Your body’s odometer is about to roll over into the 100,000 mile range – let’s assume this equates to being in your 40’s and beyond.
You still have plenty of mileage left in the tank, but you feel each of those miles more than ever. The constant beating your knees, hips, back, shoulders and elbows receive on a weekly basis are forcing you to reevaluate how you go about hoisting heavy weights.
You don’t want to give up the adrenaline rush strength training provides. But you don’t want to be hobbled while you cruise into your golden years. Not being able to perform everyday tasks without a sharp pain or dull ache doesn’t sound too appealing.
Even if you’re on the low end in terms of the mileage you’ve accumulated – age in this case – those miles could have been a rough and bumpy ride.
Continuously adding weight to the bar, neglecting recovery, letting technique go by the wayside and not addressing weaknesses can add premature rust to the joints.
Fortunately, whether your mileage is nearing the six figure mark or you’ve just ran your body so hard it feels like you should have 100,000 showing on the dashboard, there are plenty of ways to ensure you get stronger while dealing with an old and/or beat up ride.
Put an Emphasis on Recovery
Regardless of age, this is where serious strength athletes fall short. The focus is put solely on the strength training session. It makes sense. You want to get strong so you start doing the things you see strong people do.
The problem is you’re not seeing everything those strong people are doing to ensure they stay strong.
Pay attention to the following areas when it comes to your recovery abilities.
Pushing weights that are equivalent to that of a small car is stressful on the body. There’s no denying that. The idea is to put a significant stress on the body so it adapts by coming back stronger the next time you move that small car.
If you’re constantly being bombarded by stresso outside of training sessions, the likelihood of you reaching the strength levels you desire are slim to none.
Your job, commuting to work, relationships and poor nutritional choices are all things putting a negative stress on your body if they’re chronic and left untreated.
Two simple and quick practices you can implement today to reduce chronic stress are:
- Breathing exercises – focus on breathing into your belly and having at least a six second exhale (longer, if possible)
- Go for a daily 15-45 minute walk outside
Not too much needs to be said here.
Eat a plentiful amount of protein, vegetables, carbs – how many will depend on your current level of fitness and goals – and avoid obvious crap the majority of the time.
Bottom line: Eat like an adult.
As stated earlier, the goal of each training session is to place a stress on the body so it eventually comes back bigger and stronger.
The idea of recovery workouts is to accelerate the adaption from the stress – or in cases where recovery is an issue, to ensure it actually takes place.
The simplest type of recovery workout to get started on is what’s considered typical cardio. Something done for longer durations at a fairly easy, albeit boring, pace.
Here are some guidelines for these workouts:
- Heartrate between 120-150 beats per minute if you have a heartrate monitor (if you don’t have a monitor, be sure you can breathe exclusively through nose the entire time. This means you’re close to the proper range)
- Choose a modality that is easy on the joints (i.e. going for a jog probably isn’t your best option). Biking, hiking, sled work, high-paced mobility/body weight circuits or rowing
- Go for 30-90 minutes
Even though it’s last on the list, sleep is the one piece of the recovery puzzle which can give the biggest bang for your buck.
Of course getting enough quality sleep has a laundry list of benefits for overall health – which is important for being a functioning member of society – but it also plays a significant role in strength training performance.
Research has shown a decrease in deadlift, leg press and bench press performance after only two successive nights of three hours of sleep (1). Chances are you’re getting more than three hours of sleep per night (studies use excess variables at times), but getting an hour or two less than you need on a consistent basis is going to catch up to you in the weight room at some point.
Implement one – or all – of the following tips tonight to ensure your sleep is on the same level as your deadlift:
- Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night
- Make your room as dark as possible. Ideally you won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face
- Put the temperature between 62 and 68 degrees
- Avoid screens (TV, laptop, phone, etc.) for AT LEAST 30 minutes before getting into bed. Go for two hours if you’re aiming for all-star status
- Get out in the sun early in the day
Alright, now we have the out of the gym stuff taken care of we can focus on what you need to do during your strength training sessions.
Picture Perfect Technique
If you’ve been in the strength game for even a blink of an eye you know technique needs to be at the top of your priority list. Unfortunately, after the initial stages of learning the technique of a particular exercise, working on how well you do said exercise goes by the wayside.
Not having your technique dialed in not only limits your potential with your strength exercises, if you have more gray hair on your head or your joints move like the Tin Man’s, it’s going to lead you closer and closer to an injury.
Taking one or two workouts a week where you dial back the weight to focus on crisp movement is no big deal compared to being on the shelf for months because your less than stellar form caused a knee or back injury.
When to Implement Technique Work
There’s no reason you can’t practice some form of technique work each in each of your workouts. The biggest consideration is ensuring you don’t interfere with your regularly scheduled workout. The following ideas fit the bill.
Doing plenty of warmup sets on your big lift of the day is a no brainer. If you typically do four warmup sets, increase it to five or six.
The length of your workout will only be increased by a few minutes. Time well spent.
After Strength Work
Increasing the frequency you perform an exercise is one of the best ways to dial in technique within a short amount of time.
If your squat is in need of some reconstruction, add in some extra sets after your heavy bench press or deadlift work. A weight around 50-60% of your one rep max will do the trick.
Dedicated Technique Workouts
If done right, dedicating an entire workout to the technique of each of the big lifts has two benefits; plenty of practice on each of the lifts (duh) and it can serve as a recovery workout as mentioned earlier.
Here’s what a technique/recovery oriented session looks like:
- Use 50-60% of your one rep max
- If possible, perform each of the exercises in a circuit fashion
- Perform 4-6 sets of 3-5 reps with each exercise
- Rest 30-60 seconds between exercises. 30 seconds if your recovery is top-notch and closer to 60 if you huff and puff going up a flight of stairs
Regress the Exercise
Sometimes you simply need to take everything back to square one. Using a simpler version of an exercise for a few weeks allows you to gain an appreciation for the smaller details of each lift.
Goblet squats can be swapped out for squats.
Kettlebell deadlifts, RDL’s or trap-bar deadlifts sub for barbell deadlifts.
Pushups or DB bench presses take the place of bench press (using these two substitutes are more about allowing your shoulder blades to move naturally than anything).
Time Under Tension Work
When time under tension is mentioned I’m sure the thought of bodybuilding pops into your head. Even though it’s great for putting extra flesh on your frame, that’s not the end goal when using it for a beat up lifter.
Increasing the length of your eccentric is going to have a positive effect on the health and longevity of your tendons.
If you’re performing a phase geared towards hypertrophy, then this will be an integral part of the program. If you’re still chasing grander totals on the platform, then add the extended eccentric to your assistance exercises.
Some basic guidelines for time under tension work:
- Perform a STRICT three or four second eccentric
- Keep reps in the 8-15 range. It’ll be tough to maintain the tempo with too heavy of a weight
- Perform at least three sets for a given movement pattern
Even If You’re Old And Battered…
There’s no reason you can’t continue to get stronger even when you’re headed into your twilights years or your body has seen better days.
As you can see, some basic changes and/or additions to your current training program and lifestyle can do wonders to ensure you continuously put up freaky numbers as a grandpa.