Serious training for older lifters
Just because you aren't 20 or 30 anymore doesn't mean you still can't train hard and heavy (if that’s your thing). It simply means you can't do it the same way as you did previously and expect to get positive results. As time moves on your body changes in many ways. Hormone levels naturally decrease as we age, and as a result our body's ability to recover from hard physical work is reduced. Additionally our joints begin to suffer the "ravages of time".
You have three options to consider; the first is to quit training and just accept that was what you did when you were young and put it in the past (BAD CHOICE).
The second is to decide to just train for fitness and to stay healthy. That sounds responsible, doesn't it? Responsible yes, but satisfying if you are used to hoisting heavy iron and pushing yourself to your limits? Not at all! (another bad choice). I followed this path for a few years and was bored and totally dissatisfied with my workouts.
The third option is to recognize the changes in your body and adjust your training accordingly. I say your “training” rather than your workouts because it’s more than just adjusting what you do in the gym. It’s also about keeping a close eye on your nutritional needs and finally, and perhaps most importantly it’s about getting enough rest. Rest between workouts is just as important as getting enough sleep.
There is a fourth option. Keep training to failure. Keep doing endless sets and spending hours in the gym, but don't come crying to me when your joints all hurt and you start getting smaller and weaker from extreme overtraining!
Let’s take a closer look at the three factors I mentioned above: Workouts, nutrition and rest.
In reverse order, rest is the biggest factor in your body recovering from what you do in the gym. If you don't get enough rest you can't push yourself hard in your next workout. I used to train four days a week and was starting to really feel fatigued the day after a heavy leg or deadlift workout. I changed the order of my workouts to allow for a rest day after legs, and that helped a little but I still was tired by the end of the week. I cut back to three days a week with a rest day after each workout and I started making progress again. On the three day program I always look forward to my workouts and am excited to get started rather than dreading them. Rest from specific exercises is also an important factor. There are certain "big exercises" like deadlifts and squats, or the Olympic lifts, that just take longer to recover from. If you tend to really push yourself hard in your workouts on these kinds of movements you may find you do even better with only two workouts a week. Yes I know that’s kind of hard to wrap your head around. Only training twice a week when you are used to four or more days in the gym. Consider this, if you are only hitting the iron twice a week you, A) will be chomping at the bit to get to it and B) knowing you only have two workouts to get it done means you will put EVERYTHING you have into each workout. No saving it cause tomorrows workout is going to be a killer!
Sleep is the other part of rest. Whether we train hard or not at all we all need a good amount of sleep just to function properly. If you don't get enough sleep your body will eventually break down and you will get sick.
Nutrition is the next factor, and can become the most complicated if you let it. Provided that you are generally in good health, it doesn't have to be. It’s really simple. Eat good, wholesome foods in as natural a state as you can. I am not suggesting you be fanatical about it. I am just saying try to avoid processed foods full of chemicals. Avoid junk food and fast food. Make sure to get enough good quality protein such as fish, chicken, lean red meat and eggs. Eat lots of greens (a huge salad with a variety of raw veggies is my favorite way). Drink lots of water (not with your meals though, as it dilutes your digestive enzymes and doesn't allow for optimum utilization of your food). Don't over eat but don't starve yourself either. A pizza or bowl of ice cream now and then isn't going to kill you, but just make it now and then.
Nutritional supplements can be helpful as its not always easy to get enough good food. But remember a supplement is just that. It is not a substitute for good food! A good multi vitamin-mineral supplement and maybe some additional omega-3's won't hurt and they won't break your wallet either.
Workouts are the big change for us as older trainees. Eliminate all the little isolation movements and keep to the compound movements like presses, squats and rows, etc. These movements are the ones that give you the most bang for your buck. Remember you have a limited amount of energy to work with so don't waste it on cable flies and leg extensions.
Select one or two major exercises for each workout and put everything into them. Let’s look at my workout last Friday: After I completed my normal warm up I did several sets of military presses, alternated with pull-ups. I did three warm-up sets of the presses, never going over 5 reps, then did 5 sets of 3 with my working weight. On the pull-ups I used Dan John's 2-3-5 technique. Since I couldn't make the weight lighter, my first set was only 2 easy reps. My second was 3 and then I did several sets of 5-6 reps. Afterwards I stretched out my shoulders and upper back and took the dogs for a brisk half mile walk. That was the whole thing.
It took me less than an hour from beginning to end.
And that’s how you should do it:
1. General warm-up (to get your body awake and loosened up).
2. Several low-rep warm-up sets of the exercise you are going to focus on.
3. Multiple work sets of low reps.
4. cool down (my walk)
5. Hit the shower!
Keep each workout short, sweet and simple.
Let me repeat that:
Make that your mantra. As in, words to live by,
or lift by.
I realize that doesn't seem like very much, but for an older trainee, it's exactly the kind of program that will allow you to continue to get positive results. Its time to think quality not quantaty.
Get in, get warmed up, get it done, and get out of there.
Do THAT, and you can keep on training and gaining for many years to come.
NOTE; If this blog post looks strangely like something Brooks Kubik might write, its because Brooks has had a huge impact in my personal training over the past few years and this post is based on a very similar one he wrote not long ago.