Blokes training through their 40's and beyond.
As a Personal Trainer now in my 'middle years', I’ve had to reflect on how I train to keep myself in shape, while minimising injuries and the constant niggles. The transition hasn’t been easy!
I’m certainly not a professional athlete and I’ve found my training style has had to evolve significantly over the last 5 – 6 years to deal with longer recovery needs, back issues and slower gains generally. In addition, life has had a tendency to throw up the occasional hurlde…increased demands from work and family, mortgages, school fees, passing parents and the list goes on. So I have a pretty good feel for training through the 40’s and now discovering what comes next!
So I write this article not as an infallible 20 year old, but a bloke who’s been around and felt the struggle at times and this makes me a useful filter!
Professional sports people might have unlimited budgets and fewer demands on their waking hours beyond making themselves fitter and if you want to spend thousands —or tens of thousands — to sleep in an oxygen pod wearing infrared pajamas, then knock yourself out! But for most of us, our focus is on staying pain free, and fitting exercise into an increasingly tight schedule and budget!
So trust the guy with a small business, a bad back, and two kids at private school. Here's what I’ve leaned over the post invincible years…
Build up progressively
If you’re like me (a slow learner), you’ve probably jumped back into the gym after many a break and decided to just go for it. Straight back to where I left off! Now for some of us, that could be a brief lapse of 10, 20, 30 years!! The number of times I’ve been told by older blokes getting back to training that they were gun footballers/runners etc back in the day and then watched them gas out after their warm up…well let me just say, it’s not pretty!
Progression will mean creating a structured program to build up and as specific goals are being reached. For me, it's more about the principles: ramping up training gradually, preparing my body for specific objectives and avoiding fatigue and/or injury. If you’re invited to play some footy and hadn't kicked a ball in years or you’re nursing an injury, I’d be taking it really easy or say thanks but no thanks! Benching yourself sucks, but it doesn't suck as much as tearing a hamstring!
Increased recovery times
Elite lifters end their workouts differently than the rest of us do. Strength coaches talk about loading and unloading i.e. the former should always be followed by the latter. That’s the way I approach training now. "Unloading" usually means yoga, foam-rolling, deep stretching, running in water, or meditating. It encompasses both recovery and range-of-motion work that prevents the sorts of movement limitations and compensations that can build up over time and lead to injuries.
I used to leave stretching ‘until I got home’, code for too busy to stretch! Now I'm fanatical about stretching every morning as I jump out of bed and have a basket full of spikey balls, straps, bands, foam rollers, and tennis balls next to the TV to use while winding down at the end of the day. Committing to recovery is tough if your schedule is packed, but that's a bad tradeoff. Try and sneak some recovery stretching at either end/s of the day when you have fewer distractions and competing demands.
Go hard (and easy)
A percentage of your workouts should be high intensity and the balance, say 80% should be performed at very low intensity. Avoid the most common mistake members make i.e. going too hard and then crashing the next time, or worse giving up because it’s all too hard.
Instead, make your workouts both shorter and more intense. Elite older athletes stay competitive by being more deliberate in their training, focusing their limited time honing specific skills, and correcting their fitness weaknesses. For me, this means identifying and being very specific about what weakness I’m working on before I start. An intentional plan will take you much further than making it up as you go.
Ok, where to start. So much nutrition "science" is junk. If you're eating a healthy diet, lots of different fruits and vegetables, proteins, and whole grains, not too much sugar or processed stuff, and not too much alcohol, you're doing pretty well. But if you want to avoid losing muscle as you age, it's worth making a couple of tweaks. Following the advice of my Nutritionist, Tonina Rizzo, I've increased the protein in my diet as well as the number of times I consume it during the day. Adding protein to anything you eat also lowers its glycemic index, meaning you stay fuller for longer and are less likely to feel the subsequent lows after a spike in blood sugars.
So if I want to have an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie without feeling a sugar crash, try a smear of almond butter on it. I also try to consume 3 to 5 milligrams of creatine powder a day, usually in a smoothie or a glass of milk, just before or after a workout. It's had a noticeable effect on my ability to build and maintain muscle.
Here's where you want to sweat the small stuff
For members with a history of injury or other physical limitations (that's all of us, eventually), the key to optimal fitness is separating desirable training stresses from undesirable ones.
Instead of continually adding weight to an exercise, I'll incorporate a balance element, like doing push-ups with my hands on a BOSU ball or add a second resistance factor such as a resistance band around my knees during squats. Focusing on smaller, neglected muscle groups is not a recipe for getting huge, but it's great for developing functional strength and avoiding injury.
You can teach an old dog new tricks!
Ok, so I'm still stubornly learning to adapt to my age but, what I've learn't is that challenging your body in the same ways day after day for decades is an efficient way to chew up your body, joints and enthusiasm. Challenging yourself in different ways is the perfect approach to longevity. I love watching elite athletes perform and like most regular blokes, I envy what they're able to do. But they should envy us too!
There's nothing like trying something new and sucking at it, and then sucking a little less every time you give it a go. Science hasn't yet made it possible for us to get younger. This quest, getting fitter, faster, and better at what we each love, is the closest thing I’ve found to the fountain of youth.
Run but without the pain
I get it, running is a super efficient way of burning calories and it can leave you feeling amazing as you build up the k’s. But, it burns a lot of calories because it’s hard! On a relative comparison, running will burn more calories than just about any other activity an older bloke will try.
I ran my first half marathon in my fourties, so I understand the attraction. However, it was a six month plan, slowly building up the distance in the legs, engaging in lots of cross training and managing the constant aches such as a stubborn iliotibial band (yes, the pesky ITB!).
During COVID lockdowns, I’m seeing a lot of people hitting the tracks and giving running a go. Generally, I’m seriously impressed with the intention. Often however, it hurts just watching! You can see the new convert is just not having much fun and without any doubt, when it hurts that much, it’s not going to last long enough to make any difference. Worse still, it will lead to injuries!
NOTE: If you feel strongly about taking up running as an older bloke, find a coach who can work with you on it. Learn about pace, distance, optimal heart rate and get advice on the right running gear and do it safely and slowly. Also consider alternative forms of running such as interval running, hill sprints and agility training.
Getting fit and staying fit past your fourties shouldn’t be a grind or a luxury. If you’re not planning on getting old any time soon, then keeping fit is as important as keeping your own teeth!! Find something you love, keep it fresh and keep it consistent, just like brushing your teeth!
If you need help, advice or support, seek out the best possible help you can find. Sourcing the right trainer will change your life.
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