Follow these seven dictums to maximize the benefits from your exercise — while minimizing the potential for injury
Find out about the rules of weight training when you’re over 40. Follow these dictums to maximize the benefits from your exercise, while minimizing the potential for injury.
As we age, our bodies change. Obvious, isn’t it? We lose muscle mass, our skeletons grow weaker, and our hormones start to fluctuate — broadly speaking, testosterone drops, cortisol (the stress hormone) rises. You can still be healthy and make the most of your forties if you implement a few sustainable changes.
Previously, this would have meant running or maybe spin classes — but one of the bigger changes in health and fitness over recent years has been the advocacy of resistance training (weight lifting) for people of all ages. The government now recommends that everyone between the ages of 19 and 64 should do strength exercises on two or more days a week, working all the major muscle groups.
Such training isn’t intended to turn you into a body builder; rather, it’s a way of keeping your body functionally strong, so it can deal with the rigors of everyday life. By embracing it, you slow that natural decline that occurs during the midlife period.
Of course, weight training for fortysomethings is different to weight training for twentysomethings. You need to tailor the activities to your body in order to reap all those juicy benefits. Slow down: I always see people training in the gym at 1,000,000 miles an hour, with the mindset of ‘how quick can we get from to rep 1 to 10?’ It’s particularly prevalent among people who are new to lifting; they’re desperate to get through the exercise set and bask in the rewards.
The problem is that, in the long run, lifting fast is less rewarding than lifting slow — especially for the fortysomethings, who run the risk of injury if they go at the weight machine hell for leather.
Instead, concentrate on the quality of each rep. Lift in a controlled manor and lower the weights slowly; a good guide is a count of three (it’s actually the lowering movement that builds most muscle).
Slowing the movement down will not only give you the biggest stimulus but will also be less grating on your joints. Remember your core: Here’s a generalisation: young men tend to focus on lifts they think will improve their arms; young women tend to focus on lifts that they think will improve their behinds.
And here’s another generalisation: midlife men and women do exactly the same.
You need to focus not just on body composition but potential problem areas you may get as you age. For example, the core and lower back are relevant to your posture. By midlife, anyone who spends hours at a computer will be naturally hunched, so specific lifting exercises that engage the core, open the chest and strengthen the upper back are really useful.
It’s all about tailoring a specific program to help your body battle the issues caused by its everyday routine. Get unilateral: Unilateral training is when you train just individual limbs, instead of two in conjunction. It’s useful for the midlifer because it helps to iron out any weaknesses that you’ve harboured over the decades without realising it. So, let’s say you have a dodgy left shoulder.
Train both arms at the same time and you probably unknowingly compensate by taking on more work through your right shoulder. Train your left arm alone and no such getout clause is available.
This kind of training can also be used to take the load off the spine. Take the squat as an example. Traditionally, you would carry weights on your shoulders, putting the load directly over your spine, and then squat down with both legs.
In unilateral training, you can change the movement to a single leg step up: stepping up with one leg at a time on a bench. Here, you carry dumbbells in your hands, so the spine takes no load. (An alternative is to carry no weights at all, and instead step up onto a higher platform to make the exercise harder.)
If you do go at unilateral training, remember: always start with the weaker side first to pull it in line with the stronger limb. Stretch it out: Mobility is how the joint moves. Flexibility is length of the muscle. However much weight you lift, it doesn’t make much of a difference to your functional fitness if you don’t work on these two factors as well.
The classic is to see the 40-plus man who goes to the gym three times a week, but struggles to tie his shoe lace in the locker room.
Mobility drills and flexibility work needs to be part of the program — 15 minutes of stretching and mobility, three times per week will make a huge difference. Start with foam rolling: it’s painful, but it’s a great way to loosen up any tight spots!
I also recommend YIN yoga for the older body, as it involves holding postures for 3-5 minutes. Make it fun: If it feels like a chore, you’re unlikely to stick to it. So, try to find friends or colleagues to train with — a great way to create accountability and competition.
Remember: training hard is important but training consistently is imperative. Eat wisely: Resistance training puts strain on your muscles and bones, breaking down tissue which the body must then repair. This is an essential process: it forces the body to refresh itself, leaving you with better, healthier cells. But it only works if you have enough protein in your diet, as this is where the body gets its amino acids — the building blocks of cell repair.
Try to get 30-50g of protein in every meal, through lean meat, poultry and fish. Protein shakes can also help — and are great if you are short on time. Rest more than you think: Sorry to say, now you’re in your 40s, you won’t recover like you did 20 years ago. Try to focus on shorter, more efficient workouts, and couple these with plenty of sleep. It’s all about training smart rather than training more.
You can still make huge improvements to your body in your 40s, raising your energy levels, combating stress, and reaping a better quality of life.
Just be mindful of not attacking the gym as you did in your younger days. Be consistent and enjoy the benefits.
Remember: training hard is important but training consistently is imperative.
The UK government recommends resistance training twice a week.