Few things are as divorced from reality as your typical “over 40” fitness article.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as their respective authors are typically 25 year-olds with social media profiles filled with self-serving selfies yet very few actual mid-life clients.
What really irks me though is the whole “one size fits all” approach.
Certainly there are a few universal truths that apply to most every 40-something fit person (or wanna-be fit person).
Age requires more attention be paid to cardiovascular health, lipids, and joint mobility, all while keeping both day-to-day and overall recovery in check. And being 40 means guys get to add fun yet intimate prostate exams to our dwindling social calendars.
But to suggest that Father Time is the only guy calling the shots is a load of horseshit.
Just compare the physique of any 40-something whose been banging the weights for 25 years to one whose been pounding Pabst Blue Ribbon and riding the couch.
One size fits all, my arse.
So as a shot to all the weak sauce “over 40” advice that’s better suited for 75 year-old lawn bowlers, I’m going to share “the secret” to looking and feeling great well into your 40s and beyond.
Actually, my twin The Rock (I can’t go to malls because I constantly get mistaken for him) beat me to it in the movie Central Intelligence, when his character explains how he got so incredibly jacked:
“I just did one thing: I worked out six hours a day, every day, for the last twenty years straight.”
And that’s really it. That’s the big secret: If you train hard and consistently most every day for a very long time (just not six hours a day), you will make very good progress.
The actual program you follow isn’t nearly as important.
Any non-moronic one that encourages progression will do.
Now some non-moronic programs are definitely better than others, and a good coach can help you figure that out and shave off years of trial and error and frustration.
But the fact remain: regardless if you train high reps or low reps, low volume or high volume, if you stay consistent and stay hungry for the long haul, you will get “there.”
Or at least really damn close.
Just remember, we’re talking about your “there,” as in your genetic potential.
Which isn’t the same as mine or your buddy’s or The Rock’s, and certainly not some imaginary 40-year old dweeb dreamed up by an out of touch Instagram fitness “authority” writing for clicks.
So if sticking it out is the key, then the best advice is stuff that supports consistency; that keeps you on track and in the game, year after year, evolving with you through each passing phase in life.
And there’s a lot more to it than just including a mobility circuit or taking an extra serving of fiber a day.
1) Make it a priority – and then hammer it down.
Gyms are full of 20-somethings “challenged” by schedules that center around working out and Facebook. Often both at the same time.
All I can say is, enjoy those days son. Cause just finding time to train becomes the new struggle once you add a career and a kid or two into the mix.
To stay on track you need to designate your health/fitness/biceps size a priority, but that’s meaningless unless you reinforce it with mercenary time management.
In my experience it helps to apply one of two classic Steven Covey-isms: do first things first (make exercising the first thing you do every morning), or “move the big rocks first” (when planning your week, schedule workouts before other more urgent but less important to-do’s).
The truly committed do this automatically, though like tracking calories, it’s a good practice to revisit when life gets truly hairy.
2) Weave workouts into your overall lifestyle.
New clients will often overestimate the amount of free time they have and commit to training schedules that prove to be too robust. Then they miss workouts and “fall behind” (or at least start to feel that way) and finally flame out altogether.
The key is to consider ALL your obligations and either leave a bit of “schedule” in the tank as a buffer, or follow a common sense training program that allows for a little flexibility.
That way being forced to skip a workout doesn’t mean your legs don’t get hit again until next St. Patricks Day.
It’s like training volume: it’s much better to start slightly under your capacity and then build upon success then it is to fall apart and then try to pick up the pieces.
3) Use better metrics to measure progress.
There’s more to a workout than the amount of weight lifted or the number of reps. And there’s more to progress than just your scale weight.
Focusing on just a handful of short-term outcomes like these only leads to frustration and cause you to miss some subtle but positive things happening below the radar.
Sure, the weight and reps is important but how did the workout feel? How smooth was each exercise? Did you get a better pump or feel greater muscle engagement?
Scale weight tells you very little on its own. How do your clothes fit? Has your bloodwork improved?
Furthermore, since consistency is so important, I encourage using a point system to evaluate consistency every week.
Each day you workout and follow your diet is worth two points. Hit one but not the other gets you one point. Blowing off both training and nutrition earns you the big goose egg for the day.
At the end of the week tally up your seven day total.
If your weekly score is consistently above 12 then you’re well on your way. If it’s closer to 7 then you’ve got work to do.
4) Don’t get hurt.
Injury probably sidetracks more lifting “careers” than being busy and changing priorities combined.
This is where the “grizzled gym vets” are actually worse off than those late to the iron game.
Not only do they have a litany of aches and pains to work around, they also tend to forget they even have them and then try to train like they’re still 19.
If avoiding injury is your goal (and to achieve consistency it should be) you need to follow a few rules and stick to them, no matter how “good you feel.”
- Avoid very low reps. There’s absolutely no need to ever perform a one-rep max if your goal is physique development. Fact is, anything below 4 reps typicaly isn’t nesessary.
- Avoid “contraindicated” exercises. While no exercise is an absolute no-fly zone for everybody, things like dips, behind the neck presses, and upright rows should be approached with caution by anyone over 40. And if any of those lifts has snakebit you in the past then I’d avoid them completely. A good program built by experienced coaches who know what they’re doing can save you a lot of painful aggravation.
- Make reps harder not heavier. A key tenet of training economy (and training longevity) is getting more out of less. While adding more weight to an exercise is a solid form of overload, tricks that increase tension and force the muscle work harder without additional load (drop sets, rest/pause sets, iso-holds) are safer and perhaps even better for muscle growth.
- Reduce and divide. As you get older and recovery demands increase, you need to keep overall volume per session in check but still provide enough stimulation to get a training effect. In my experience it helps to use less volume in a workout but hit the muscle more frequently, up to three times per calendar week.
- Take a load off. Training hard for an extended period of time requires knowing when to not train hard, or not train at all. Reducing volume and/or intensity every 6-8 weeks and taking a week off entirely every 12-16 weeks is a good rule, though it makes even more sense to schedule these breaks with your work or personal schedule.
So if you have a family vacation upcoming and haven’t taken a week off in months, why not pull back then? Or you can be that guy who plans his yearly vacation around finding a hotel gym with dumbbells to 200 pounds and a reverse hyper.
5) Shift Your Thinking.
Some people love to talk about the discipline involved in maintaining their long-term diet and exercise strategy. The delaying gratification, the “sacrifice,” the buying chicken in bulk, oh my!
I realized years ago how silly this type of thinking is.
If I really hated this process and found it to be such a grind, I simply wouldn’t do it. There’s no gun to my head and I’m certainly not a masochist.
So then it occurred to me. The fact that I’ve lasted so long in this lifestyle must mean that I LOVE it. And not just the working out – the cooking and shopping and avoiding drive thrus – I love it all.
Even the all too frequent trips to the masseuse and the chiropractor for the necessary tune-ups. I love that too.
Making this mind-shift never fails to improve outcomes becomes it’s the number one thing you can do to foster consistency.
We want to do what we love yet we also have to do what we need.
But there’s no law that says those two things can’t be one one in the same.