Have you thought about getting back in shape? Maybe you were an athlete back in the day, but years of focusing on career and family has left you looking and feeling less of the physical specimen you remember? Or maybe you’ve been on a mission to improve your health and physique for some time now, but you’re not seeing concrete results? There’s no need to be disheartened or give up, because I’ve got you covered! It is possible to gain strength, muscle or lose weight at ANY stage of life, but as we change with age, our approach to our health and fitness should change as well. Take a look at these 5 important points and see how you can incorporate them into your fitness routine for better results.
1. Your Weight Training Should Not Look the Same As It Did 20 Years Ago.
As we age, the balance between our effort in the gym and the recovery time needed becomes trickier to balance. This balance is needed at every age, but eventually we all see that it gets easier to over/under shoot either the training or recovery side of things. The simplest way to handle this equation is to focus on the time you spend in the gym, and what you do in the gym:
Time spent working out. In our younger days, 2-hour training sessions 6 days a week may have been possible (and fun), but it’s a sure-fire way to crash and burn today. In fact, I would say most kids who spend that much time in the gym are seeing progress despite it, rather than a result of it. On the flip side, hitting the weights once a week or whenever you have the time and energy won’t be enough to improve or even maintain strength or muscle mass. A very effective and efficient starting point would be 2 full-body sessions a week, with 3 being ideal (with at least 1 rest day in between). As you become stronger and accustomed to resistance training, a 4th session may eventually be added to ensure continued progress. I rarely see the need to train more than 4 days assuming the program is solid.
Exercise selection. Because our time and our recovery resources are more limited these days, we should be picking exercises that provide the biggest bang for our buck. If your goal is to increase strength, build some muscle and improve general health, then focusing on exercises that use the most muscle, with the greatest range of motion, and that allows us to lift the most weight is the way to go. Compound movements such as a squat will provide more stimulus than an isolated seated leg extension. Chin-ups instead of dumbbell curls. Overhead barbell press instead of light dumbbell side raises….you get the idea. Workouts consisting of 3 different curl variations followed by 3-4 triceps exercises will sap your recovery resources, while not providing enough intensity to drive any meaningful growth adaptations. A better approach is 3 sets of 5-8 heavy reps of a squat, a press variation, a pull (i.e. deadlift) and if you still have time and energy, 3 sets of chin-ups and maybe 1 assistance/vanity exercise of your choice. Move up in weight 2.5-5lbs each workout, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results after 8-12 weeks!
2. Cardio For Weight-Loss Will Take More Than It Gives.
This point applies only to weight-loss, not reducing health risks. If you enjoy running and other forms of cardio, by all means keep doing it. But if you think cardio is a must to lose weight, I’d like to point out a few things. First, too much cardio will directly interfere with strength and even muscle building efforts. If your goal is to have a well-defined physique, your time and effort might be better spent meal prepping or some other diet activity. Second, the difference in calorie expenditure between a run and a brisk walk is negligible. Not only that, running tends to increase your appetite and you may end up increasing your calories without realizing it. Third, weightlifting, restricting calories and cardio are all hard things to do, which eats into our (yes, recovery resources again!). And lastly, running is brutal on the joints. If longevity is the goal, a better option would be to take a brisk walk after dinner or fasted before breakfast.
3. You Need To Eat More Protein Than The 20 Yr Old You.
The consensus is that to build strength and muscle mass you should consume roughly 1g protein per 1 lb of bodyweight a day (200lb male = 200g protein). For females roughly 0.9g. My experience with nutrition clients is that most people think they are getting WAY more than they actually are. To make this reality even tougher, evidence shows that the amount of protein we absorb from food declines with age (1). This means protein intake will need to be even higher for strength and muscle health. Even if your goal is weight-loss, you’ll need to ensure you’re getting enough protein for physique gains.
4. Managing Stress Is No Longer A Suggestion, It’s a Must.
Although we can’t always control the emotional turmoil that life will throw at us, it’s always a good idea learn ways to deal with anxieties, depression, resentments etc. This would be good advice for anyone, but for the 40+ trainee, they are result killers. Meditation, deep breathing, journaling, counseling, massage, sauna and talking with supporting loved ones are coping strategies that quickly come to mind, but by no means an exhaustive list.
For coaching programs for 40+ strength, muscle and weight loss, visit www.gnstrength.com.
Greg is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, PNL1 Nutrition Coach and pretty groovy cat. That has a blog.