I hit the “big 4-0” yesterday, and for those who haven’t reached that PR in no. of days lived, I’m glad to report that it doesn’t feel any different than most of the other ages I’ve been. At least in the recent past!
As you get older, training seems to get a bad rap, right about the time when you should be training hard to maintain as much of your muscle mass as possible. As you age, lifestyle factors creep in and you lose more and more of your hard earned muscle, making you weaker, slowing your metabolism and generally making things harder for you. But it doesn’t need to be that way, by training a little smarter than you did when you were younger, or by starting training now, you can offset a lot of the issues that affect your untrained peers.
When you are young, you are pretty much bomb proof. train hard, party hard, sleep a little and go again. Unfortunately ageing tends to frown upon this approach and will find a way to slow you down, usually in the form of injury. Being a little smarter with your training approach can help you continue to train hard without the undue stresses coming around to bite you.
- Shorter, but still intense training sessions are more valuable. 2 hour monster sessions start to take their toll, both in time and energy. Training hard for 4 or 5 x 45 -60 minute sessions a week will allow you to still push hard, but give enough recovery time so as to not make you hate life.
- Focussing on the big movements is still important, just because you’re a little older doesn’t mean that you have lost the ability to deadlift, squat or bench.
- 1 rep max tests should be replaced with 3 rep maxes. A true 1rm test is a beast, technique and strength is , by definition, pushed to almost the very limit of your ability. this increases your chance of injury higher, and guess what, injuries take longer to recover from as you age.
- This isn’t to say you shouldn’t lift heavy, far from it, but be more focussed on maintaining great technique with loads you use.
- Hypertrophy training is your friend. Most of your training should be focussed on maintaining, and even building, muscle mass, offsetting some of the muscle loss age brings. That said, if you do train, then the lifestyle factors that might lead to muscle loss are likely less of an issue for you anyway.
Tonics and phasics
I first read about tonic and phasic muscles in a Dan John book, I forget which one, but they are all worth a read (check them out here).
The tonic muscles include the pecs (major and minor), the biceps, hip flexors, hamstrings and calves. Basically all those muscles that shorten things and “close” you up. These tend to get tighter with age (and bad posture/ sitting at a desk too much)
The phasics include the mid back muscles (lower and mid traps, rhomboids), the delts, glutes and abs. These tend to get weaker as we age.
Simply put, as we age, focus should be on strengthening the phasics and stretching the tonics. One of the keys to immortality might actually maintaining big, strong glutes and abs of steel.
Hip thrusts, pull ups, batwings and rollouts should play a part in your training, as should mobility work on the chest and biceps, hips and hamstrings.
Research has shown that muscle fibre loss begins at around 25 years of age and accelerates as we age. given that the average age has, and continues to increase, this leaves a lot of time to lose muscle mass, making your later years horribly susceptible to weakness and injury.
It’s never to late to start training, focussing on working on great technique whilst adding a little more loading to stimulate muscle growth and strength (in the phasics) and improving mobility (in the tonics).
Sets should cover a wide range of reps, from 3-6 at the low end, through the 8-15 and up to 20-25 reps at the top end. All three can be used to stimulate muscle growth via a combo of mechanical stress, time under tension and metabolic damage.
As mentioned above, training takes its toll, recovery becomes more and more important as you age. Stresses mount up with all the “stuff” that you add to your life, work, family, training, and allllll the other stuff that fills your days and weeks adds up and recovery takes a more important role in order to maintain intensity.
Slightly shorter sessions (whilst maintaining a decent intensity), adequate recovery and good sleep habits are all important, allowing you to get the most out of training and all that other stuff you do.
- train a little smarter
- build strength and muscle in the shoulders, mid back, glutes and abs
- stretch your tight bits
- recovery gets more and more important.