Fitness for men over 40 isn’t rocket science, but it can be a bit counterintuitive.
Like many of you reading this, I can’t do what I used to and expect to be ok:
- Drink 20 beers and wake up the next morning for PT
- Smoke a pack a day and still get a first class PFT
- Eat a diet consisting of chow hall food, MREs, pizza, Chinese takeout, and doughnuts
I also can’t train like I used to. My body is far slower to recover and far more prone to injury. So, rather than destroying myself with the latest “Train like a Navy Seal” program, I’ve had to come up with smart but effective programming that leads to steady gains, easy recovery, and healthier outcomes.
But by “smart,” I also don’t mean easy. If you give yourself up to golf and walks as your fitness regimen, you can’t expect much in return.
The results have been pretty great for me. At nearly 40 years old, I’m in much better shape than I was when I was 25 after I’d left the Marine Corps.
It all revolves around 3 rules that I’ve established for myself:
Fitness for Men Over 40 Rule 1: Don’t Do Old Man Workouts
They say once a Marine, always a Marine, and I believe that with all my heart. Despite the fact that I was probably, at best, a marginal Marine, I’ve been able to take the principles I learned in the Corps and apply them to the rest of my life.
One of these is “know yourself, and seek self improvement.” Knowing myself includes understanding my body and the fact that if I kick it up to level 10 overdrive seven days a week I’m not going to get any better and I’m going to make it very possible that I’m going to get injured.
But I also know that if I give in and do a bunch of easy workouts, father time take his toll on my body a lot faster.
So I’ve had to impose some principles on myself in my training:
- Don’t lift a weight that I can’t lift for at least 5 perfect repetitions.
- Warm up for at least ten minutes prior to beginning any hard training session.
- Only use free weights, cables, or kettle bells. I do not use machines.
- Do not do steady cardio like long distance running more than 3 times per week
Those last two may surprise you as “restrictions.” Old guys should be using machines rather than free weights and they should be doing more steady cardio right?
That’s a mistake that a lot of old guys make when the hit their mid 30s. They think that if they restrict themselves to training on machines and doing some light cardio several times a week, they’ll stay healthy and injury free.
This commonly assumed best way of training for old guys is very wrong. The two most common causes of injury as you get older will either be weak bones or muscle imbalances. There are two very important laws in physiology that you need to understand here: Wolff’s Law and Davis’s Law.
Why Wolff’s and Davis’s Law Matter
Wolff’s Law states that bone in a healthy person will adapt to the demands under which it is placed. This means that, if you want your bones to be healthy and dense as you get older, you should be putting them under significant amounts of stress at far greater pressures than your own bodyweight. That type of stress comes from performing the big lifts like deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts.
You are NOT going to get that kind of stress from doing leg presses and machine presses. That doesn’t mean that you need to be loading the bar with back breaking weight, but you should challenge yourself to use the heaviest weight you can with perfect form for 5 repetitions on each of these lifts. Your bones will thank you later in life.
Davis’s Law is why we shouldn’t do steady cardio more than 3 times a week. Similar to Wolff’s Law, it states that muscular tissue models along imposed demands. That means that the more you repeat a movement pattern, the more your muscles model to perform that movement pattern. It also means that if you are not varying your movement patterns, the muscles you use the most to perform it will get overused while other muscles will get underused.
This results in muscle imbalances that create achey joints, scar tissue, and increase the potential for acute injury.
I love running for distance, but it’s exactly the type of exercise that results in these types of imbalances if you do it too much. This applies even more to machine cardio, like the elliptical, which forces you even more into a repetitive pattern.
So rather than just double timing, add high intensity interval training into your repertoire with burpees, bodyweight squats, kettle bell work, and calisthenic circuits.
Fitness for Men Over 40 Rule 2: Vary the Activities and Exercises You’re Doing
This is another counterintuitive recommendation: as you get older, it’s important that you do more stuff. I make it for the same reason I tell you not to run too much.
If you go into the gym and do the same thing over and over again for years on end, you’ll end up building up lots of scar tissue and neglecting muscles that need to be strengthened. As you get older, you’re even more likely to create scar tissue and those neglected muscles become even more important.
So while you might want to limit it to golf, the elliptical, and lifting weights, you should try to find other things you can do that will challenge your normal movement patterns. These include activities like yoga, martial arts, hiking, gymnastics, and even parkour.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be doing these things like a ninja. Start at a beginner level and use progressions to slowly build your capabilities.
The more varied your activities are, the less likely it is that you’ll get injured, stiff, and well…old.
Fitness for Men Over 40 Rule 3: Eat More Fat
Here’s something your doctor probably isn’t going to tell you: as you get older, you should focus on eating more fat.
Your lifeblood as a man is the hormone testosterone. Testosterone is derived from cholesterol. One big potential reason why we’ve been seeing testosterone levels plummet in the last 50 years is the low fat recommendations that doctors have been making since just after World War II.
I’m not telling you go go eat french fries or fast food, but you should focus on getting healthy fats into your diet from free range whole eggs, grass fed beef, wild caught fatty fish, and avocados.
I write “free range,” “grass fed,” and “wild caught,” because you want to make sure that you’re also getting the right kinds of fats with a proper Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio. Omega 3 fatty acids help to fight inflammation, while Omega 6 fatty acids can raise inflammation.
You should also avoid eating too much Omega 6 oil like canola or corn oils. These make up a large portion of the packaged and pre-prepared foods we eat.
These days nutrition has become extremely complicated so I will leave you with a few basic rules you can apply:
- Avoid foods that contain ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
- About 85% of the meals you eat should be meals you prepared.
- Focus on eating protein and healthy fats.
- Carbs are ok as well, but eat them toward the end of the day after you’ve trained.
That about sums it up as far as the basics without getting too complicated.
I will go further into nutrition at another point, but that is for another blog at another time. To learn a bit more about how nutrition will affect your testosterone levels, check out this video.
If you’re looking for more information, you can join us in the free Warrior Soul Fitness Academy. When you join you get a free 14 day workout, a sample meal plan, and a testosterone boosting checklist.
And if you’re looking for high level coaching for a fraction of the cost of a personal trainer, join us on the Warrior Soul Agoge. It contains a full nutrition plan, a library of programs with exercise tutorials, and live zoom calls each week where I can guide you personally!