By some strange coincidence, most of my clients these days are older than 50 years old. All of them have led very active lives - golf, swimming and running have been their passion for a long time. One of them has also done a fair bit of weight training. Years of playing sport and living an active life has left a mark on their bodies. Most have knee or shoulder or back issues. The trainee who has the most weight training experience and is a maniacal golfer has terribly messed up back and neck - a result of a bad car crash! But surprisingly none of them have any of the lifestyle health conditions associated with middle age and beyond. Possibly because they have not ignored their bodies.
Training after the age of 40
First of all, congratulations if you are over 40 and still getting after it in the gym or in the sports field. Let me also say that if you are over 40 and have just started or are planning to start getting fit, do not think that it is too late to start. It is never too late to start taking care of your health and improving your fitness. Follow the steps that I shall lay down in this column and you shall be fine. Let's look at some of the issues that an older trainee will face while pursuing their fitness goals.
•Recovery is probably the biggest issue for the older trainee. Training hard is not a problem but recovering from the training cannot be taken for granted. Avoid training two days in a row. If you must train two days in a row, then the second day should be a restorative, light day.
•Avoid doing too much volume. Lots of exercises, large number of sets all create too much fatigue which might make it difficult to recover and come back to the gym. Focus on a few big exercises and very few smaller exercises.
•Do not scrimp on the warm up. As we grow older, joints need lot more time to start moving smoothly. Treat the warm as good way to groove technique with body weight circuits. Of course, don't spend so much time and energy on the warm up that the subsequent workout suffers.
•Muscle building or hypertrophy training for the older trainee is armor building. More the muscle mass, stronger the bones and faster the metabolism. And you would look and feel much better. That's a win win for me. Though its lot harder to build muscle tissue as we grow older but it can still be done.
•Avoid ego lifting like plague. Leave the grungy, ugly looking lifts for the young meatheads. An older trainee cannot afford to get injured because injuries take much longer to heal while fitness is rapidly lost during the lay off period. I am not saying you should not chase goals but be smart, progress at slower pace.
•Remember you are not twenty anymore.
Training plan for the older trainee
This is a general template, it lays down some principles rather than listing specific exercises, sets and reps per exercise. Find exercises which work for you, cause no pain and let you increase load over a period of time.
1.Train on alternate days. Keep the training session short - not more than 45 minutes. This does not include the warm up and cool down.
2.Push, pull and legs is an ideal split. Another way would be to do an upper body and lower body split. For example, on Monday, do Lower body workout, on do upper body workout, on Friday do a second lower body workout and the next Monday do a second upper body workout. The entire body gets worked twice over eight days. This split gives enough time to recover as well as go hard without overdoing it.
3.Use weights that you can lift in the five to 10 repetition range. Trying to do heavy singles, doubles or triples should be very infrequent. Testing yourself once in a while is good but it should not be a regular feature.
4.Ensure that you are eating adequate protein, otherwise gaining and maintaining muscle will be very difficult. The recommended intake of protein should be 2 grams per kg of body weight.
5.Do easy cardio like fast paced walking two days a week. Do not make the mistake of adding High Intensity Interval Training while you are trying to get strong in the gym. Recovery will be pretty impossible while doing weights and HIIT for the older trainee.
That's it. Now go and do it.
Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years
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