This is the article I dreaded ever having to write; “Training as you get older” or “Training in your 40s”.
Before I move forward, understand, these are my experiences. My experiences don’t make anything universal or the end all, be all laws. Other guys my age might have a different training experience under their belt and in turn, they don’t have the same mindset or physical experiences.
Back up almost 30 years and I began training in June 1989, some 2 weeks before 8th grade ended. I was dumbbell benching with sand filled weights and spin lock collars on my chrome barbell and dumbbell set. The sand would fall in my eyes and mouth as I pressed the weights up.
Back squats were performed first with the clean and press just to get the bar on my back. I believe I got stuck with 75 lbs on my back because after getting the weight on my back, I guess that was all I had, my 1 rep max!
I had to walk backwards slowly to sit on the edge of the bed and then I laid back to dump the 75 lb barbell onto the bed. I was copying the beginner workout from Arnold’s Encyclopedia, which was essentially 5 x 10 for every exercise.
A few months later, my brother took ALL his saved money from being a bus boy and purchased a SoloFlex. I gotta admit, the dude in the commercial REALLY made you believe that you WOULD look just like him if you used The SoloFlex.
Take note of the half shirt and short shorts.
I went from the Soloflex to the Metuchen YMCA back when they had York Barbell equipment. I was the youngest kid lifting in that tiny weight room but the guys enjoyed my energy and asking them a million questions.
Plus, I always brought great music on a cassette tape, so they would let me touch the tape deck on the radio. I would bring in AC/DC and Metallica.
From the YMCA I began joining the local commercial gyms. I get introduced to the world of bodybuilding and wrestling and somehow blended the two together. Not the best combination, but back in 1989 – 1993, you never heard of functional training, strength & conditioning, etc.
You simply heard phrases such as:
Jump training? Plyometrics? Never.
From high school, my Bodybuilding training took off and my intensity was through the roof. A leg workout that didn’t leave my sore for 3-4 days was pathetic. If I could walk up the stairs after a leg workout, unacceptable!
If I had a training partner and he was enjoying himself then I was gonna destroy him somehow, someway. All I wanted to do was outwork people.
I reminded the college wrestlers that when I was 22 I squatted 315 for 22 reps. I squatted 225 for 46 or 47 reps and then my partner gave me a light spot to get to 50 reps.
Days off? I lived by Dan Gable’s philosophy of outworking your competition. I would train 30 days in a row not just because I wanted to, but because I HAD to. Those who know, KNOW!
Right now, I am akin to a car that has has a LOT of miles on my body. Back in those days, we didn’t have the knowledge to work on our Mobility or Soft Tissue. It was ALL about Work.
If you’ve never lifted heavy or only have a few years of heavy lifting under your belt, you likely feel great, even if you’re in your 40s. Well, let me take that back. I’ve seen many “normal” people in their 30s, 40s and older.
They just let it all go, more so mentally than physically. The mind drives the body. Give up mentally and the body will follow faster than you dare imagine.
Instead of finding excuses to avoid the work, you need to a find a way to continue to d the work. ALWAYS find a way. If you’re my age (41) or somewhere near your 40s, just take a look around. People are letting themselves go. Is that you?
When I was in my teens and 20s, I’d sometimes run into the older guys from the gym. They had stopped lifting and would always feed me the BS line of , I used to be just like you, bro! But you’ll see, you’re gonna grow and not have the time or energy…… bla bla bla
I am NOT like you. And hopefully, you feel the same. You believe in yourself. You have pride in being strong and being a worker. I knew I would NEVER quit. These guys who quit, well, they are not cut from the same mold as I am.
If you’ve got mileage under your belt with heavy lifting (20+ years of heavy lifting), find variations of the big lifts that make you feel good. Maybe instead of squats, you can do a belt squat or a box squat.
I explain how I adjust the big lifts and why I now use knee sleeves and weightlifting belt more often. You see, my mind changes ad my body changes. Always keep an open mind…..
Instead of benching with a straight bar, you might use specialty bars or dumbbells / kettlebells more often for pressing.
- If it feels good, do it, if it hurts, pay attention and find a variation of that lift.
- When I floor press, I often place a small mat down on the floor to allow my shoulders to move properly.
- When you squat, you can set weightlifting shoes or place a soft pad on the box for a different effect on the box squats.
I remind the adults I train NOT to keep up with the 16 year olds in the gym. That is the path towards injury, when you force yourself to do what you USED to do. Focus on the NOW, not what you were capable of last year or 10-20 years ago.
Keep your heart pumping. If running distance hurts, get on the airdyne, run the hills or trails or the beach to ease the joint stress.
Swimming is great and tough. I love swimming, it pumps you up and makes you feel like you’re doing some serious work. To me, any training is good training. I secretly love it all, because I know it’s making me a better person, not just stronger or building muscle.
I crave the results that go beyond the muscle, the results and strength that takes me BEYOND the gym walls. When I train the few adults I work with at The Underground, I avoid the intensity on the big powerlifts.Crushing them on Squats or Deads will set them back. They don’t need it.
I use moderate weights and moderate reps, we focus a bit more on bodybuilding sets and reps and I always keep in mind, Will this workout send them home feeling better or worse?
I often contemplate and likely will, join a “normal gym” so I can use some machines that don’t bother my joints. Again, training is training. I don’t discriminate too much, I love it all.
I’m at a point where I am not picky, if it works and I feel like I am working, I will do it! The world of this is functional / not functional has gotten out of control. Often times, these nerds who insist on “functional” this or that need to get some Golden Era Bodybuilding under their belt to add MUSCLE.
Simply adding muscle to their frame will make them better at _______ (Fill in the Blank). Don’t neglect the simplicity of how adding muscle to your body makes you a better and more capable human being.
I interviewed my friend from early 90s on The STRONG Life Podcast about how he became a Navy SEAL, because when he and I trained together, he trained like a typical 1990s Bodybuilder:
- Sit Ups
He also swam and ran a lot. He didn’t do a whole lot of squats or deadlifts until I met him in Israel, and then we did a LOT of Squats, Bent Over Rows, Barbell Lunges, etc.
But even as a guy prepping to be a Navy SEAL, he implemented bodybuilding training and calisthenics, aka prison training. He benched, curled and did sit ups every other day!
So here’s the deal, as you get older, don’t make excuses. Make GAINS. Find ways to make the light weights feel heavy as my friend Marty Gallagher often speaks about.
During my Squat workouts (and most workouts) I will train in a circuit, something like this for 5 rounds:
A) Box Squats x 3 – 6 reps
B) Sled Drags x 150 ft
C) Any Carry (Kettlebells, Kegs, Sandbags, etc) x 150-300 ft
E) Jump Rope
If I am training from my garage, I’ll carry the Kettlebells up and down the road.
- Then I’ll hit some pull ups or rope climbing
- Then I will do step ups and pistol squats off the stair case
- Push Ups
- Hanging Leg Raises
Strength Circuits. They keep the heart pumping and give you the ever so awesome feeling of WORK!
Strength is a mindset, so is Success.
Strong people and Successful people charge forward and refuse to quit. Quitters never win.
I’ll be sharing my own training methods and how they evolve through The STRONG Life Newsletter.
Get out there and OWN the day. To be weak is to be normal. The way I see it, STRENGTH is your only option!
Live The Code 365,