Well past your 40th birthday, you have finally arrived at the gym….thank goodness! You’ve been meaning these past few years to get started and today you have at last ‘pulled the trigger’. The initial goals are to get in shape, feel better and, hopefully, look better. Now, what is the best way to begin?
If you were an athlete in the past, would the old training methods be the way to go? Maybe yes and maybe no. If you were starting from scratch, the choices are more open ended. It seems the mantra of the moment is to push your limits, to ‘go for the gold’ so to speak. But does that model fit your needs?
In the Beginning
Just as with any new venture, goals need to be set. In the cardio arena, what is your exercise of choice and how long and/or how far are you planning. In the strength training domain, which discipline will you choose…weights, boot camp, plyometrics, etc? If it ends up being resistance training, how many pounds do you envision handling 2 or 3 years from now?
Making those decisions at the outset is challenging and they most likely will be modified as your progress through the months ahead. Seeing (and feeling) how your body reacts, gathering new information through discussions, and reading articles that drawn your attention will help you analyze your workouts more effectively.
Let’s fast forward a couple of years. If you have stuck to your plan, your physicality has taken quite a leap. You indeed are in pretty good shape, feeling better and looking better. If you haven’t already done so, reevaluation of your previous goals is now in order.
Let’s first look at the cardio component of your training. Do you anticipate increasing your efforts or staying with the status quo? I cannot offer a definitive answer to that question in a sentence or two because each program needs to be analyzed on its own merits. There are a lot of moving parts. But, I would want to add a cautionary note if you are of the higher intensity persuasion.
Research is beginning to surface that very high levels of cardio done frequently may not have the positive results desired by us baby boomers. Check out the YouTube video by Dr. James O’Keefe entitled ‘Cardiovascular Damage from Extreme Endurance Exercise’. The focus of this presentation is that someone over 40 committed to running more than 20 miles a week, in the years to come, may actually be causing damage to the heart.
Remember that recovery from intense exercise takes longer as we age. Not allowing a 40+ year old body to fully recuperate from a challenging effort is a long term recipe for potential problems. Ultimately, you need to do your own research.
When it comes to strength training, dedicated increases of iron lifted over the years can allow us to reach levels that are impressive to the average Jane or Joe. Multiple advantages ensue. One of my clients recently sent me an article reporting that lifting weights can ‘reduce the odds of death for any reason by 46% over those who did not’…..a distinct plus.
Having started a weight lifting regimen after the age of 50, over the course of those initial 3 years, I developed a very respectable level of strength. As I progressed through that third year, a realization began to surface. Something in the back of my mind started to step forward and say ‘How much do you really need to lift?’ The upshot of that query resulted in the decision to curtail any increase in the amount of weight that I was using. I have not lifted anything heavier since 2004.
As mentioned before, if you are returning to the gym after 5, 10 or more years of relative inactivity and have a history of being an athlete ‘back in the day’, a ‘gremlin’ that you have to overcome is thinking you can replicate, decades later, those activities you did in your 20s or 30s. To understand that your body has limitations is the first step to regaining your physicality. Yes, you can do a great deal, just not everything you see in your rear view mirror.
You have to be realistic. Yes, there are senior athletes that accomplish get feats of speed, strength, agility, etc. These individuals compete at a high level. There are always exceptions to the rule. What I would advise each one of you is to take an honest assessment of where you are physically and what are realistic expectations. There is one suggestion I would make for those of you already deep into lifting weights. For a one month period, take an extra day off (or two) between workouts and see if you feel the difference. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Acceptance and Appreciation
To this day, I can do pretty much anything I want. Knowing what to do and what not to do is the key. Did the Tree Top Quest several years ago (check that on off the bucket list). Still do all my own yard work, even cleaning the gutters. There is an understanding when to pick something up and when to leave it alone. Be smart and don’t take unwarranted risks.
At 68, my physical bucket list is limited. Getting hurt is not an option. It’s just common sense. I tell my clients metaphorically I won’t take up an activity that has an ambulance waiting at the bottom of the hill. My business outlook, on the other hand, is open-ended. Opportunities await because major health problems have been avoided (knock on wood) through common sense nutrition, a quality fitness program and a degree of luck. Life experiences have truly taught me my limits.
Good Luck and Good Health!