Train to Thrive Past 40

Five training secrets to feeling your best as you age

You can teach an old dog new tricks

Step outside of your comfort zone. It’ll be good for you. Novel exercises require the body to work differently, and they provide a new stimulus. Therefore, you’ll reap the rewards of working harder without having to over stress your body in the same taxing way.

If you have been running your entire life, you probably need more strength training. If you are the power lifter- bodybuilder type then you probably need to spend more time doing some mobility/flexibility work. If you are the person who just does flexibility work then balance it out with some strength training.

That being said, keep the focus on what you can still actually do. People always obsess over what they can’t do when they can still do so many exercises to keep them going towards their goals! Personally, I love the barbell when it comes to bench presses, dead lifts, and squats (competed with them for a while) BUT ITS NOT A TOOL I USE MUCH for myself, and those I work with. It is a tool that worked very well for me in my 20’s, but now after decades under that bar, it is not forgiving and causes more injuries than it helps. I had to change my programming around with different variations and new tools to keep me progressing towards my goals.

Train intuitively

Some days you rock up to the gym and you could crush everyone. Other times you barely drag yourself there after a 14-hour work day. Do you think you should train the exact same both days?

Use tools such as biofeedback or RPE scales to intuitively understand where your body is at on a day-to-day basis. 10 reps might seem easy today, but if tomorrow you’re struggling to crank out five, your perceived exertion could be the same with totally different workouts. In the same vein, if you’re cruising through 30 reps when you’re meant to be doing 12-15, quit being lazy and maximize your good training days.

The same goes for exercises prescription. I like to give clients a choice of a few exercises I’d like them to hit in a training plan. Meaning, if I want them to do a squat movement, I might give front, back, goblet, landmine or even single leg squats as an option. The best movement not only varies by individual, but also by how your body responds to it on the day. By using biofeedback testing, your body will tell you which motor pattern it prefers. And why waste energy trying to swim upstream? Go with what your body feels is right, and save that extra energy for moving weights and feeling better.

Finally, if you have kids, stress, own a business, a crazy boss, or any of the other things that come along with living that adult life, listen up. Go ahead and try that 7 day-per-week body part split if you want. Let me know how it works.

Are you destroyed after a few weeks? I’m not surprised.

All of my sessions cover dynamic flexibility, static flexibility, strength, cardio mobility, soft tissue quality, balance, and just about everything in a 45-minute period. If you only have an hour to squeeze in a gym session every day, don’t waste it on only doing cardio for an hour with no warm-up, no isolated strength training, nor any day-to-day assessment.

Real life calls for real life adjustments. Learn to listen to three main factors – your exertion levels, your body’s preferred motor patterns, and your general life stress – and you’ll continue to thrive as you age.

Ask yourself why you’re doing a certain exercise

A hammer is a great tool to have, but I hope you don’t use it for every home improvement project.

People get obsessed over one specific exercise or form of training because so-and-so is doing it. Back squats are king. Barbell snatches are the only way to get explosive. I heard bur pees are the best body weight exercise, so I have to do them until I collapse.

Why? If your goal is to look better, feel better, and have more energy, there isn’t a specific exercise that is going to get you there. For a total body workout, some sort of push, pull, quad dominant, hip dominant and core exercise should be prioritized. But a quick Google search will show there are about a thousand different ways to hit each of these areas.

The magic comes when you are working within a program that puts your needs first. An exercise prescription should be just that, a prescription. It should be different for each person. When a so called professional just has everyone run or whatever without modifications it’s not a good program.

Unless you’re a physical specimen somehow still competing at Olympic levels while pushing 40, don’t focus on trying to beat the 20-something power lifters at their own game. There’s a reason retired NFL athletes have 14 knee replacements – they had to train through that pain to get a paycheck. You don’t. Maybe set the barbell down and do some single arm dumbbell presses, a bottoms-up kettle bell floor press, or a sled pull. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the gains you can make when you work smarter, not harder.

Understand your injury and health history

Remember the common-sense health stuff like flossing your teeth, wearing a seat belt, not smoking, and training smart. Sure, you can live life on the edge, but how long can you go until it catches up with you?

The majority of you work out to look better and feel better. Ironically, something about our culture also glorifies the “no pain, no gain” mantra. Rather than fight through everything, prioritize feeling better, and you can stay in the game long enough to look better. Nothing kills progress like getting injured.

I meet with tons of people each week and it’s a rare case that they are coming to me with no previous injury at all. The most common are shoulder, knee, or low back/hip issues. Whether it’s from an old sports injury, doing chest 15 times a week in college, or degenerative joints and chronic swelling, take care of your body. Check your ego at the door and know that you’re actually doing yourself a favor.

The only time you need to fight through pain is in an actual competition where your ranking matters. Otherwise, modify things! If it hurts more than just making your muscles tired, it’s time to change it up. Grab a lighter weight or swap an exercise out entirely.

What’s even more tricky? Too often the injury is not where you feel the actual pain! For example, when I see someone with a low back injury, 9 times out of 10 they lack hip mobility and flexibility. That shoulder issue might come from terrible posture and you probably need more rows then to continue pushing over and over again. That knee issue might be coming from lack of ankle mobility. We address soft tissue with the foam roller before each session because it’s usually a missing link in most programs. That’s not saying a foam roller will solve all of your problems, but a little self-care goes a long way. Your body is connected. Like I said before, maintain a balance of flexibility, joint mobility, multidirectional stability, strength and cardiovascular fitness. Take the time to do extras. Which leads me to the final point.

Recover harder

Just because you feel better an hour after your workout doesn’t mean you’re fully recovered. A chronic injury will still be there. Your body is still fighting to rebuild its glycogen stores, remove inflammation, and restore your body to baseline. It can take up to 72 hours to fully recover, even when you’re a young whipper-snapper. Add age to that, and you’re constantly trying to catch up.

But there’s good news! Plenty of exercise physiologists and people in white coats have done the work to discover how to speed up this process. Eating well, sleep, and hydrating are the first steps. There’s absolutely no substitution for proper fuel and a good night’s rest. Additionally, hydrotherapy, massage, compression and elevation, or active recovery such as a light bike can move the fluids and toxins around your body. In short – the good stuff arrives and the bad stuff goes away more quickly.

Periodize deloads

You can’t go hard 100% of the time. A good general rule of thumb is take some time to deload. The amount might vary based on your weekly training load or overall schedule, but plan to take a bit off and go easy. Lower the weights, decrease volume, and focus on your form. Grab a few friends and go for a hike, or work on a few tight areas and mobilize them. Whatever it is, give your body some time to catch up and rebuild.

No, this is not an excuse to sit around and drink beer all day. Movement heals, so apply exercise to your advantage. Use your good friend the RPE if you want, and work up to a light sweat where you’re still smiling through it.

Final thoughts

Learn how to train when life gives you lemons.

Plan for it. Deal with it. It will happen. When I see people say, “well now is the not the right time to start or sign up because everything in my life is not perfect yet”…I cry, laugh,  go Samuel l Jackson on a med ball, and then scream at my computer to resist the urge to punch through it. THIS. IS. THE. REASON. YOU. NEED. IT. THE. MOST! If you have recently picked up some momentum with your fitness program, don’t just stop because you did not lose 50lbs in the past 3 weeks.  That big box gym or franchise that pops up every other week, does not care about you when life starts getting rough. You need help with the other 23 hours, not just the one you spend in the gym. Grab a coach or a workout buddy and create a plan for imperfection.

***It’s time to prioritize you!! – Hopefully you want to see your kids grow up, have the energy to help your parents, and just overall live your life! Good luck doing those things if you don’t have your health. Block it out on your calendar, and get some help!! Where is your money and your time going now? If its towards fast food, or keeping up with the Kardashians, then you might want to re-evaluate. Make the decision first. Don’t try to figure it out first. This is where we come in! I know you have been jaded by the fitness industry, and for good reason…BUT WE ARE DIFFERENT!  I have seen people with worst circumstances that made a few sacrifices, and it was the best decision of their life.