It's already getting near the end of January and we've barely had a chance to stop and think since getting back to work in the New Year! Team Foundry is flat out with the race to burn off those Christmas excesses, made easier for us by the many stairs we go up and down every day. However, it has made it a bit of a wait before we have been able to get a blog post out so without further ado here it is.... Once again though there won't be too much in the way of references, it takes too long and half of them aren't worth the bother, so you'll have to take my word for it. Please don't accept what is below as blind fact but rather just a set of learned experiences. As the saying goes 'Good judgement comes from experience, and that tends to come from bad judgement'. This is simply my experience.
1. Look after your joints more. Stretch, stretch, and stretch some more.
There are almost endless articles encouraging women to do weights work, but very few trying to get men to stretch a bit more.
The end result is gyms up and down the country full of guys with imbalanced physiques created through too much poorly designed training and inadequate flexibility work. Sure, you might not care when you are 25, but you will when you are 45, and you really will when you are 65.
So, get ahead of things and start addressing flexibility issues now. Better flexibility lowers your chance of getting injured either in the gym or playing sport, it aids recovery, improves overall movement, and helps keep your joints free of pain. Start doing more now.
2. Bin the high risk or problem movements.
It is often said there is no such thing as a bad exercise, but this sort of rhetoric doesn't really tell the whole truth. It's a bit like the expression 'That's a dangerous road', in that you only start getting accidents when people are introduced into the mix. Same thing here.
The Behind Neck Press or Pulldown for example isn't inherently evil or dangerous, but it is higher risk than many other safer varieties, and is far more likely to be done with horrible form.
Most older people who drive desks for a job should avoid these movements in favour of simpler, easier, and - arguably as effective - alternatives. Many of these movements belie the influence that bodybuilding continues to have on 'fitness' training and some of them need to be approached with caution by the average trainee.
Similarly, if it hurts or feels wrong, stop doing it. Continuing to train through obvious pain is an all too common mistake that simply worsens the problem and lengthens the recovery time when you do finally address it.
3. Vary lines and patterns of movement.
Following on from the previous point, we can sometimes 'run on rails' a bit with our training and although I am a big believer in 'less is more' when it comes to exercise selection, I do believe there is real value in varying lines, angles, and types of movement.
In particular, I like to get my clients to take breaks from barbells in favour of dumbbells or cables, I like to vary wrist/grip position to prevent overuse (consider this in the broader context of what other movements people do out of the gym), and to mix up angles of movement (different bench heights and inclines and body positions). This can help create added stimulation, both mentally and physically, and prevent patterns of overuse developing.
4. Watch for 'at risk' areas
I've found myself doing less and less pronated grip work with my clients, many of whom spend long hours using a computer desk, mouse, and multiple screens.
Too much pronated grip work can over stress the wrist extensors and create inflammation. Similarly, hours spent sitting mean that the lower back is often at risk of injury if not given special attention, particularly in the early days of training. Also watch out for abducted and pronated shoulders, overly anteriorly tilted hips, and tightness through the neck and upper traps.
It doesn't mean don't train them, but it does mean to build in training strategies that support their maintenance long-term. Once it is injured, it is already too late.
5. Take regular short breaks and periodic longer breaks from training.
I know, more heresy right? Well, maybe so to the gym junkies out there, but let's remember that training is for most of us and our clients a means to an end, not the end itself.
Sometimes we need a rest, physically, emotionally, and spiritually from constant gym workouts.
Legend of strength training Reg Park sums it up well:
I think complete lay-offs are very beneficial as they help to ease the pain in the injured joints you have 'picked up' over the years and the rest helps to relieve the boredom that even the most ardent enthusiasts experience. During these layoffs, don't even go near a gym or barbells or even enter into a conversation on weight training. Make it a complete rest. Get out in the fresh air as much as possible, catch up with some reading, see some good shows, and mix with people who know nothing about strength training. Continue however to eat well and when you do start to train again, you will really enjoy it.
From Strength and Bulk Training for Weight Lifters and Body Builders by Reg Park 1960.
If it is good enough for Reg Park, who won Mr Universe in 1951, 1958, and 1965, then it is good enough for me. And it should be for you.
6. Consider using lower training volumes
Once again we find ourselves burning another sacred cow, although volume tolerance seems to me to be one of the most highly individual training variables that there is.
As we get older, time to train is often less, and it becomes more about training efficiently. Also, anabolic hormones tend to be lower and lifestyle habits tend to reduce volume tolerance.It's easy to train high volume when you only have 10 hours of work a week or use performance enhancing drugs, but less so when you are up daily at 5.30am, travelling, not always eating or sleeping well and working long hours in a high stress work environment. Training simply needs to be enough to stimulate adaptation - the rest is a result of how we live, eat, and sleep.
My time training City clients for over a decade now has led me to feel that training volumes don't always need to be as high as we have been previously told and taught as trainers or as is typically recommended in the fitness media (perhaps another legacy of bodybuilding best left in the 80's).
As with all these tips, it doesn't apply to everyone; Richard, a client of mine in his 40's has great tolerance of high training volumes, but has also progressed well with regularly alternating them with lower volume approaches.
7. Include some Cardiovascular work in your training
Not a lot of good being able to lift big weights if you get out of puff going up the stairs is it? I like to think of CV work in two ways: Functional or Recreational. If it is the former then structure it specifically to target the energy system you most want to develop, typically using interval training. If on the other hand it is recreational then simply enjoy it in the knowledge that it is keeping you healthy, active, and happy.
Recently the trend has been to suggest that anything other than 'high intensity' interval work is worthless (or even harmful!), but it's the same reactive dogma that comes around every few years in the industry and usually exposes a strong selection bias in the author writing it. The truth is that you simply need to pick the right tool for the right job, just like with any other activity.
8. Keep challenging yourself
Any sport or activity has plenty of room for the 'Masters' category and gym training is no different. Don't expect to always be able to keep up with the younger ones, but don't feel you need to settle for mediocrity too.
My 55 year old client Tim has a physique and level of fitness that could embarrass guys thirty years his junior and he continues to make progress.
Getting a bit older should never be seen as an excuse to get lazy or out of shape and by keeping yourself challenged in the gym you can maintain a level of vitality and health well below your years. As the health of the population steadily declines and obesity levels climb there has probably never been a time when maintaining a commitment to staying fit and healthy has been more important.
If this article has whet your appetite and you would like to follow Graeme's advice for yourself, why not start one of his example workout programmes below from a recent edition of Men's Fitness: