Live Long and Prosper: Real World Fitness for the 40+ Athlete
Getting in shape at forty and beyond has never been harder than it is right now. If you’re like most people when you have a question you fire up the computer and search for an answer.
An Avalanche of Fitness Crap
But when you go to Google and type in “best workout” you get over 300 million results. The entire first page is all complete crap, with the spots belonging to various big-name fitness magazines selling whatever sounds-too-good-to-be-true thing they think they can scam you with this week.
If you go to YouTube and do the same, you’ll get ten and a half million results, with the first page being split between exercise and fail compilations. But still all crap if you’re looking for a reliable way to get in shape.
How odd is it that you have access to nearly the entire range of accumulated wisdom of the human race when it comes to exercise and yet can’t find anything reliable to start with? Have you ever wondered why?
It's Not About Bringing Sexy Back
If you come to exercise as a complete beginner at forty, you need to begin at the beginning and that’s not sexy. Six-pack abs are sexy. Gaining enough flexibility and stability to touch your toes is not. Muscle ups are sexy. Hanging off the bar to develop the shoulders and grip to do muscle ups is not.
"Every meal that isn’t in line with your goals of living a healthy, energetic life will make you feel hung over, possibly for days."
The reality is if you want to get your body moving well at a later age, you need to think back to the last time your body worked well. There’s a fair chance that was when you were about six years old. At that point, you used movement to discover your environment and played to gain all the muscle and flexibility you needed.
But once you started going to school, things changed. You “learned” by being forced to sit in a chair for hours at a time, day after day. You can probably remember waking up full of energy on Saturday mornings, with your body bursting at the seams to run and play. Over time, that stopped, though, and you ended up sitting still more and more and moving less and less.
The Simple Power of Walking
We become good at the things we do. Is it any wonder that after thirty-plus years of sitting still your body isn’t very good at moving? So the first thing you actually need to do is get away from the computer and get moving.
This WebMD article shows fast walking has a great correlation to living a longer, healthier life. That’s the first thing you should be worried about at forty or beyond - living a healthy life. I’m not saying don’t sweat, don’t compete, or don’t push yourself. What I am saying is worry about health and fitness first, and put performance further down the list than you might have in your twenties. Walking is a perfect fit. It’s sustainable, can be done daily, and helps you live longer.
In the same vein, researchers have shown that being able to get up and down from the floor without needing to use your hands is also a great sign of possible longevity.
Movement is the thing that allowed you to get a good start on life and it’s movement that will allow you to regain as much as possible later in life. At a recent seminar, Ido Portal said he generally gets people to use what he calls his corset protocol for anywhere from one to three years. This protocol is designed to get people moving properly after a life of immobility. He even pointed out that some people, due to time constraints, will never move past this point in their training, such is their lack of mobility.
Last weekend my gym hosted a workshop for adults run by an extremely experienced gymnastics coach. I know Ido and this gymnastics coach had never met, yet their systems began at the same place - regaining movement first. What strikes me as interesting is that guys like Gray Cook have championed that particular clue for a decade now, as well. Cook’s performance pyramid begins with mobility, stability, and proprioception - all basic movement skills - before worrying about strength and conditioning.
Focus On Movement
Once you’ve taken care of the movement portion each day, then worry about the strength and conditioning side. Don’t get it backward. If you focus on strength and conditioning first, you’ll find yourself even stiffer and more immobile than before as your muscles tighten up from all the hard training. Don’t forget - if you’re too stiff to get up and down from the floor hands free, you may be on the express train outta here.
When it does come time to add strength into your routine, the only question worth asking is, “How much do I need?” I have plenty of MAML customers (Middle Aged Man in Lycra) who enjoy cycling. But then they spend some time online, no doubt searching on Google for the best workout, and come away perplexed, feeling like they need a double-bodyweight deadlift. But will that make any significant difference to their life compared to a deadlift that is ten pounds less? The answer, of course, is no. Yes, they need some strength training, but they don’t need to devote their entire training time to it.
They’d be far better served spending the time they free up on food planning, shopping, and preparing. Because that’s the final thing no one wants to tell you about training in your forties if you expect good results - there are no more cheat meals.
"I’m not saying don’t sweat, don’t compete, or don’t push yourself. What I am saying is worry about health and fitness first[.]"
If you want to get the best return you can on the time spent in the gym, then your nutrition needs to be on point. Every meal that isn’t in line with your goals of living a healthy, energetic life will make you feel hung over, possibly for days. The saying “you are what you eat” must have been coined by someone in their forties. As food forms the basis for how much energy you have and nourishes you from the inside out, it is your number one priority.
Your Training Priorities
- Eat well every meal.
- Get moving by adding in at least a short daily walk.
- Gain movement, both as mobility and flexibility.
- Add strength and conditioning.
A good way to split this up in training sessions is to do thirty-minute blocks. The first thirty minutes is for mobility. The second block is for flexibility. And the final block is for strength and conditioning work. Walk and eat well daily. Live long and prosper.
Check out these related articles:
- Grow Older and Get Stronger With Our Mature Athlete Workouts
- Bulls and Toby Keith: Fitness Lessons for the Mature Athlete
- Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night (Or How to Grow Older Disgracefully)
- What's New On Breaking Muscle UK Today
1. "Walking Faster May Lead to a Longer Life," WebMD, 2011.
2. de Brito, et. al., "Ability to Sit and Rise From Floor as a Predictor of All-Cause Mortality," Preventative Cardiology, (2012). Accessed February 17, 2015.
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.