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.

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