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Training at 50 (or Younger)… and Beyond

By Vince McConnell 

With apologies to TC Luoma (brains of T-Nation for those uninformed), I’m going to start off by telling you 12 things you need to know before getting into a bit more detail. This will quickly let you know if it’s worth your invaluable time to read another article on “training”.

Relative to training at 50 (really about 35) years of age and beyond:

• Training is microcosm of life in general…greater consequences of doing stupid, ego-driven, things at    50 than 15

• There’s a difference in ‘training maturity’… and the number of candles on your cake

• Each training session has it’s own thumbprint… and is effected by your past, and will influence your     projected future

• Training rules are important…and one of them is they should be broken

• Training principles are essential…and your straightest line of progress is to adhere to them

• Biofeedback and “Kinesthetic Sense”…are your greatest assets

• Most sessions are seemingly boring “connector bridges”…between the “sights and sounds” of PR’s

• Intensity– and regulating it– is critical…frequency is just as relevant

• “Numbers” are a great servant…but horrible masters

• Ok, it ALL “works”…just might not be how you want it to

• Sustaining the muscle you currently possess is paramount…not just “burning calories”

  • You are only as “good”… as your NEXT session

There’s not a week that goes by that another “system” of training pops up somewhere in magazines, TV programs, social media, or on the coffee shop’s bulletin board. You are literally bombarded with “best exercise”, “best method”, “best trainer”, “5 foods that burn your gut off”, “bigger arms in 10 minutes”, and on, and on, ad nauseum…

If I have a major pet peeve, it’s people (oh, yeah, excuse me…“fitness experts”) who choose to make exaggerated, absolute statements. And, those other “experts” who condemn every form of training other than what they are good at–or what works for them–really jacks with me even more than that.

Yep, I should be above that nonsense being that I’ve been training for nearly 38 years, and I’m into my 31st year as a strength coach. However the reality is that I have to sift through all that BS for clients and others who are frustrated, confused, and even at the brink of despair.

I say all this upfront so that you “get” that I’m not about trying to convince you, or anyone else, that I’ve got “it all figured out” and am about to give you yet another scrap of rhetoric to blame for wasting your precious time.

For the sake of staying on-topic, I’m going to dive in and focus on the theme for this article. And, being that I’m closing in on my 50th year there’s no better time than to address this and hopefully provide some sense of direction from a grassroots perspective. There’s plenty of better-qualified professionals to give you all the scientific support behind what I’m covering here.

Training is lifeblood to many of us. To those who just don’t get that, there’s really no way to explain it, or shove it down your throat with any benefit. Rest assured, to those who understand, there’s no need to convince you of the need to find the best ways to train for desired results and stay as healthy as you can while doing so. What may have worked for you 15, 20 years, or even 6 months, ago may in fact be quite contrary to what you’d be wise to be doing at this stage in your “training life”.

We need to place demands on our physiology in a way that we get the training effect we seek, both physically and psychologically, and do it in a manner where the benefits outweigh the risks.

When it comes to training, I would admittedly call myself a “recovering extremist”. I’ve been that guy who truly believes working out is a waste of time if more weight is not going on the bar, more reps are not being done, or at least having the feeling I’ve survived a near-death experience. So, to clarify, I’m not one of those “functional fitness guys” who leans towards replacing actual workload with something that’s just odd enough looking to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something. I’m very competitive and have some pretty good lifts in my past. And, with that, I’ve gotten some hind-sighted wisdom (painful at times) that I may have been better off doing a few things differently.

At this stage, I have a better present understanding of what ‘doesn’t’ work compared to worry all about what does. For someone who may be approaching 50 and is actually just a few years into training, they are still in their “training infancy” regardless of the candles on their most recent birthday cake. Your “training age” is relative to how many years you have trained with consistency and progression. This article is directed at those of you with some serious time under the bar, in the trenches.

Our ego can be a beneficial attribute as we progress in years. The key to this is in how we utilize it. Instead of it driving us to do things that run us into trouble, we need access it in a way that compels us to be consistent, and precise with our training. We need pride ourselves on being able to train in a way that sustains lean muscle tissue and joint mobility that will far surpass “chasing numbers”. We need a “new kind of intensity” that has matured beyond crushing our connective tissues and central nervous system.

The best place to start is by developing what I refer to as our ‘Kinesthetic Sense’, of the “training sense” of our 6 senses. For simplicity, my definition of Kinesthetic Sense is the sharpened ability to create intra-muscular tension in a targeted area, discern when a general movement or specific exercise is being “felt” where it should be. And, this includes the ability to load this exercise in a way that mechanical integrity is sustained throughout the set of repetitions, and the subsequent biofeedback to know when to end a set, extend a set, add another set, decrease a set, increase/decrease load, extend rest period, adjust rep speed, etc

Numbers of reps, sets, poundage, rest periods, etc are all useful components to gauge progress and to bring some needed order to your workouts. But, these numbers must not be allowed to become THE workout. Numbers are great “servants” but horrible “masters” in a training program.

I’ve included a week’s worth of my personal training program to better illustrate how I implement the “new kind of intensity” I spoke of previously. Within this program you’ll see that I’ve implemented several key principles in regards to exercise selection. I perform some variation of an upper body push, upper body pull, lower body hip hinge, and lower body squat/lunge in each of my 4 primary training days. I’ve found that higher frequency is more beneficial as we age while the specific variations of basic exercises is best modified in order to allow for this higher frequency and workload.

Though it may look like it’s somewhat random in my exercise selection, it’s actually very structured “in principle”. It’s all founded on getting the optimal degree of intra-muscular tension for that point in time to create the demand needed to keep the process of progress inching forward. No one workout is going to get the job done. It’s all about what you do over an extended period of time that will bring the desired results in your body, physique wise as well as functionally.

Even the manner in which I implement what would be considered rather conventional “cardio” work is done deliberately and with biofeedback-driven precision. Nothing is wasted as I’m always thinking how THIS workout will effect what’s ahead. The majority of our training sessions need to be “connector bridges” between those days when everything clicks and PR’s are reached and new ones set. Truly, we are only as “good” as our next workout.

Now that you have a better idea where I’m going with this, here’s a recent week of my training (“A Week in the Life Of”, if you will) in order to give you a sense of how to implement the aforementioned principles over the course of 7 days. Think of it as a sample program, or a “Base Foundation”, to build on. There are nearly countless ways to tweak this “template” to best suit your needs so don’t get fixated on the specific exercises, sets, reps…just the principles. To repeat, I do have a predetermined objective “programmed” each week, each day, and I best fulfill that be being willing to make on-spot “audibles” and adjustments with a grander view of weeks and months ahead. I regular substitute other variations of these exercises over a 6-8 week period. I’ll set aside a certain variation for a phase then come back to it and find my body responds better to it each time as I better develop kinesthetic sense.

In future articles, I’ll go deeper into developing your Kinesthetic Sense, and get into different variations for these exercises, as well as a “travel version” for those on the road on a frequent basis. Again, we can modify “the rules” while sticking to the principles. For example, I use dumbbells or kettlebells for nearly all of my upper body pressing movements but if you prefer the barbell– and your joints agree—by all means go with it. Until then, hope you enjoy looking this over and get at least an idea or two to apply in your own program.

Mobility/ Activation

Monday-Sunday

• Start with 60-90seconds of Jumping Rope (or similar activity that simply be marching in place)—all preferably barefoot

• Roll bottom of each foot with a golf ball 45-60 seconds. Don’t worry about “why?” but this one thing seems to open up the entire posterior chain (including upper body) and “awaken” the nervous system. I refer you to Chad Waterbury’s work for the science here.

• Foam Rolling/ Lacrosse Ball (or similar) hitting targeted areas and “points of interest” like Quads,    Adductors, Hamstrings, Calves, Tibialis Anterior, External Rotators of hips, Thoracic Spine  Extensions, Rhomboids, Lats, Pecs, to name but a few. No rules here (and not even an absolute  measure to take) but a little is better than none. It’s probably not a good idea to apply significant  pressure to any area with acute inflammation so if in doubt, seek a qualified soft-tissue specialist first.  And, beware letting this turn into a dreaded part of your day by overextending the duration. I suggest  giving yourself an 8-minute frame– give or take a few—after the golf ball roll which I do see more as  mandatory.

There’s an overabundance of stuff online (Note: Being unbiased, I highly recommend any of Smitty’s work at www.dieselcrew.com for this) to get specific info on any “trouble spots” you may be currently dealing with. And, this may in fact change day to day.

• Static Stretching of Hip Flexors, Pectorals, and Lats (again, beyond scope of this article, and there’s  science to search out as to why these specific muscles respond well to static stretch while others do  better in dynamic application) followed by dynamic (not bouncing) of hip Abductors, Adductors,  Extensors (i.e. hamstrings), Calves, and maybe a few others.

• Core activation drills for gluteal muscles (Supine single-leg Glute Bridge a favorite along with mini-  band lateral walks), plank variations for anterior and sides, and scapular muscles (Floor Slides, Y’s &  T’s) all for about 30 seconds each

• Freestyle Joint Mobility is the final stage and I simply prefer to go top/down beginning with the neck,   shoulders, and working through T-spine, elbows, wrists, pelvic area, hips, and all the way down to  ankles. Most of the drills I use here I’ve adapted from Scott Sonnon and Steve Maxwell. Regarding  “how much?” I start with 12 (or 30 seconds) of any specific drill and go from there. As with other  segments in this phase, each day will be a bit different depending on my body’s needs  via biofeedback. Simply stress from previous day or sleeping in awkward position can give you  different points-of-interest.

Strength/ Hypertrophy Training

(Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday)

Note: Most days I will split my day’s total workload into 2 brief, separate (AM/PM) sessions. I find my body and mind respond better to this and my daily schedule really necessitates it, as it’s many times impractical to dedicate anything more than 35-40 minutes at-a-time for my own training. That said, it might be just as impractical for you to train more than once a day so simply combine the strength work into one longer session. Go with what is most real-world for you.

Monday

AM

1a) Flat DB Press 5sets/8-10reps(*DS)

*Final set is DropSet (2 “drops”)

1b) Staggered-stance Deadlift 5sets/6reps each leg

(with Trap Bar)

2a) Parallel-grip Pull-Ups 5sets/5+reps*

(2sec at top of every rep)

(w/external loading 70lbs; Final set up to 7reps)

2b) Pendulum Hip Press 5sets/10-12reps (4-1 tempo)

(This is Horizontal Leg Press that I have in my facility that is more hip-dominant than typical variations and agrees with my knees and lower back. I also add chains for ‘accommodating resistance’ to evenout the strength curve. I prefer this here instead of like a Sumo DL to take demand off grip due to pairing with pull-ups)

PM

3a) Decline DB Triceps Extension 4sets/16-20reps

3b) Single-Arm Pulley Rows 4sets/8-10reps each arm

(Pronated-Grip, Elbow 45°)

3c) ST T-Flyes 4sets/12-8reps

(I prefer these here to bent-over DB Flyes considering I’ve fatigued lower back to some degree this stage)

>Semi-Recumbent Bike: 20 minutes in following “pyramid” sequence:

Level 6 15sec/Level 10 45sec

Level 6 20sec/ Level 11 40sec

Level 6 25sec/ Level 12 35sec

Level 6 30sec/ Level 13 30sec

Level 6 35sec/ Level 14 25sec

(Repeat 4 times through working up to 90% MHR)

>Brief Static Stretching after every “cardio” session (Hip Flexors, Hip Rotators, Hamstrings, Calves)

Tuesday

AM

1a) Suspension Trainer (ST) Push-ups 10-12 reps

(Feet-Elevated, and with 2sec Isometric hold at top & bottom)

1b) RFESS 8 reps each leg

(Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat)

1c) ST Rows 8-10 reps

(Feet-Elevated; 45° Grip; With 3 sec isometric hold at top )

1d) Single-leg Hip Thrust 10 reps each side

(w/external loading; with 2 sec isometric hold at top)

(6 cycles with just enough rest between to regulate fatigue. Total

duration is approximately 35 minutes)

PM

2a) Alternate DB Hammer Curls 4sets/6-8reps

2b) Pulley ‘Rope-Grip’ Triceps Pushdowns 4sets/12-8reps(*DS)

*Final set DropSet with 2 “drops”

Quad-Blast

>Semi-Recumbent Bike: 12 minutes

in “Ascending-Intensity Cycles”:

Level 6 30sec/Level 14 30sec

Level 6 30sec/ Level 15 30sec

Level 6 30sec/ Level 16 30sec

Level 6 30sec/ Level 17 30sec

(3 cycles; Sustain 50-65 RPM’s)

>Static Stretching (Hip Flexors, Hip Rotators, Hamstrings,

Calves)

Wednesday

AM

“Core Circuit”

a) Stability Ball Stir-the-Pot

b) Side Plank/ Band Row

c) KB Windmill

d) Standing Pulley Anti-Rotation (speed)

e) KB TGU (bottom ó)

d) Suitcase Carry

(3 cycles of 30 seconds work each side, 10 seconds transition)

PM

>Semi-Recumbent Bike: 20 minutes

in following “pyramid” sequence:

Level 6 15sec/Level 10 45sec

Level 6 20sec/ Level 11 40sec

Level 6 25sec/ Level 12 35sec

Level 6 30sec/ Level 13 30sec

Level 6 35sec/ Level 14 25sec

(Repeat 4 times through working up to 90% MHR)

Thursday

AM

1a) Incline DB Press 5sets/ 16-10reps

1b) Rack DL 5sets/5reps (not including 2-3 low-rep prep sets)

(set below knees)

2a) 1-H KB Bent Rows 5sets/6reps

2b) Heavy KB Swings 5sets/10-12reps (48-70kgs)

compound set with

*Kneeling Band Hip Thrusts 5sets/20reps

PM

3a) Lying DB Triceps Extension 4sets/8-10reps

3b) Ring Pull-Ups 4sets/10reps

(with isometric hold 4-1 seconds at top)

4a) Judo Push-up 4sets/8-10reps

(narrow-grip; with 2 sec isometric hold at bottom)

Note: If you can easily do more than 4 sets/10 reps here you’re doing different exercise than I’m talking about

4b) ST T-Flyes 4sets/10-12reps

(I prefer these here to bent-over DB Flyes considering I’ve fatigued

lower back to some degree this stage)

Friday

AM

a) ST Push-ups (weighted vest) 8-12 reps

(Feet-Elevated, and with 2sec Isometric hold at top & bottom)

b) Rope Pull-Throughs 16reps

c) ó Kneeling Pulley High Rows 8-10reps each side

d) Alternate KB Reverse Lunges 8 reps each leg

(with 24-32kg KBs in rack position)

(4 cycles with just enough rest between to regulate fatigue. Total duration is approximately 24 minutes)

PM

1a) Towel-grip KB Hammer Curls 4sets/6-8reps

1b) Pulley Triceps Pushdowns 4sets/20-25reps

(with curved bar)

2a) ST Rows (with weighted vest) 3sets/15 reps

(Feet-Elevated; UH Grip; With 2 sec isometric hold at top;

modified Rest-Pause as needed )

2b) Cable Posterior Flyes 3sets/10-12reps

(hold peak contraction 2-3 seconds each rep)

Quad-Blast

>Semi-Recumbent Bike: 12 minutes

in “Ascending-Intensity Cycles”:

Level 6 30sec/Level 14 30sec

Level 6 30sec/ Level 15 30sec

Saturday

AM Mobility Session as usual

PM Active Recovery

(“Grease the Groove” type work in circuit with minimal

equipment requirement for total body and avoiding fatigue

hitting 5-6 on scale of 10)

Example:

Spiderman Push-ups

Band Pull-Aparts

ST Lunges (Bodyweight)

Single-arm ST Rows

Lateral Lunges

X-Band Walks

Step-Ups

Sunday

AM Mobility Session as usual

PM

a) KB Swings (2 KBs outside legs)

b) Banded Knee-Elbow Plank

30sec Work:30sec Rest x16minutes

Bio 

Coach Vince has experience as Exercise Science Editor for a leading online fitness magazine, has written many articles on fitness and optimal performance, and is author of his first book “Invincible Abs’. Vince has two decades’ experience on television and radio programs as well as co-host of a regional TV fitness show. He also is experienced in presenting seminars and workshops on many topics related to strength and conditioning and human performance.
 
As owner of McConnell Athletics (MA) in Fairhope, Alabama Coach Vince works with select athletes and clients of all levels and ages– ranging from early childhood to those into their 10th decade— at his 3500 sq ft facility, and is available for phone and email consultations and personalized program design for those not able to train on location.

coachvince@mcconnellathletics.com

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