I’m 41 now and recently I’ve read a few articles from famous fitness pros, athletes, fitness influencers etc. who are now over 40 and it triggered some thoughts.
Note: I should highlight that I respect, follow, read and listen to these people intently and they are distant mentors (Bigger Brothers) who inspire me, motivate me and help me increase my knowledge and improve.
Reading some of the articles, there is often talk of reducing intensity, easing off on heavy lifting, training smarter not harder etc over 40. When I read this, I try to go beyond the words and really consider the context before I make a decision on how I should take it on board for my own training, fitness etc.
The thing I fear is that if I don’t do this, I may be missing a trick that is lost in the perspective. This is also the broader challenge I have with much of the health and fitness information out there. It’s not that any of it is right or wrong, it’s more that there are so many perspectives, view-points, and approaches that it’s easy to get lost and confused in terms of how to apply it to your own reality.
Research can also help, but it can also be misleading if taken too literally and specifically. Research tends to be done in a controlled state and just by its nature it lacks all the various curve balls of the real world. Again though, it’s not that this is wrong or should be ignored, it should just be recognized and considered to develop the most accurate view for your context.
For example, when reading these articles from 40+ fitness pros and influencers it would be easy to think, he/she is easing off over 40 then perhaps I/we all should to. However, context is key here.
This person may have been training in their chosen area (let’s use strength training as an example) since the age of 15 (or even younger), been a top athlete in their field and been in a highly advanced fitness state in their 20s, 30s etc. In the strength example, they may have been squatting 500 lbs (over 220 kg) at 220%+ of bodyweight for multiple reps, sets and pounding their body for 2.5 hours or more per day over many years. They now need to regress to a more reasonable weight, because the sad fact of life is that after 30 our bodies slowly decline. The other slightly depressing fact is it’s not even 50% of the majority of people’s lives. Ie. You rapidly increase to a peak and start to decline in less than 30% of your actual expected life span.
So, in the case of this strong, fit person, it makes sense that they need to regress. However, last time I checked, this is not the majority of people’s reality. While we all face a similar body state trajectory, the likely hood is that even in our prime fitness state, we couldn’t have matched a pros regressed training. It may even be the case (as it was in my own case) that there was a rapid decline at some point in the 20s due to life impacts taking over, therefore meaning that you could be fitter, stronger, healthier etc. in later life than you were in earlier periods of your life.
Now bearing in mind the difference of perspective, here’s the other thing to consider. The general view seems to be that as we age, we should become defensive in our approach to health and fitness, take it easier, regress etc. Reading the articles from these athletes and fitness pros may also suggest that. However, this is perhaps not the case at all for most people, because what is important is your fitness now and what is your potential at any age. There are many examples online of old people lifting heavy weights, people completely changing their health states for the better in mid-late life, skiing or playing tennis into their 80s, people doing triathlons for the first time in their 40s or older, the list goes on…
If you are over 30, 40, 50, whatever physical state you are in, the reality is you are unlikely to be able to achieve your ultimate physical prime potential (you may have missed the boat there as I did), but it doesn’t mean you can’t progress and achieve a life prime and an age prime. So, before you think about being defensive and easing off, avoiding the heavy weight or challenging yourself to deadlift for the first time, ask yourself is that right for my situation or if I really wanted to, could I be more offensive with my approach?
The research even shows that lifting weights can help slow and reverse the loss of muscle mass as we age: New York Times Article | How To Get Strong plus help reduce and even build new bone density after 40 Harvard Health. In addition, studies show that resistance training and lifting heavy weight can help boost testosterone, particularly important for men after the age of 30, particularly 40 when testosterone can start a significant decline NCBI Study
While being offensive doesn’t mean you should be foolish with your training and put yourself at risk of injury or worse, it does mean you shouldn’t accept aging as a barrier to improving fitness, health, strength, etc. Of course, you will have niggles, aches and may even have some health challenges to work around (I certainly do) etc., but it’s better than the alternative of declining health and fitness and you shouldn’t automatically regress your training. Taking a common example, if you have back pain, lying down may make it feel better temporarily, but it won’t fix it. Better to start with light exercise and slowly increase the intensity over time. You may even find your back becomes stronger and more resistant. Our bodies are designed to recover and even get stronger at any age — see: Super Healing AARP.
So, before you start going backwards and being defensive, start thinking how you can incrementally move forwards and progress your health, fitness, strength and performance no matter your age. It’s a journey, not a race. You may find that you still have plenty of gas left in the tank!
Neill David Watson for The Lean Exec