Here’s the scene.
I’m on a FaceTime call with a long-term client. We’re supposed to be reviewing his progress — how training is going, can he squat a Brooklyn-bound L train yet, has he been able to establish a diet rhythm, etc.
Instead we’re picking my program apart. His elbow is a mess. All pull-up variations are out except for using a close, neutral grip.
His left knee pops whenever he steps out of his wife’s Mazda but feels fine doing reverse lunges and squatting. His doctor said to key an eye on it and to call him if the popping turns to pain. And to stop driving his wife’s car.
Finally, his shoulder hurts. Not the bad shoulder that always hurt (that one feels okay) now it’s the good shoulder that’s started aching. His PT says to remove all overhead pressing, most forms of lateral raises, and to “please have your coach work these 12 boring-ass therapy drills into the program.”
My client looking utterly defeated.
“Is this what training is like when you’re old?” he asked, a clear shot at me considering I’m 5 years older than him.
“Is it basically training scared?”
“No,” I replied. “It’s training smart.”
As you get older you have to approach training differently. You don’t have to dump all your favorite “real” exercises, nor are you forbidden from ever “getting after it” again.
You just have to be more calculating, more tactful. Manage fatigue, not chase it. Use the weights to work the muscles, not vice versa. And above all, become highly tuned to those subtle hints from your body.
1. Accept where you are in life. This is the most important step. With hard work and consistency you can elude Father Time and make dramatic improvements in your health and appearance well into your 50s, including getting bigger or leaner.
What doesn’t make the cut, though, is significantly improving limit strength and power. Once you reach 35 or so your prime years for hitting impressive PRs are behind you.
I’m not saying that you can’t get stronger after 40 – you sure as hell can – it’s just that the rules have changed. You don’t have the same neural efficiency and joint integrity that you had 15, 10 or even 5 years ago.
So when you’re cleaning out your desk as I was and find a training log from 2010 that says “Incline Barbell Press: 335 x 1,” don’t get depressed if you can’t do that anymore. (I sure can’t, and my shoulders would hate me if I tried). You can still get after it though, by focusing on some new performance outcomes covered in the next point.
2. Chase New Carrots. Adding weight or reps to an exercise over time is an effective way to get bigger or stronger. But as you get older it becomes difficult to add load consistently, not to mention it exposes the joints to injury.
However, progressive overload isn’t restricted to training loads. There are plenty of other ways to make a workout progressively harder, such as shortening the rest interval, slowing eccentric tempo or adding intra-set pauses, or using extended set techniques like mechanical advantage supersets. Or you can just shoot for higher rep goals, like the next point suggests.
3. Train lighter. Big weights build big, strong, muscles. No sane person would dispute that. But lighter weights also build big muscles, and are much easier to control and pose far less risk of injury. Whether your idea of light is sets of 12, 15, or 25, as long as you hit failure it doesn’t matter.
4. Never Work Through Pain. If you lift weights with even a modicum of effort you will get injured. But if you’re careful you’ll likely never suffer the type of injuries that make “weightlifting fail” videos on YouTube.
However, show me someone in their 40’s whose been training hard consistently that’s not sporting some kind of annoying ache and I’ll fire off the big yellow bullshit flag, something Facebook should really add to their platform in 2018.
As such, “never working through pain” is really “learn to work around pain.” If preacher curls hurt your elbow, then switch to DB curls or cable curls. It’s not the same movement and the recruitment pattern is slightly different, but so what? It’s a damn biceps curl.
Working through an uncomfortable exercise “until the pain goes away” is a gamble at any age. But as you get older its more like Russian Roulette.
5. Use the best form possible. You should have PERFECT form at the start of a lift – from stable foot position to engaged core/low back; elbows, shoulders, and upper back/neck all in place. And it should still be pretty damn good form at the end your set.
Not only is this safer, it also helps create maximum tension, an extremely important factor in muscle growth. It’s also why my number one tip for “bringing up weak bodyparts” is to learn to perform the movements properly, so said bodypart is under maximum tension.
6. Train shorter but more often. Recuperative abilities decrease as we get older, and we also get a hell of a lot busier. So daily two hour workouts becomes the stuff of Instagram models that work for free protein and tanning.
While even 1-2 sessions a week is better than nothing, five 35-minute blasts per week is ideal from a recovery management perspective.
But don’t stress about this. Just get shit done.
7. Adjust volume and intensity more frequently. A popular form of periodization (workout design) is having 6-8 week blocks where volume is the stressor, followed by 6-8 weeks using intensity. This certainly works, but I find exposing the nervous system to the same stimulus for too long quickly leads to a quasi “overtrained” state – or at least shitty workouts.
A great tip that I stole from Christian Thibaudeau and Paul Carter is to alternate volume and intensity every workout.
So a week might look like:
- Monday: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps – Intensity (mainly pressing in the 4-8 rep range)
- Tuesday: Lower Body – Volume (squats, leg presses, leg curls, extensions, etc., in the 12-20 rep range)
- Wednesday: Back & Biceps – Intensity (weighted chin-ups, rows, hammer curls)
- Thursday: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps – Volume (higher rep isolation,unilateral, and cable exercises)
- Friday: Lower Body Intensity – Intensity (deadlifting, front squatting, lower reps)
- Saturday: Back & Biceps – Volume (higher rep isolation, unilateral, and cable exercises)
Here’s how it works. Some days you may be low in energy or mental focus. If it happens to be an Intensity day (which is more mentally demanding), switch to the Volume day and just get as in as much pump & jump work as you can. Make it fun and invigorating, not exhausting. Just be mindful to not avoid ALL intensity days, as they’re a key part of the program. If you’re too gassed for any neurally demanding work then its your lifestyle that needs an overhaul.
Oh and don’t be freaked out by the six days a week. Train when you can train. Take days of as you need them. Stuff will still work.
8. Do Mobility. I hate mobility work. I’m a big believer that the best warm-up is progressively heavier warm-up sets. However, there’s more to mobility than nailing your beloved squat pattern and I do feel much better when I include just a few quality drills.
My friend Tony Gentilcore recommends more “hybrid” based mobility drills that combine several exercises into one which will help expedite the process. This is a big part of our upcoming Strong MOFo program, which is 4 months of programming for older lifters who wanna look and feel great.
The program will be hosted on the CORE Online app, an online service via Tony’s website. This offers a few benefits:
- This will allow you to follow the program on your phone (but relax, you’ll also have the option to print it out too, you geezer).
- You’ll have immediate access to video tutorials and explanations of all exercises.
- You’ll also have access to a community forum to converse with other beta testers as well as to ask questions to Tony and me.
- Selfishly, it’s more convenient for us to go this route rather than deal with a plethora of Excel spreadsheets and emails. This way, there’s a “home-base” for everything.
Cost: We’re offering this beta program at a price of $249. This will cover four months of programming (and is less than what Tony and I charge for one month of distance coaching).
Start Date: The start date is Monday, December 18th. As in THIS MONDAY!
Get on this NOW!