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The new rules for training over 40

Die neuen Regeln für Training über 40

Let's assume for a moment that you are an ageing professional athlete. Your joints are a little more prone to pain than those of your younger teammates and your reflexes aren't as spectacular, but you still have most of your skills. As an ageing athlete who wants to continue playing at a high - or even higher - level, should you start training harder or less hard?

Harder, of course. Or at least much smarter. Otherwise your abilities will dwindle. You no longer have the luxury of youth and therefore can no longer consider your abilities to be innate. There is no time to slow down. If this is the case with older athletes in football, field hockey, MMA or pretty much any other sport, why do bodybuilders get told by pretty much everyone that they should slow down as they get older?

It's almost as if 40 is an expiration date tattooed on your butt when you come into the world and that once that date is up, you better give up heavy squats and heavy deadlifts with more weight than a pack of adult diapers. They also tell you that you should pay more attention to your recovery - maybe a few sets once a week, in between which you should go to the park and feed ducks.

I think all of this is complete nonsense. I realize that there are some differences between 25 and 40 and probably a lot of differences between 25 and 50, but not as many as you might think, which is especially true if you already have at least 10 years of training experience before you reach your "sell-by" date.

In most cases, you shouldn't start slowing things down as you approach or pass 40 or 50. Rather, it's time to kick your training up a notch if you want to stay in the game. However, there are some hard truths you need to swallow.

Work capacity

1 - Improve your work capacity

You can't train hard if you're already out of breath when you put your pants on. You need to do cardiovascular or metabolic conditioning or whatever you prefer. How could you expect to train hard if your lungs aren't able to keep going?

In addition, your cellular batteries - the mitochondria - start to wear out, get lazy, take an extended vacation down south or die off as you get older. They need a kick in the butt to multiply and that's exactly what intense training does.

But don't worry, you don't have to spend hour after hour on all that boring, conventional aerobic exercise where you sit on the ergometer for an hour while your aching prostate swells to the size of a melon.

Instead, hit the treadmill, rowing machine or ergometer three times a week for a paltry 10 minutes of HIIT-style training. Focus all your efforts on the 20 seconds where you give it your all, followed by 60 seconds of active recovery.

On the treadmill, this could mean setting the speed to a relaxed 5 km/h and then pushing it up as far as your legs will allow for 20 seconds, after which you reduce the speed back to 5 km/h for a minute or two before the next round.

You can do the same on an ergometer or rowing machine, or use short sprints followed by recovery periods during which you walk.

Alternatively, on a treadmill you can set the incline to Himalayan setting or as steep as possible and run uphill for 30 to 60 seconds before reducing the incline again. This type of training has been shown to increase the number of mitochondria. This, combined with the increased endurance you will experience, will help you to train as hard as you need to.

2 - Do more work - a lot more work

Performing 3 sets of 8 reps will no longer be enough. This may have worked when you were younger and you had more testosterone-laced tiger blood coursing through your veins - but not now, when you have a 50:50 mix of tiger blood and prune juice coursing through your plaque-clogged veins.

For this reason, almost every training session should include an extended set, a descending set or some other kind of finisher, and if you're not making an ugly, blood-red face at the end of that set, then you haven't worked hard enough.

Perform descending sets on the leg press or squats on the multi press. Train to muscle failure. Take a disk from the bar. Train again until muscle failure. Take another disk from the bar. Exercise until muscle failure. Remove another disk. Go to muscle failure again. Collapse into an embryo position.

Try the 10-6-10 method for one or two exercises. This is 10 seconds of an isometric exercise immediately followed by 6 repetitions with a 3 to 5 second eccentric repetition (using the same weight), followed by 10 partial repetitions (again using the same weight) without rest.

Or use a weight with which you can perform about 10 repetitions. Look at the clock on the wall and note the time. Give yourself 5 minutes to perform 50 repetitions with this weight, pausing only briefly between sets until muscle failure. If you actually manage to do 50 repetitions within 5 minutes, then the weight was too light.

Barbell curls with a mechanical advantage like the following also work well:

A1. Reverse barbell curls: 6 to 8 repetitions

A2. Drag curls with as many reps as you can manage

A3. Barbell curls with as many reps as you can manage

I think you know where I'm going with this. It may sound counter intuitive and it may sound like weightlifting heresy, but you need to train harder than when you were younger if you want to stay in the game.

3 - Sh... on your sore joints

Aching joints are no excuse to slack off. Anyone who has trained seriously with weights for 10 years will wake up in the morning feeling like they spent the previous day trying to ride a rodeo bull and getting thrown across the arena.

Get over it. Sure you can do your stretches, the hot yoga where you are treated like a hot dumpling from the Chinese restaurant or whatever rehab exercises suit your situation, but in most cases, you will always be in pain.

Your recourse is to be smart about it - perform exercises where you don't feel pain in the relevant joint, use grip or foot positions that allow you to exercise pain-free, use a reduced range of motion or reduce the weight and use a slower tempo. A good 4 second lowering of the weight should take the strain off irritated tendons.

4 - Say goodbye to sets under 5 reps

This is the one big concession to your age. You should no longer think about doing sets of less than 5 repetitions. There is simply no need for such heavy weights and the risk of an injury such as a torn ligament or tendon, which are simply not as strong as they used to be, that you can't train around, is simply too great.

But don't worry about it. You can stay quite strong even if you dedicate your time to sets of 6 to 8 repetitions.

5 - Many training-free days are a luxury you can't afford

The conventional thinking is that old farts should spend more time sitting at home in the recliner eating their protein porridge until the old bones have regained enough strength to get up and shuffle off to the gym.

This is true in one respect, but false in another. Certainly older exercisers need to focus on their recovery more than younger exercisers, but they often convince themselves to take longer rests than they need. They end up giving themselves more non-training time because the mass of sweaty, training humanity tells them to do so, instead of giving themselves non-training time because they really need it. This continuous regeneration drumbeat confuses them.

But older exercisers, unlike younger athletes, can't afford to take too much time off. If you're young and skip a few days of training, it's no big deal. The young body will still grow, whereas older bodies tend to break down.

The older exerciser has to constantly fight against slowing down and they can't achieve this if they take too many days off. Don't rely on how you feel. Your mind wants you to take a day off. It wants you to treat yourself to a nice manicure or pedicure because everyone whose opinion you care about is already at the gym and therefore can't see what you're doing.

However, there is one thing that should tell you to take an entitled workout-free day and that's your workout log. If it's telling you that you weren't able to improve on Thursday, or at least you weren't able to match your performance from the previous training session, then it's time to give yourself a day off.

If this is not the case, then go to the gym as you have always done since the beginning of time.

6 - No more stupid training splits

You're not 15 anymore. The traditional workout split where you trained one muscle group per workout (usually 5 workouts per week) is neither efficient nor effective, which is especially true for an adult with a job who actually communicates with real women in their non-pixel form.

Your muscles recover in about two days - so why wouldn't you train them again for a whole week? Apart from that - what happens if your life gets in the way and you miss a training session or two in a week? That throws your entire training plan out of whack and you might not train the same muscle group for 8 or 10 days.

You are much better off with an upper body/lower body training split where you train 4 (or even 6) days a week:

Monday: lower body

Tuesday: Upper body

Wednesday: No training

Thursday: lower body

Friday: Upper body

Saturday: No training

Sunday: No training

According to many trainers, the upper body/lower body training split is by far the most effective training split for several reasons:

It lets you make better use of your time. Since muscles need about 2 days to recover, muscles that were trained on Monday should be trained again on Wednesday. If you don't do this, you will lose ground.

You train your muscles more often with fewer training sessions. With a bro training split, you train 5 days a week and each muscle group once a week. In an upper body/lower body training split, you train four times a week and each muscle group is trained twice a week.

8 - Bend the knee before volume

I have already recommended in this article that you give up sets with less than 5 repetitions. However, that doesn't mean you're stuck in the 8 to 10 repetition range forever.

Everyone seems to be stuck at 8 reps - mainly because early caveman exercisers started doing 8 reps traditionally. 6 or 7 reps didn't feel hard enough and 9 or 10 or more reps were as boring as talking to an insurance salesman. But I'm telling you that there are more useful repetition schemes between heaven and earth than you would dream of in your training philosophy.

You can build plenty of mass - perhaps more mass than you ever thought possible - by performing sets of 12, 15 or even 20 reps, especially if you've been ignoring higher repetition ranges your entire training career.

You could incorporate these higher repetition ranges into your training program by dedicating the first training day (say for upper body) of the week to sets of 6 to 8 repetitions, dedicating the next training session to sets of 8 to 10 repetitions, and then dedicating the third training session to sets of 12 to 15 or more repetitions before starting again with 6 to 8 repetitions.

Are you skeptical about high repetition numbers? Try this pattern a few times before you make up your mind:

For pretty much every exercise, pick a weight that you can do 20 reps with, using a one-second concentric phase (lifting the weight) and a two-second eccentric phase (lowering the weight):

Perform the first set of 20 repetitions.

Pause for about 30 seconds.

Perform the second set of 20 repetitions (or as many repetitions as you can manage).

Rest for 30 seconds.

Perform a third set of 20 repetitions (or as close to 20 repetitions as possible).

Put the trained muscle group in ice to cool the fire.

Researchers Fink, Kikuchi and Nakazato (2018) found that for experienced exercisers, this method built muscle twice as well as the typical sets of 8 repetitions. This shows that higher repetitions work well and are also much easier on the joints.

8 - Relieve the spine whenever possible

You can assume that you need more rest than someone who is 25 years old and a daily nap might be a little impractical or too opaque for you and therefore you should consider spinal decompression. Doing this for 20 minutes a day can take a lot of strain off your spine and also be generally restorative.

Simply find an open space on the floor and lie on your back with your lower legs and calves on a chair so that your hips and knees are at a right angle. This takes the load off your intervertebral discs and allows your spine to relax without having to fight gravity.

Plus, if you fall asleep and someone catches you doing this, you can simply claim that you are performing an advanced spinal rehabilitation and recovery technique that goes beyond their understanding.


From TC Luoma

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