The Differences Between Training In Your 40’s and Your 20’s

We need change the misconceptions in training and acknowledge the fact that the cookie cutter approach to fitness doesn’t work.

Do you remember your 20s? Do you remember what exercises you were doing?

I started working out consistently in my teen years, so by the time I was in my 20s I had taken a shit-ton of certifications including the very popular aerobics, step, body-pump, and spinning. I worked full-time at IBM and then went to the local community center after work to teach.  I was the aerobics queen, fully kitted out in my leotard thong and leg-warmers. I came to that class high kicking my way through all the routines with gusto and joy. At this stage in my fitness career, I knew very little about strength training, and I rarely lifted a weight. But everything I did was balls to the wall, high energy output with little to no rest. That’s the beauty of our 20s, we feel like one of those Energizer bunnies with an endless battery life.

As we start to age and move through our 30s to our 40s we inevitably see changes in our body, energy level, and recovery ability. Our bodies will naturally start to slow down at this stage of life, and we need to start making more intelligent decisions when it comes to our food choices, workout protocols, and recovery methods. During this stage, many women will also experience some hormonal challenges that will be unique to each individual and might range from unwelcome fatigue to debilitating depression. These symptoms can change from day to day.

The Challenges of Middle Age

At the age of 46, I have experienced the full gamut of these challenges, so I speak from experience as both a trainer and a woman in this age group. Many of my clients are women over 40, and I see first-hand how life has thrown a curve ball their way despite their best efforts at exercising, managing stresses and being mindful about nutrition. It was while coaching these clients that I realized that very little specific helpful information was available about any changes that needed to be made in fitness and nutrition as we age. And, in fact, most articles confirm that we shouldn’t train any differently than when we were in our 20s, that we are just as capable now as we were then, and we should just continue as normal.

This is true, to a point. Yes we are capable, very capable in fact, and most of the time we should workout as normal, that is until we can’t. Entering our 40s throws so many other spanners into the mix that adopting a standardized approach to life just doesn’t work anymore.

Lay Out Your Strategies

I get daily emails from women telling me of the struggles they experience, usually followed with expressions of guilt or frustration at not being able to do the most menial of tasks, never mind taking on a crazy arsed workout that will leave them depleted for days.

We now need to have strategies in place to deal with these stumbling blocks. We need to have some wins in life and stop putting unmanageable pressure on ourselves. When it comes to a successful workout plan, do your best to include the following concepts:

1. Have a plan and be adaptable.

I personally like to plan for myself and my clients in 4-6 week chunks. Even if you want to just do a weekly schedule, make sure that it fits into your lifestyle. It would be foolish to plan an hour workout in the gym if you know you really only have 25 minutes, so plan accordingly. Make sure you have a day between your workouts if possible so that you have sufficient recovery time.

2. Take time to recover adequately.

I have noticed in my own workouts that some days after a really hard strength workout I feel completely depleted. If you can relate to this, consider using this time to listen to your body. If you need to take a nap, take a nap. If you need more sleep, then get more sleep. If you need to have a lighter day the next time you workout, then that is what you should do. Your body needs stress to adapt, but it shouldn’t leave you feeling completely spent. Try to find that sweet spot that makes you thrive and grow.

3. Something is better than nothing.

Self-compassion is the theme here. If you are having one of those days where you feel like you are in a fog, not performing optimally, or are just having a bad day, take the heat off yourself and do what feels right for your body. A great option on these days might be to go for a brisk walk, swim, practice yoga, work on mobility, or attend a pilates session. Often, the act of movement is enough to get you out of the funk. So, lose the “all-or-nothing” mentality and just do something, no matter how small.

4. Prioritize strength training.

The most productive way to workout in your 40s is by making strength workouts part of your norm. We know that as we age both our strength and our power output start to wane. There are so many benefits from incorporating load-bearing exercises into your life. Strength training increases your metabolism, releases those feel-good endorphins, and develops better body mechanics. Good body mechanics matter as we get older due to the risk of falling and injury.

The Power of Community

My group classes, which I used to host in Toronto, became more than just a place of people to workout. I realized that the core draw was the social and emotional aspect of group mentality. It became a place of trust and kindness for people to share their stories and experiences and to have compassionate ears available to listen. The power that this type of community gives is immeasurable. It’s what makes our challenges bearable, and it makes us realize we aren’t alone. There are many other people experiencing the same thing as you are.

I have a Facebook community that you are welcome to join if you feel it will help you. Head over to Menopausing So Hard to join the throng of cranky hormonal ladies just like you.

Coach Amanda Thebe is Breaking Muscle’s Expert Coach in Residence. If you are a woman who is over 40 years old and you want Coach Thebe to cover a topic you are interested in or would like her to address a specific issue you may have, email [email protected] Put Coach Thebe in the subject line, and let us know what you need in your training.