James “J.R.” Rosania is on a quest for true health. Not just good health or OK health. But rather strategic, mindful wellness for a long and happy life.
This 58-year-old former bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete and professional trainer to athletes from novice to elite, admits he has made a few mistakes along his own journey. And from that experience and knowledge, he is now on a mission to help others.
“What are the components that go into truly being healthy,” he asks rhetorically. “What I know is true is that 99.9 percent of us cannot achieve those abdominal muscles that you see in magazines, so why should we be influenced to believe that defines healthy. It doesn’t.”
Rosania, who was named among America’s Top Trainers by Men’s Journal and Vogue magazines, advocates we step back from what the media dictates is perfect health and instead focus on what’s possible individually.
“People our age are searching for so many answers. They’ve tried everything,” he says. “Let’s focus on changing our diets and exercising every day and let that dictate what changes are possible for our bodies over time.”
Road to True Health
Rosania has seen it all. Over a lifetime of athletic training, he has personally taken his body to every extreme. From competitive swimming to serious bodybuilding, 18 Ironman triathlons and hiking to the top of Mount Rainier, he has pushed and punished his body in every way. He has also witnessed the realities of professional sports as strength and conditioning coach for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and through business, Healthplex Training and Exercise Programs.
In the early 1980s, armed with a degree in exercise science, Rosania moved from his home state of Connecticut to Venice, California to pursue a career as a coach and trainer, and to be closer to the bodybuilding mecca of America. He occasionally got the chance to train alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday and relishes the opportunities he had to learn from a man he looks to as a role model for healthy aging.
“When I look back at my 20s and 30s, I was so ignorant,” Rosania says. “I had that drive and that determination to be successful in several areas of my life, one being fitness.”
Whatever it Takes
And he was willing to do whatever it took to get to the top of his chosen sport. “What happens to us in the earlier years is that our quest can become unhealthy,” he explains. “I did things relative to wanting to be healthy that now I would look back and say, ‘That was pretty unhealthy.’”
He offers up an example, using a photo of himself as a competitive bodybuilder. “What I see this grotesque looking physique and point to it and say that’s the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life. I had 4 % body fat. I looked strong and healthy. But what I had to do to myself to get to that place was truly unhealthy.”
Those unhealthy practices included steroid use, restrictive dieting, lifting massive amounts of weight to increase muscle density, consuming huge quantities of food to gain body mass, eliminating carbs and restricting water.
“I look back at now at 58 years old and while I want to have a really good physique, I would not do a lot of the things I did in my younger years.”
Strongman to Ironman
Rosania is driven by a powerful force to achieve, accomplish and create results, both personally and for his clients. He has coached thousands of athletes over his career, including state and national champions, as well as professional athletes.
In the mid-1980s, he moved to Arizona, where he seriously pursued a newfound passion for the sport of triathlon. “I had watched the 1982 Hawaiian Ironman with Dave Scott and Mark Allen, two of the Ironman gods at that time,” Rosania explains. “They pushed their bodies to places that didn’t seem humanly possible. I said that’s something I wanted to do.
“At the time, I was 280 pounds and competing in bodybuilding. It was almost absurd that I could make that transition. So I spent years training to lose muscle mass.” In five years, he dropped from 275 pounds of lean body mass to 195 pounds of very lean body mass.
In 2004, Rosania was hired by former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman to train for what was supposed to be his first triathlon, the Hawaiian Ironman. The two became fast friends and agreed to do the race together.
Tragically, Tillman was killed in action in April of that year. In honor of Tillman, their friendship, and to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation, Rosania completed the 2004 Hawaiian Ironman World Championships in October 2004.
During his triathlon career, Rosania completed more than 160 races and 18 Ironman events. While the accolades and achievements piled up – including being named an Ironman Triathlon All-American – the years of grueling training took a toll on his body.
Then and Now
“I used to be a great runner,” Rosania says. “But I ran myself into the ground doing all those Ironmans. I put so much wear and tear on my hips and feet that I have a hard time running now.”
His athletic experiences, both personal and professional, have taught him a lesson on balance in his life. And now he is on a mission to discover what true health really means and to share that with others through public speaking engagements and a book he is currently writing.
“I’ve got a lifetime of lifestyle changes that have brought me now to a place where balance, eating well, relationships, how I love my wife and my children, and how I represent myself are a new picture of what it looks like to be healthy,” says Rosania.
Spiritual development also is an important part of Rosania’s journey. “My faith in Christ is the leading force in all I do,” he says. He believes there are significant health benefits acquired through faith, and every person has the potential to find true health by developing their spiritual muscle.
Bodies in Motion
As you might expect, Rosania is an advocate for bodies in movement at every age. “I’m a big believer in doing something every day. Doing something as little as walking can bring health benefits.”
He points out that after 50, four key areas impact athletes: Flexibility, muscle strength, the effects of hormonal changes and the need for more recovery.
“We start seeing physiological declines in the early 40s,” Rosania says. “I’ve seen that in men and women that I’ve worked with at any level – avid exercisers, weekend competitors, and high-level elite athletes. And that means the training approach has to be completely different. “People in their 40s and 50s have a very different capability to recover than people in their 20s or 30s,” he says.
Athletic Training Essentials After 50
Rosania’s approach to training athletes over 50 starts with four essential considerations:
- Ensure sound nutritional habits. Inadequate nutrition means inadequate recovery. Inadequate recovery can lead to overtraining, weight loss, lethargy and sleeplessness. “One of the things I do is to make sure my clients’ nutrition is really solid. They must be nutritionally fortified,” Rosania says.
- Training experience. Understand your training background and experience. From beginners to experienced athletes, each goal starts with a baseline assessment that will influence your training program. “Where we go moving forward has a lot to do with what you’ve done up to that point,” he says.
- Identify strengths and weaknesses. Understand your body’s strengths and potential limitations. Are there previous physical injuries to be considered? If so, it is essential to assess how that will impact and modify your training.
- Leave your ego at the door and trust in the training process. Many 50+ athletes may believe they can train and perform at the same levels they did in their 20s or 30s. Accept that the training approach may be very different as we age. Embrace what we can learn from the process.
J.R. Rosania has served as a strength and conditioning consultant to Yale, Notre Dame, Stanford and Biola University swim teams. He is contributing editor and swim strength development expert for Swimming World magazine. For more about Rosania, visit his website or follow Healthplex Training and Exercise Programs on Facebook. You can also follow his Facebook page.