's doing dead lifts every day. But if she falls, she could probably recover a little bit better because there's more muscle on your body. And it allows her the body weight to recover from something like a cracked hip and pneumonia, where you would follow up.
There's an optimal thing where if you're leaner, you tend to live longer to a point. Now, what they calculate are things about living longer and longevity is things like wasting from cancer, or people who are under eating, you lose your appetite for protein as you age. If you go to a nursing home, and I've been in a few, you don't see everybody chowing down on a 28-ounce steak. But if you went to an NFL training camp, that wouldn't be an unusual site. Okay, so our appetite for protein decreases with age. We have to be meticulous about consuming enough protein.
So, for longevity, I would say right off the bat is consuming enough protein. What is enough protein? A very easy rule of thumb, you pick your target weight, where you look best where you won the homecoming queen, or you won Mr. Panama City bodybuilding contest, and then you eat that many grams. A 190 pounds for a man, 190 grams, protein. A 120 pounds for a woman, 120 grams of protein. That shouldn't be hard if you balance out, you're eating okay. That would be one thing.
The other thing is the ability to move. And that sounds so general. But if you want to live longer, there is more correlation between getting up off the ground without using your hands sitting cross legged, we just called it the Indian pose or semi lotus position and standing up without using your hands. They did a study in Brazil, and it's correlated more strongly with longevity than any other thing. If you use one hand, you tip forward, you kind of get on one knee, you'd get some points subtracted. They did an extensive study down there.
Another thing is, keeping up your general strength. They rated grip strength was a better predictor than blood pressure for longevity. All these things point towards strength training. Also, cardiovascular training, a lot of the people are at one end of the strength training field and say, well, strength train and don't rest, your pulse gets up. And it doesn't matter whether its strength training or running. But we could say that about a scary movie could watch a scary movie, your pulse rate goes up, are you getting cardiovascular conditioning enable you to run a marathon or a 10K or 5K. No! It's very specific that aerobic exercise is I think your heart adapts eccentrically versus pon-centrically for resistance training. You need both.
So that means for some people this is training at their condo, gym, or a local gym, and some walking and some stretching or mild yoga exercise. And that's all they're going to need. If they can get to that point consistently show up and do that they're going to be so far ahead of the pack with moderate eating, that's going to be your best bet for longevity, all these other things that we're looking into, chemicals they're looking at. So, implications of improving yourselves are proving your brain your blood sugar, they're going to come down the line but nothing's real specific.
The only thing I see kind of magical would be like stem cells, there's a future in that and it's still a lot of hazy area but there's some pretty cool things going on in that area, as far as getting us longer or like growing an organ, for us that's down the line too. So those are cool things look forward to terms of longevity but what you can do yourself versus what science could do for you is move more, eat properly, and maintain yourself, maintain some muscular strength.
Let's talk about nutrition. What do you think of the foods that we have today and the nutritional content they contain and how can we utilize nutrition for longevity as well?
There is the thing that because the soil is not the soil we had say 100 years ago, which is I would say is consistent, we have a tomato that might have less nutrition because we genetically modify the tomato it might have more nutrition. People think GMOs are bad. Well insulin is a GMO. So, if we take away GMOs anyone who uses insulin is going to die. Also, genetically modified rice provides vitamin A for kids in third worlds who have died blind because don't get enough, they're blind because they don't get enough vitamin A. So, we provide this rice crops for them the kids can see, that's a GMO.
We must understand what science does and what it doesn't. Rather than looking things as good and evil, we must look at the science. They'd like to say go back to this adolescent thinking of black and white, but as far as the nutrition of the food is, we have such abundance in this country, I mean people like to say, well Americans are fat. Go to Europe no one's, everyone's thin. Yeah, but you know gasoline is $5 a gallon. People walk everywhere because a lot of people don't own cars not because they're poor it's just it's not practical. They have city transportation and so forth. It's a different lifestyle.
What we have here is a massive amount of abundance. You go to the grocery store and there's three or four types of bell peppers. They're two types of avocados. They're six different types of lettuce. There's every type of meat. Think of Russia in the cold war and pictures of grocery stores where the shelves were empty. You only see that like right before a hurricane. When like all the Doritos are gone from a grocery store and the shelves are empty.
So, we have an abundance and so we have better choice. People aren't using correctly. I'll go to the grocery store and I see what people, I I've taken pictures of it which is nasty I guess, but you know getting someone ahead of you like, what exactly that group of foods are you eating. Like, what is this, six types of blue soda that you're buying. I don't understand it. And all those foods are available in every grocery store, you could eat at a gas station healthfully. You could eat at McDonald's healthfully. What I recommend it every day? Because when you buy in a restaurant or you buy packaged foods the sodium levels are higher and the fat levels generally higher to make a tasty. The least of your problems oh the additives and chemicals they have. That's the least of anyone's problems.
These are people usually have an abundance of body fat or smoker have lack of exercise in their life. They're talking about things like GMOs or hormones and chicken and things like that that's the least of their problems. There problem is eating too many chicken tinder’s. That's the problem. You know fried crust and all that stuff. The problem is not picking fresh chicken, fresh fish, lean beef, lamb, the sea foods these things in variety. Mixing them up variety.
Adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fresh vegetables healthy grains, if that's a proper choice for you. Good fruits, berries and then having good fats from almonds and macadamia nuts, and Brazil nuts, and olive oil, and things like that. That variety exist here to choose. People are just poor choosing. We have too much. Like TV, I used to have three channels and educational TV. Yeah, when we said there was nothing on, there was nothing on! Now people have 150 channels and say, you watching TV? Ah, there's nothing on and I'm on YouTube. And I'm getting there too. Oh, you're bored on YouTube? So, the person bored on YouTube is going to go to a grocery store and say look at all this package food. That's why America's fat. Fact is I could shop at the same grocery store and get wonderful foods. It comes down to a process of choosing it correctly.
So, having some sort of activity where you're having cardiovascular training, strength training, and really, you mentioned, just looking at what you're eating, right? Looking at what are the options. What tips would you give for somebody who is wanting to start to be more physically active?
Of course, it's like it's like patting myself on the back, I'd say get good instruction. Then people say what is good instruction, and then they give you the resume of their trainer, their fitness leader, and they're not trained in the science. They may be a good doctor or may be a good like lawyer or realtor or selling you know Ferrari's and be very knowledgeable in that area. But they get in and they say what are you doing that took a Zumba classes. So okay, you're active. That's better than nothing. Why did you take it? Why, I saw the butt on the Zumba instructor, and I want a butt like hers? Okay, and I'm like, that's great. You know, if you had her parents it might be a possibility. And so, they don't have an educated idea that because their trainer was a former Junior Mr. America, he might know how to train all the muscles, that he probably does. But you're not going to get nearly the results he does unless you have his genetics, but you'll get some results. But the fact of the matter is, you need some instruction.
Second of all is training is not magic. If you're into fat loss, which a lot of people have to be because we're very over fat as a nation. You don't burn that many calories working out. If anybody is reading the things on the treadmills, the steppers and ellipticals about how many calories they burn. That's a pipe dream. That's just a guesstimate. That's like a broad side of a barn. It's just huge. You burn very few calories exercising. I mean, Lance Armstrong had to watch what he ate. Think about it. No one is listening audience trains with the volume of Lance Armstrong. They might train is hard. They might be as focused on it. They might be as dedicated, but the sheer volume of training he did. No one approaches it. And when he's asked on the TV show, do you watch your weight, like you probably burn all types of calories you can eat anything you want.
He says, no, I watch my weight. An extra pound on the bikes is going to kill me. So, it was shocking to them that there's a limit to how much, and I read a small booklet, a small ebook several years ago, and it was called, you can outrun a donut. And it's a bet that I could sit and eat donuts, and we could add up the calories, and you go out the door and you run hard and fast as you can until you're exhausted, and Uber picks it up and take you back. Then we measure the calories you burn versus the calories I ate. I will always out eat you. I will out each you in the first 10 minutes.
Okay, so this is the formula isn't there. But when you hack away at it, you walk two miles, say two and a half three miles a day, which is a nice relaxing walk. Yeah, 200, 200 calories, maybe 250 calories, something like that. So you add that up. Okay, you know, 14 days, maybe that's a pound of fat. But when you take 500 calories out of your diet, now you're starting to talk. Now predictably get like a pound of fat a week. Specifically, if you're heavier person, you're like 250 pounds and over the fat loss is greater. Fatter people are fat burning machines. The closer you get to lean, the harder it is to lose fat and maintain the muscle. But that's something most people will never have to worry about. Those are elite athletes or people very serious about their training who want to be lean. That's the least of anyone's problems.
I've trained guys, 300 pounds 250 pounds and they could lose fat immensely quickly. And because they're so big, they have so much surface area and just getting up walking across the room they burn more calories and so forth because they must lug this stuff around. So, adding up walking with some weight training and a nice reduction in calories in the diet. You put those two together, it's very healthy. You're not going to out exercise a bad diet. Okay, you'll get younger athletes eating fast foods in the Olympics because huge volume of training optimal harmonization, most notably there will be drug use, which is way better.
Don't kid yourself and haven't caught up with lazier habits. Like at a certain age of my age. Someone I say, Oh, I go play racquetball at lunch. So someone says, oh, want to go out and eat lunch today? Okay. So you skip racquetball. When you're 22, and you're ready to chow down on a sandwich. Someone says, hey, you want to go to play touch football? You drop the sandwich and play touch football. Your habits and priorities change with age and there's an optimal. Either one is not right or wrong, but there's an optimal range. If you're skipping every racquetball session for, you know, a whopper, there's a price to pay for that.
Also, if you're skipping the Whopper for just racquetball, the chances you're not going to be nourished. Not that whoppers are the best meal, but the fact that there's a balance between the two. Your priorities change with age. You can't out exercise a bad diet. You can have a huge volume of training. Look at two days in training camp for football teams. The running backs are lean and jacked but on the line, they have big strong dudes, they got 600 pound benches, but they got big guts on them. And they're prone to have some problems that heart disease later in life.
Yes. So, Tom, you have authored several books, you're available online, tell me how you, and including, you also teach people in-person and also have an online program. Tell me how can people get in touch with you?
That's very simple. I am at tomfurman.com, that is my domain and very easy contact. Googling me Tom Furman and fitness and you will get many contacts from me for articles and books I've written. I've done a body weight program called, Armor or War. I've done one very specific for athletes in fighting called, Combat Rock. Another one that covers my general training ideas as you age called, Train for Life. And those are ebooks available on my website.
Once again, Tom from tomfurman.com, and if people want to train with me online, specifically, drop me a line on there. I am more than happy to get a person set up and deal with things like I have a client who recently just signed up who travels a huge amount. So that means programming workouts for hotel gyms or even the hotel room. So that would be one thing other people might have caught like a bad neither bone on bone in there, Nate. I have one client bone on bone. He had a bicep reinserted on his arm about three years ago. So we have to deal with problems around that. So it isn't everybody has a special injury in freezer consistent, you live an active lifestyle and we manage that and we get the optimal program.
That's why it's individualized. A lot of individual time you don't go to a website, check out a workout, check out a diet and then just report into me and pay me It doesn't work that way. I have an intimate relationship with all my clients while standing will those who listening once again it's Tom Herman f you are ma n.com come from and calm.
Tom, I want to thank you for your time today. Thank you for all the tips and information that you provided here for listeners. So for all those listening once again, tomfurman.com. I'll be adding this information in the show notes. Once again, I'm Anthony Treas from strongmencoaching.com and until next time, stay STRONG!
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