As the title says: I’m getting older. 🎂
This has made me self-reflect on what I’ve learned about training over 40. I’ve even come around and changed my approach on a few ideas.
So, with that as the setup, here are five key thoughts:
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1. As I move closer to 50 than 40 (good Lord) I realize how silly most of the age-related “truths & rules” of training really are.
Apparently if you’re over 40, you can’t…
- train below six reps;
- train more than 40 minutes;
- go through dedicated mass periods (intelligent bulking);
- train high volume;
- use isolation lifts to help get bigger;
- use the basic lifts to get strong;
- get lean.
You also must follow special “over-40” diet recommendations. Because as we all know, built into the human genome is a pesky calendar that on the eve of your 40th birthday starts signalling your body to stop responding to all those basics of human metabolism that worked the previous 39 years.
I blame that prick Bill Gates.
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2. It’s absurd — but also a little embarrassing — for me, as I once bought into some of these age-related rules.
Or, at the very least, I accepted the “spirit” behind them, until I realized they were more a cheesy internet marketing & positioning tool than evidence-based protocol.
So as my coaching business grew and became more diverse I distanced myself from most n=1 type professional influences (“I’ve been training 30 years and it’s worked for me”) as it’s not only ineffective, irrational, and lazy, it also screams Survivorship Bias.
If not familiar, Survivorship Bias is a HUGE issue in the coaching business and yet another thing I had to work to free myself. (Been a lot of growth lately, just not my physique!)
What you have to remember is: just because your favorite coach or influencer has been doing XYZ and looks great doesn’t mean XYZ was the best choice, or even a good choice.
They might’ve made progress IN SPITE OF XYZ, through great genetics or simply decades of persistent albeit misguided effort.
And it certainly doesn’t mean XYZ will work for YOU, especially if you don’t have the luxury of many years to waste.
As for all those successful testimonials? They could very well be the 1% that actually responded to or survived the awful programming.
If you turn your personal, 1:1 coaching into a McDonald’s drive thru of cookie-cutter training and meal plans, so that you’re now working with 400+ clients who are remarkably dedicated to achieving a physique transformation — after all, psychologically, they just crossed the Rubicon of opening their wallets — at least a few of those clients are going to generate stunning before and after photos.
(And before you ask: yeah, I still feel ambivalent about using before-and-after photos myself.)
The industry deserves better. YOU deserve better.
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3. The BIGGEST issue with all these “Truth About 40”-type rules is they’re grossly lacking individual context.
A 40-something with Herschel Walker-level genetics will respond to the training and diet process better than a 40-something Homer Simpson.
Similarly, a 40-something with great genetics but 25 years of hard mileage — think ex-pro football player — will have a different response and very different needs than a similar genetic stud who, for whatever reason, never put their body through the grinder.
It’s almost as though… we should address the needs of the individual, not the date on their birth certificate.
Of course, that being said, some age-related “truths” are relatively sound:
Your ability to gain strength and muscle (not to mention speed, power, reflexes, etc) all start to degrade after 30 or so, if not sooner. Ditto your fat loss “machinery.”
It doesn’t mean they STOP WORKING. They just don’t work quite as well.
Of course, the training & diet foundations you laid (or didn’t, as the case may be) during the previous decades play a BIG factor. Which is why the biggest & best Masters bodybuilders aren’t dudes who only started training at 40.
Now, that doesn’t mean those late-to-the game can’t get stunning results. They just won’t ever be nipping at Dexter Jackson’s heels anytime soon.
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4. Your capacity to recover or bounce back from injury also declines with age.
Sad fact is, many injuries that would just be temporary setbacks for a younger person often effectively end a middle-aged guy’s lifting career.
This reality — the high cost of getting injured — is the “logic” behind many overly-cautious over-40 training recommendations.
But there’s a huge difference between warming up, using proper form, and avoiding excessively heavy loads—and surrendering yourself to a dorky onslaught of cable curls and soup-can kickbacks.
Here’s a great tip:
Positioning the big lifts 2nd or 3rd in the workout, as popularized by John Meadows, is a very effective way for older lifters to avoid injury.
But if you still prefer to do the big lifts first, then performing more low-rep warmup sets (at least 3-5) with perfect form works too.
Another tip for old guys with iffy lower backs and tight hips/psoas?
Do full range split squats before squats, or do them as an antagonist superset with deadlifts.
A) DB Split Squat, front foot elevated – 3 x 8-10/leg
B) Back Squat – 5 x 12, 10, 8, 6, 6
« or »
A1) Trap Bar Deadlift – 4 x 4-6, rest 90
A2) DB Split Squat – 4 x 6-8, rest 90
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5. The one “truth about over 40” you rarely hear about but actually is true, is that EVERYTHING matters.
When you’re 20 you can drink three times a week, eat a nutritional garbage can diet and average 5 hours sleep per night — and make great gains.
Try that at age 45 and odds are your stamina will suffer, strength will dip, and your gut will revolt.
Shit if I have 3 drinks on a Saturday I still feel bagged on Tuesday. (Okay, granted, that’s my n=1, but whatever.)
Next? You add the BIGGEST knuckleball of all: the typical middle-aged lifestyle.
Over worked, over-stressed, over-scheduled, often over-anxious and even overly self-medicated. Sure, there’s age-related sarcopenia… but then there are also lifestyles that just plain aren’t conducive to muscle gain at any age. It’s just that those lifestyles tend to correlate with being at a certain stage of life, family, and career.
You quickly see this is one hell of a beast to manage, one that requires a multi-disciplinary approach. And the day a glass of kombucha or doing one or two activation drills for your pecs solves THAT fucking conundrum, well then, I’m all in.
I’m a washed-up meathead with a crazy coaching business and even crazier two year old. I’m still figuring it all out.
So… ferment an extra large glass for me. 🍺