In 2013, Mike Simpson was still running missions in Afghanistan with the US Special Forces. He was 48 years old. How did he keep up? He combined three decades of Special Forces training, the ancient wisdom of martial arts, and his own specialized knowledge as a doctor of emergency medicine assigned to the joint special operations command. In his new book, Honed: Finding Your Edge as a Man Over 40, Mike makes his unique formula available to the general public, teaching you how to reach peak physical condition in your 40s, 50s, and beyond, so you can compete with men half your age.
You’ll learn how to maintain and build muscle through longevity optimization and you’ll be training step by step for long-term performance through proven science-backed programs of exercise, nutrition recovery, and natural supplementation. If you think you’re past your prime, think again. In Honed, Mike Simpson proves that it’s not too late to find your edge and live the lifestyle of a warrior athlete.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey Listeners! My name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Mike Simpson, author of Honed: Finding Your Edge as a Man Over 40. Mike, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Mike Simpson: Thank you, Drew, thank you very much for having me on.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick it off! Can you give us a rundown of your background and, forget about the book for a moment, just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mike Simpson: Certainly. I am a small-town boy, still consider myself a small-town boy even at age 55. Although, I was born in the South Bay area of Los Angeles— specifically in Redondo Beach, California— I spent my formative years in a little town called Tehachapi, which is up in the mountains of southern California. Really small, graduated 102 out of 122 in my high school class. Two weeks out of high school, I enlisted in the United States Army on an airborne ranger contract. I did four years in the 1st Ranger Battalion.
After that, I pursued a career in Special Forces, first as a Demolition Sergeant and ultimately as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant. After about 15 or so years, I figured out I didn’t have a retirement plan but I really like doing medicine. I decided to pursue a career as a physician. I let the Army pay for it, with the understanding that I would come back to the special operations community as a physician, which I ultimately did as an emergency medicine physician.
I retired after 32 years in the United States Military and I live now here in the great State of Texas where I continue to be a practicing EM physician and a SWAT physician.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, congrats on your retirement, and thank you so much for your service. I have to ask, why was now the time to share these stories in the book? You’ve been in service for a while— I don’t know if you’ve been retired for a while now but, why was the moment now that you needed to talk about physical fitness over 40?
Mike Simpson: You know, it’s been something obviously that I had to continue to embrace. I mean, in the first half of my military career, it was an operational necessity. I was an operator, obviously, you have to be extremely physically fit to be an operator both in the Rangers and the Special Forces. Since I returned to the community as an EM physician, although I wasn’t necessarily held to the same standard, as the operators, I still worked very closely with them and in a direct support role which meant, I had to be physically fit. I had to put on a full kit. I had to walk long distances. I had to be up all night on reverse cycle, doing missions in a deployed setting. I had to continue to maintain a state of fitness.
It’s something that I kind of had to figure out myself since I was aging at this point. I mean, I was an intern at age 40. I was 43 when I got assigned to the joint medical augmentation unit and that’s a pretty challenging time to stay physically fit. I was often doing a lot of my own research to figure out what I needed to do as far as diet, as far as rest, recovery, sleep, supplementation… everything.
Later on down the road after I’d been doing this a little while— and kind of by trial and error because there’s not a lot of good guidance out there, especially for guys my age— I started The Mind of the Warrior Podcast and through that podcast, I found out that I wasn’t alone in this pursuit, that I was getting a lot of emails and they all kind of started following the same themes. “Doc, what supplements do I need to take? Doc, what should I be doing about my diet? Doc, how do I work out when I’m working a crazy schedule and I’m on the road? Doc, what do I do about back pain?” I was answering all the same questions over and over and over again.
I started integrating the answers to those questions in the podcast but ultimately, it dawned on me, “You know what? I just need to write this in book format.” I need to save everybody else all the peace-meal research that I had to do and put it together in one book so they have one easy reference that they can follow and it’s easier for them to navigate the same questions that I had.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you were writing the book; it seems like you’ve experienced it yourself, you do a podcast, you talk about this often but, during the writing process, maybe by doing some research or just by digging deeper, did you have any major breakthroughs or learnings along your writing journey?
Mike Simpson: I think it just kind of crystallized it for me if anything. Really, it helped me double down on what I already knew but maybe had gotten a little bit away from as far as practice. To give you a good example of that, I had started the book and I was probably midway through writing the book, December of last year. This was around the height of COVID and I went to a defensive tactics course. It was a week-long course where I was in the training room, eight-hour days, definitely the oldest guy in the room working with a lot of law enforcement officers.
I felt really good at the end of that week that I had kept up in all of the training, I had held my own in all the training events, been in there sparring with them full speed, felt amazing and then I stepped on a scale that weekend and I saw that I was heavier than I had ever been in my life, I weighed 197 pounds. I was like, “Wow, you know what? Yeah, I’ve been following my own advice when it comes to my workout routine and when it comes to my supplementation routine but not when it comes to my dietary routine,” because I had started eating like garbage during COVID.
That was a crystallization moment for me and I said, “Wow, dude, you’re halfway through writing this book. People are going to look to you as an example. Is this the example that you want to set?” It really helps me refocus and realize that hey, this isn’t just about putting these words on paper, this is about continuing to live this and you really do need to continue to live this and practice what you preach.
Fitness Is For Everyone
Drew Appelbaum: Now, when you were writing the book, in your mind, who were you writing this book for? Is this for people who are totally out of shape that are still on the couch right now? Or these people who, like you mentioned, have been going through motions, doing regular workouts but are just seeing the performance decline?
Mike Simpson: In general, I see the avatars for this book is as broadly falling into four different categories and there’s a lot of overlap between the categories. Some people may see part of themselves in each category or none of themselves in any of these categories.
In general, I find that you have the people who at one time in their life were in really good shape, whether that meant being they were a high-level athlete in high school or college or they went into the military at a young age, they were physically fit, getting up every morning, doing PT. They felt really good about themselves. Time has progressed, they’ve pursued higher education, pursued a job, a family and they’ve gotten away from that but they still remember what that felt like. They still remember that overall wellness, that sense of purpose and they kind of crave to get that back. So, that’s one category.
Another category is the people who never stopped. The guys who’ve been in shape basically their whole lives. They’re still getting in a workout a few times a week, going out on a weekend, probably getting in a longer workout on the weekends, but they’re noticing, it’s a little bit harder. That if they take two days off, it kind of feels like what a week off felt like maybe 10 years or so. It’s just a little bit more difficult to get that little bit of body fat off, a little bit harder struggling to get that 10-mile time down or to get that deadlift all the way up. That’s category number two.
Category number three are people that somewhere along the line, got injured and they allowed those injuries to sideline them completely and for that reason, they’ve completely gotten away from fitness. That’s number three.
Number four are what I call the “late bloomers”. They’ve never had a big focus on it but they look in the mirror or on the scale now and they don’t necessarily like what they see. They see others who are physically fit and have a better sense of overall health and wellness and they kind of long for that. I have something in the book for all four of those groups. If you’re a man over 40 and you fall into any one of those groups, I have an approach that’s right for you.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, to dig in the book itself, and you sort of mentioned this earlier, you’re an Army Ranger for quite some time. You left to go get your medical degree. Talk about that decision, how hard was it for you to actually leave combat, leave the battlefield, leave a base, go get your medical degree, which could be extremely lucrative in the civilian world, and then actually head back into the military.
Mike Simpson: Yeah, it was a challenging decision for me in a lot of ways. Maybe not initially because when I first started the process to complete my undergraduate which I did on active duty. We weren’t at war. This was pre-9/11 and it was actually during 9/11. To give you some framework, I was in a place called Larandia, Colombia when 9/11 occurred and the day before 9/11— or maybe not the day before but a couple of days before— I was on a satellite phone, talking to the admissions office at one of the medical schools where I had applied, making sure that all my paperwork was in line.
I was in the process of doing interviews at that time to get into medical school and 9/11 happened. When 9/11 happened and the realization that we were going to be at war, I took a step back and I strongly considered withdrawing my applications for medical school. Ultimately, my company sergeant major pulled me off to the side and he said:
“Look, I’ve been around long enough that I can tell you, this war is not going anywhere. This is not going to be— this isn’t Granada, this isn’t Panama, this isn’t even Desert Storm. This is going to be a protracted conflict. What we’re going to need in the long term is guys like you who have walked in our shoes, walked in our boots so to speak, and understand the operational environment and can come back and contribute as a physician. You just being another Special Forces medic, yeah, we’re a little bit short on those but I can always get more of those. To get a physician in the community that understands the operator mindset, that’s different. I don’t want you to delay going to medical school and ultimately, make a mistake that would not only be a detriment to you but possibly a detriment to the fighting force.”
I really took those words of encouragement to heart and I never forgot that. All through medical school and all through residency, my eye was always on keeping that promise to myself and to the community. To give back to the special operations community and care for those who are at the tip of the spear. Because although I knew that I was never going to be the fastest guy, I was never going to have the highest bench press, sometimes I was the best shot, not all the time. I knew that as a physician, I could maximize my own natural talent in giving back to that community in providing mission enhancement to that community. Because that was one less thing that they would have to worry about is who is going to take care of me if I got shot.
Drew Appelbaum: You also discovered, heading back in, that the approach you had to fitness and mission readiness, that really served you well in your 20s and 30s wasn’t sufficient anymore to prepare you and sustain you for missions in your 40s. What did you notice that was happening that was different in your 40s than in earlier days?
Mike Simpson: Yeah, when I was in my 20s and my 30s, I could go long periods of time without any serious thought to fitness. Okay, something’s coming up, I need to whip myself back in shape. All right, I’m going to go out on day one, I’m going to run three miles as fast as I can, afterwards, I’m going to do a bunch of pushups and a bunch of sit-ups and then the next day, I’m going to go four miles and then the day after that, I’m going to go five. Each day, I am going to add more pushups and sit-ups and by the end of about a week— I used to call it cleaning the gunk out of my carburetor— by the end of the week, I’d feel like kind of, “Okay, I’m back in it again.” Two weeks at the absolute, outside. You know, that was the longest that ever took me to feel like, “Okay, I’m back in the groove again.” That didn’t get me all the way back to fitness but it got me on a solid enough foundation that I could work out without worrying about harming myself and then I could keep up.
When I was in residency and, all the time, from age 40 to 43 going through EM residency, working terrible shift work, eating like absolute crap, never having enough sleep, when I did have time to work out, I just never felt like I was getting back in that groove again. I’m like, “What am I doing wrong? What am I doing wrong?” So, I started reading books. I started talking to people that were in better shape than I was. I started looking at what was out there that I didn’t know because it was very much – this was the 2000s and I was very much working out with a 1980s mindset when it came to what I was doing because that is how I’ve been raised. I started looking at what else was out there, what else should I be doing, what other types of exercises. What am I going to do to prevent my knees from blowing out? To prevent my lower back from locking up?
I had a more scientific and more educated approach to fitness at that point. And thankfully, the Army had invested this money in me, both tuition assistant to get my undergraduate degree in health science and my medical degree. So, I had all of that information at my disposal and I had a lot of really educated colleagues at my disposal as well, who I could call on at any time and ask their opinions.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, how much do you think your actual medical training helped you dig in really to what was happening and why?
Mike Simpson: I think it helped immensely. Simply because understanding the process of what we need as far as fuel, as far as sub-straight for energy, for building blocks to build muscle, what we need in the manner in the way of supplementation to aid in healing, what we need as far as recovery— because that was a big thing. That was probably the biggest thing that I didn’t understand as a young man was how important rest and recovery is.
To me, every day that you went to work out— the me in my 20s— every day that I went to work out, it was you work out until complete exhaustion and that’s a good workout. No eye at all on what I was doing for active or passive recovery. No eye at all on what I was doing to get the proper sleep or anything like that. Now, understanding that because it is even more important as we age, I was able to take those rest periods when I needed to.
Take days that I worked on nothing but flexibility and mobility, not on strength endurance, or power. To do de-load periods. To eat the proper foods. To take the proper supplements and get plenty of rest overall. It was a much better approach, although out of the gate, it felt like it took longer because I wanted to be in shape again right now. I knew that that really just wasn’t feasible.
What’s Keeping You From Being Healthy?
Drew Appelbaum: For most folks who are coming to you or that you find that are out there that are really trying to recapture that feeling of health and vigor, what have you found that’s been really standing in their way? What have those roadblocks been that careen them to the out-of-shape world if you will?
Mike Simpson: I would say for most people, before they even come to me and ask me the question, what’s in their way is them. I like to say that success is what happens when you run out of excuses and a lot of people like to make excuses. Whether it’s, “I don’t have the money for a gym membership.” Burpees cost nothing. Running outside costs nothing. Jumping jacks, pushups, flutter kicks, all of these things costs nothing. You can’t afford weights? Do you have a book in your house? Do you have a doorstop in your house? Can you jack up your car and take the tire off and use that as a weight for a while? I mean literally, the world is full of heavy things that you can lift up and put back down again, so money is not an excuse.
The other thing I get is time. “Well, you know I’m busy. I work and I have this.” Well, did you watch TV today? Did you pursue a hobby today? Did you do anything that’s non-constructive today aside from going to work, commuting to and from work, and preparing your meals? There is always time. There is always time that you can make but we’ve allowed all of these other things in society to encroach on that time. Time and money, the two biggest excuses that I see out there.
The next thing, by the time people come to me it’s that they just don’t have a good roadmap, especially as far as nutrition goes. Because everybody has been sold this bill of goods, where we are barraged 24/7 with all of these commercials about this incredibly delicious food that is so bad for you. I am always amazed when I watch something later in the evening and it is clearly after dinner hours when people shouldn’t even be thinking about eating and all of these commercials showing these extreme close-ups of shiny slices of pepperoni and bacon-cheese burgers and all of this other stuff. I’m like, “Wow, this is a huge disservice to people” like nobody at 7:30 at night— your dinner meal should be done and you should be thinking about getting some rest. You definitely shouldn’t be getting tempted by all of these foods. I certainly hope nobody is getting in their car and going to get this, but since those commercials are out there, I’m sure they are. Just all the disinformation campaign that’s been levied against everyone— you have all the advertisements from the food companies, the fast-food companies, the pre-packaged food companies.
Then we have a medical establishment that doesn’t do a really good job of standing up against that, rather than say, “You’re responsible for your own health, you are responsible for what you put into your body, don’t pursue fad diets.” But instead, the medical community says, “Okay, when all of that stuff starts to take its toll, come and see us and we’ll give you a pill that makes your blood pressure better” or “We’ll give you a pill that helps you keep your blood sugar under control.” Rather than say, “You need to drink water and not soda. And you need to not eat crap and you need to do some burpees and some sit-ups.”
Drew Appelbaum: Now, the title of the book— and I think we’ve been talking about it is, men over 40 and how to get back into it— but I think after checking out the book that it’s really motivational no matter how old you are or really what sex you are. Is there something that you would suggest for younger folks or even women to potentially modify what you talk about in the book so they could take these lessons home with them as well?
Mike Simpson: I certainly think that somebody in their 30s and maybe even as young as their 20 could benefit from reading the book, giving them an eye to what they have in store for them as their body ages and especially as it applies— you know, I talk about performance optimization versus longevity optimization and I think that’s a lesson that if you learned in your 20s. Don’t try to live on that credit card now, pushing yourself too hard, not getting rest, not getting recovery, not eating right because you will have an issue with that as the interest accumulates later on, which you’re going to ultimately have to pay in your 40s and 50s.
As far as for women, I certainly think there’s a ton of things in the book that they can benefit from. Probably the only chapter that sticks out that’s truly very male-centric is the chapter where I specifically talked about health maintenance because I talk about things like prostate health, getting your PSA checked. There is no information on there that would be useful to women and they’re an entirely different set of medical needs. But I certainly think the guidelines that I put down for diet, for exercise, for rest, for sleep— I certainly think those are not gender-specific nor they’re age-specific.
Drew Appelbaum: You also say that reading the book in one pass isn’t going to set you up for success. How do you suggest people use the book and incorporate it into their daily lives?
Mike Simpson: I think the best way to approach the book is to sit down with the book with a highlighter, a pen, and a notepad. I am very old-fashioned that way, I believe in a notepad. I think you should highlight things in the book that stick out to you that are changes you need to make or things you want to incorporate. I think you should write in the margins of the book. And then off to the side of that notepad, I think you should be writing a grocery list, writing a reminder of things to look for when you’re looking for a gym, when you’re looking for a personal trainer, when you are looking for a martial arts academy.
Keep all those notes, make yourself a checklist. I’m big on checklists. I think if you make a checklist, you get things done. Make that checklist as you are writing the book and then come back to the book. Six months down the road when you’re wondering, “Am I following everything in this?” or maybe you start to have trouble sleeping because now you’re working out more or you’ve gotten off the rails a little bit on diet, go back and reread that chapter. Look at what you’re doing physically and if you are honestly making improvements in physical fitness and if you’re not, read the chapter on fitness again. See what you might be leaving out.
Start Your Health and Wellness Journey Now
Drew Appelbaum: At the end of the day after a reader finishes the book, what impact do you hope it will have on them and what steps do you hope they’ll take immediately?
Mike Simpson: If I have to sum it up in one word, I would say ownership. I hope people will take ownership of their own health by reading that book and realize that everything— with a few notable exceptions obviously— is within their power to control. They could control what they do for their waking hours, how they spend their restful and sleeping hours, and what fuel they put into their body.
I hope that’s what they will get out of the book and use the book to help chart a new course towards health and wellness to avoid being on blood pressure medications, to avoid pre-diabetes or diabetes. To avoid obesity, cardiovascular disease, all of the things that we have come to accept wrongfully so as normal parts of aging.
Drew Appelbaum: You also mentioned your website, so can you let readers know and listeners know, what they can expect to find and what resources are available on your site?
Mike Simpson: I started the brand, which is all about health and wellness and I’m continuing to build that as we speak. I’m hoping for the website ultimately to be a one-stop-shop for information, links to equipment, to nutritional resources, and to my Greybeard Performance supplement line, which contains all the supplements that I outline in the supplement chapter of the book. Currently, I have two products in my supplement line and ultimately, that’s going to progress to around seven, hopefully fulfilling all of the supplement needs that everyone has.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Mike, you know, we just touched on the surface of the book here but I want to say that writing a book where you’re motivating and you’re helping folks to live better is no small feat, so congratulations on having your book published.
Mike Simpson: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Drew Appelbaum: One last question. If readers could take away only one single thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Mike Simpson: If readers could take away only one single thing from the book, I would want it to be that they are in control. That everything that they have been told about they’re just going to have to accept aging and accept all of the bad things that go along with aging is a complete untruth. They have the power to control their own destiny. They have the power to control their own health and they have the power to live a long life that is full of both quantity and quality.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, Mike, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Honed, and you could find it on Amazon. Mike, besides checking out the book and your website, where else can people connect with you?
Drew Appelbaum: I giggle every time I hear Greybeard Fitness because it is very funny. Well, Mike, thank you so much for spending some time with us today, and best of luck with your new book.
Mike Simpson: Thank you, Drew. Thank you very much.