Training for 40 + year olds
It is a fact, once you start entering the decade known as your forties, your body makes a few changes. The body starts a slight natural curve downward in terms of its ability to produce muscle building and fat shedding hormones. At this point testosterone and growth hormone decline. And with these changes the body struggles to gain or hold onto muscle mass, staying lean becomes more challenging as does your ability to recover.
This being the case, we have two options. We can throw in the towel and expect a downward spiral or we can fight off the aging process by both eating and training smarter. Notice I said smarter not harder.
After training hundreds if not thousands of clients in this age group, I have a pretty good grasp on what to do to keep people strong and still looking good in their forties and beyond. Not only have I have trained this population but I now fit in this population itself. Earlier this year, for the first time I started to see a trend in my own training. For the first time in my long training career, my strength had actually peaked and started a very slight decline. While being far from happy about it, I decided to retool my own training and eating strategies to not only maintain the muscle mass I had but to actually improve it.
Understanding the physiology of change, I have always been an advocate of trying to put on as much muscle as possible while you still can because if we fail to strength train we will lose a little more muscle with each decade. The more muscle you have in your forties, the better you will be down the line in staying strong and active. This goes for men as well as the fairer sex. I always have a chuckle when a woman tells me that she doesn’t want to lift weights for the fear of becoming big and bulky. The reality is that it is hard enough for a man to gain lean muscle mass and they have far more testosterone than women. I train hard every year and honestly if I can add a kilo or two of muscle over a year, I have done really well. Once the person who is afraid of the big bulky “body builder look” realizes with each kilo of muscle they have, they will far likely become leaner with less body fat, they will start to see that their fear is not based on reality. Think of muscle as the engine that makes the body burn fuel. The bigger the engine, the more fuel you burn 24/7, which will lead to a leaner body. The size of the body is most determined by the amount of food that you feed it!
Five tips on training and nutrition to keep you looking and performing great post 40.
1. Be consistent and make training and eating intelligently a lifestyle as opposed to a quick fix. Exercise and nutrition is like everything else in life. If you want good results, you have to work at it. Nothing occurs overnight. Consistency ends up trumping everything. We have a 62 year old client who looks absolutely incredible. Does she have good genetics? Sure does but what I have to remind people of when they look up in awe of her physique is that she has been training week in week out her entire adult life.
By accepting the fact that to stay young, strong and active as we age is going to take a more lifestyle approach as opposed to a quick Band-Aid solution, we schedule our training into our everyday life and build on healthy patterns. By being consistent and notice I didn’t say “ perfect” we won’t forever be on the roller coaster up and down with the scale either.
2. Still aim to push yourself and create new personal bests, but do so in a slightly higher rep range. About four years ago, I hit my one rep personal best in the bench press. I was excited… I got 187.5 kilos or 412 pounds up at age 40. That was the good news; the bad news was I came within a cat’s whisker away from tearing my left pectoral muscle which would have resulted in surgery and a long stay out of the gym.
At 44, I still try to push the envelope but I do so at higher rep ranges like 10-15 reps as opposed to 1-6 reps which were a staple for me in many lifts through the years. The end result is less joint strain, lower chance of injury while keeping the muscle under tension for longer periods. Since employing this style of training I have been able to hold on to muscle and am honestly looking better at 44 than I did at 24.
3. Use less volume and more frequency. I started weight training hard in the early 1990’s. It was very standard in this time to train each muscle group once per week with everything you had. If it was chest day for example, you would blast it 4 or 5 exercises with a good 4 sets per exercise. The next day you would hit another muscle group in the same manner and over the span of the week you would likely be in the gym 5 days a week.
Today I am far more likely to suggest hitting multiple muscle groups in each session for less sets and less exercises. By doing so I now can have people working a muscle group twice in the same period of time. Another benefit is that the cardio vascular component increases and improves because working multiple muscle groups takes more effort not only to the muscles but to the heart and lungs which greatly improve a person’s fitness as well as strength. Also by training larger muscles such as legs and back more frequently you end up having a larger boost in testosterone and growth hormone which in turn leads to a better physique and a better sex drive. Not a bad side effect.
4. Employ a toggling approach to your nutrition. Toggling in the nutrition world refers to having eating periods that are either focused on losing body fat or promoting muscle gain. What I like about this approach is the ability to stay lean while trying to add muscle simultaneously.
The first rule of toggling would be that you want to get plenty of nutrient dense food spaced around the time of weight training. The idea being that your body will act like a sponge and absorb the nutrients when the pathways are most open which will contribute to repairing and building muscle. For the periods when you are less active keep you calories more sparse. Basically it is a demand and supply approach. Weight gain is always going to be more prevalent when a person is sedentary while consuming an excess of calories. The ultimate body composition rule still remains calories in versus calories out. Consume more calories than you burn and watch the body fat increase. Burn more calories than you consume and watch the scale move in the other direction.
5. Learn to listen to your body. Sometimes we need extra rest for recovery. This might be if you have a new ache or strain or this might be if you are just feeling rundown in general. I would always recommend taking the rest time to ensure you recover from illness or injury while keeping the desire to train exciting and rewarding. Also if you are new to exercise or over forty make sure that you start slowly and have a proper warm-up to get your body ready for training.
Follow these tips and you will be able to look and feel great as you advance into the next decade.
Ken Kunin is the Owner of Revolution Fitness. Ken has trained people for the last two decades in his gyms and provides Corporate Health and Wellbeing for Australian companies. Revolution Fitness also provides online personal training and corporate Health and Wellbeing consultation worldwide.
To contact Ken you can email him at Ken@revfit.com or check out the following pages.