In the Gym and middle aged?
There are millions of 40+ year old men and women who still like to train at the gym to try to maintain some level of conditioning and muscle development, whilst battling the ongoing and slowly progressing aging process.
For those of you who are over 40, you grew up as teenagers in the 80’s when the explosion in gym training was made popular by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. The 80’s and the 90’s saw the explosion in the commercial gym scene and the associated muscle building type movements made popular by movie stars and body builders. So it’s no surprise that you still have the urge to continue this type of training into your middle ages. But many of you discover that as much as you try, you can’t quite perform as well as when you were in your late teens and 20’s.
The main differences between the 20 year old and the 40 year old are hormone levels and early onset degeneration. I will mention these two factors and the implications this has on the way you should train.
1) Hormone levels.
Testosterone levels peak in the late 20’s and early 30’s. After that we see a steady decline in testosterone levels as we get older. Similarly growth hormone levels start to drop after our growth spurt years in our late teens and early 20’s. These two hormones are not only essential for growth (muscle, bone, all tissues) but they are also hormones that allow us to recover. All of our body tissues use testosterone for growth and recovery. Muscle tissue, bone, nerve tissue, connective tissue etc…. without them we struggle to recover and grow.
Therefore the 40+ year olds find it harder to recover from hard gym sessions. They need more days to get over the soreness which means you should not perform hard training sessions as often as you did in your 20’s. If you do, you gradually deteriorate and get injured.
Therefore you should tailor your strength programs so that hard sessions are less frequent and you need to add in more maintenance type sessions. Rather than squatting hard and heavy every week, you should find that every 2 weeks will suffice.
This is hard for many 40+ year olds to comprehend. They still want to train like they did in their 20’s, but they don’t appreciate that we have failing hormone levels and also other significant stress factors such as family, social networks, fulltime jobs etc. We need to be more diligent with recovery and nutrition/supplements to ensure we can still make progressive gains.
From the age of 30, our white tissues start to degenerate and become weaker and more fragile. This includes our spine discs, cartilage, meniscus, tendons and the fascia/connective tissue between and in our muscles. The structure of these tissues starts to change and they are more easily broken down and injured.
Injuries such as degenerative meniscal tears, disc bulges, achilles tendinopathy and early onset arthritis start to affect us. This means we find it harder to routinely perform exercises such as squats, dips, heavy bench and shoulder press as these invariably end up causing us joint pains. This means we need to spend more time doing lighter weights, focus more on prehab type exercises and also stretching more.
So basically getting older does not mean we should not go to the gym any more. We just have to respect that we are no longer 20 years of age and we have to make behavioural modifications in the way we plan our training and recovery so that we can continue pain free and progress and still make gains.
So for the oldies out there, keep lifting but don’t try and keep up with the younger ones there!