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For the last few years I have been absolutely denying that as I age I can be as strong and as I was in my 30s.  Watching some of our PT team lift heavy weights my head is telling me I should still be able to keep up right?

Last year I confess, beat this stubborn streak out of me as my body started to disagree with my head.  I have never been so injured, (shoulders & knees) continually sore and although ‘leg training days’ were always hard I just never got the recovery that made it fun, well as much fun as legs day can be!

So, after a bit more research I left my ego at the door and challenged myself to stay strong (bench press my body weight and lift 1.5 my body weight) and remain mobile with a degree of fun (walking hand stands).

From my 20’s to late 30’s, I could lift heavy weights much more frequently, loading the spine and joints to get bigger. I didn’t do anything stupid and my form was really good, so I made it through pretty well unscathed. I always state that I should be able to do now what I did then but there comes a point (and this will vary for different people) when injuries are more common than workouts.

Last year was my year. I have put together a list of changes that I believe you need to include in your training program to ensure longevity of training, while still maintaining good strength and shape.

Although I reference myself lifting weight in this article, this is just as important to females as they age as much as males. The female musculoskeletal system is designed the same way but not the same shape.  Strength & toning as we age is still important for both sexes, often the difference in results comes down to the appropriate design of the training program.

The following recommendations apply to both female and male training programmes;

1) Don’t load the spine as regularly. I see younger lifters squat or deadlift  3 times per week. However, to get my best work I found that as an older lifter I needed to modify this. The lower back tends to get a hammering from most exercises & takes longer to recuperate than most body parts, and as we age, it becomes even more obvious.

Splitting up the big lift exercises such as squats & deadlifts & reducing either the weight or the volume of them helps to keep me motivated and strong.  So, make sure that you have enough rest time between loading the spine with these big lifts.

2)  Legs need endurance & strength. It becomes more important to do some extra conditioning work like jumping rope, running hills, using the skillmill or pushing a sled. This is both for your cardiovascular health and for keeping trim (lean and mean).

Doing 1 or max 2 lower body strength workouts per week (in most cases) will still allow you to run & play without running into any recovery issues such as sore muscles or over-stressing your joints.

The mix of a one leg strength (squat) with a plyo/cardio exercise (box jump) or sprint is a good way to keep two lower body workouts without overload.

3) Heavy up once a week only. Heavy pressing is great for building up the chest, shoulders and triceps, but it also takes a toll on your rotator cuff muscles and all the tendons and ligaments surrounding your shoulder joint if you do it too often. The over 40 crew are better off limiting their heavy press work to once a week and substituting in more joint friendly variations like suspended push ups and higher rep dumbbell presses on their other upper body workout of the week.

4) Eliminate (or drastically reduce) low-rep training. Working up to heavy sets in the one to five rep range is awesome for building strength. However, these sets can also beat you up pretty good and technique must be spot on as this is where injury will occur. As long as you train smart you can still make tremendous strength gains in this rep range while sparing your joints. The other great thing about training with higher reps overall is that it will help you preserve muscle mass.

We tend to lose muscle mass as we age if we don’t use it (a condition called Sarcopenia). By training with moderately heavy weights in the range of eight to 12 reps, you can persevere muscle and sometimes make some small gains to build muscle.

5) Warm-up & stretch. Yup…super important people! The emphasis on warm up & stretching can make profound changes to the effectiveness of your workout.  To warm up properly I am doing mobility drills for the specific areas I am working on that session. Shoulders, hips and other injury prone areas and then light warm up sets of between 10 & 15 before moving to maximals.

As I have grown (ok…aged!!  I’ve never actually grown up)  I now absolutely have to make time for this or my body really starts to hate me. Other important parts of the warm-up include some active stretching, foam rolling to improve soft tissue quality, muscle activation drills for the upper back and glutes as well as some dynamic stretching. Whenever you’re pressed for time, it’s better to cut out some of your workload than it is to skimp on your warm-up.

The number one bio marker for aging is muscle which equals strength, tone & shape.  This is important for both males & females so, don’t stop exercising but make strength training part of your weekly routine for life. (remember the recent news of the 101year old sprinter!).

Winter is the perfect time to get started on a 3 month strength training programme with results guaranteed to please in the summer!

Book a time with your trainer to start your strength training programme now!

Mike McCauley (Boss)