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How to lift heavy when you’re over 40

IF YOU’RE 40 OR OVER, WHAT CHANGES WHEN WE DO HEAVY SQUATS?

If you’ve ever worked with a personal trainer before, you probably know that weight training is a major component in most weight-loss programmes and if you haven’t, its increasing popularity has probably reached your social media feed somewhere along the line. This is because weight training has particular hormonal releases in both men and women that are conducive to weight loss, while improving many other health factors.

Ok, cool – so why is it important to address age when we talk about weight lifting?

It’s time to ‘big up’ my expertise in an over 40’s specialism. Let’s pick two specific exercises:

THE SQUAT

THE DEADLIFT

These two above will probably feature in your programme somewhere. If your main goal is to lose weight then they’ll definitely be in there, but even if they’re not they are both indicative of several fitness markers. The squat more-so than the deadlift is very demanding of someones posture. That doesn’t mean that if you have poor posture you can’t do it; rather that it will highlight where you have muscular tension very quickly.

The squat and deadlift have been chosen as examples as they work many muscle groups at once. The logic is that if someone wants to fat-burn, or improve their cardiovascular health, or improve their fitness levels, then when we start a new training programme weight training is a major component. These two exercises are the foundations of movement as they involve hinging of the hips, ankle flexion, healthy knee movement, shoulder function, retraction of the shoulders, and abdominal function.

In other words, they’ll show me where the gaps are – so training can fill these gaps in. From there, clients can then venture into great variation in exercise programming with the exercise ‘set list’ becoming less and less demanding. These two exercises are effective because they’ll have the greatest load, and the greatest hormonal response, but also come with the highest injury rate.

It is very frequent that someone won’t be able to do these exercises properly during early training. It is unusual for a client to include these in their first session and start reaping the rewards; when they do they’re often between the ages of 18 to 25 years old. Sometimes it can take me 6 weeks or more to include the back squat in a client’s programme as we have been working on prerequisites to allow them to do so up until then.

WHAT IS THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE HERE?
When I say I specialise in clients who are over 40, this is because I have built up a skillset that focuses on addressing the impacts on the body from many different factors. This includes work related posture, daily stresses on the body from carrying children or commuting, or even years of office work. Whatever you’ve included in your daily roles over the last decade will have implications on how you proceed with training.

This could be more than 10 years of sitting or driving, train journeys or meetings, and 10 years is a rough estimate; this is often a longer period of time.

So the implications of this are my main point. The single most common problem I see as a coach is lower back pain, followed closely by shoulder disfunction. The introduction of these proportionately heavy exercises, or tough exercise routines often highlight areas of tension the client isn’t aware of. The good thing is muscular pain or back spasms are relatively easy to work with.

In the studio I will include graded form-work and pay close attention to where clients might experience muscular problems. Our soft tissue is prone to weakening as we get older, and although a client might feel that they can proceed with weight training faster; it’s often the case that we will progress a little slower. This is only to allow us to ensure things like glute function and abdominal bracing are happening during exercise and to familiarise ourselves with the intensity of training.

WHAT IS ALLOSTATIC LOAD?

Allostatic load is the ‘wear and tear’ on the body. It represents the consequences of chronic stress on the body on a physiological level when we are exposed to long term stress. The implication that stress has in this blog is that the recovery needed for someone over 40 for an excellent weight training session is far more than someone who is in their early 20s.

On a more personal level, I can confirm that as I near a key birthday this month my recovery rate appears to be slowing!

Not only recovering from the stress of exercise, but also the stress of work as well. So the day you have an excellent deadlift session with me but also had major deadlines to meet at the office in that same week: you’ll need to recover from that too. Fewer sessions, interspersed with more rest days than someone in their 20s will be an effective way to include high intensity exercise to your routine.

In the studio some of my clients have had their best successes with 2-3 sessions a week and not 4-5. This is because they’ve been able to recover from exercise and their results have been slow and steady. It’s important that as you read this blog thinking about starting something like personal training, I stress the fact that you’re not expected to leap in and start training 5 days a week. You probably haven’t got time for that right?

Let’s focus on quality, and not quantity as they say.

Embedding good form and technique into how clients move in the studio is a method I want everyone to benefit from; so here’s to training well when you’re over 40. If this is the first time you’re training effectively, what’s to stop you getting the results of your life?