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Training advice for the over 50 crowd

My general training advice for folks over fifty is generally the same for any age group that wants to be strong, fit, and healthy. Focus on compound exercises, integrate some high-intensity conditioning, and take long walks every day for active recovery and mental health. You can always do more, but if you’re not getting an equivalent return then it is futile and a waste of time. Intensity and frequency will be predicated on your recovery abilities. A man over fifty who has been training since he was a teenager and is dedicated to having an optimal hormone profile is going to be able to handle much more than a fifty-year-old man who has been sedentary since high school, has an abysmal hormone profile, works a stressful job that he hates, needs permission from his wife to go out at night, and barely gets five hours of sleep per night.

Some nuance comes into play when determining the ideal training moves for your situation. For example, the barbell bench press may strain your elbows and shoulders, but you may do just fine with dumbbell presses or hammer strength presses. You may lean over way too much when doing barbell squats which turns it into more of a good morning than the ultimate legs developer and find that front squats, hack squats or leg presses are a more appropriate fit. Finally, you may injure your back every time you do barbell deadlifts but find Trapbar deadlifts leave your back pain-free.

There isn’t a superior move or training program for everyone. Just because something works well for someone else doesn’t mean it’s the ideal match for you. This is why trying to emulate others is a mistake. You can absorb concepts, but need to personalize the application to fit your individual needs. Also, keep in mind that the exercises that work best for you may change over time for a variety of reasons so some level of experimentation and modification over time will always be a necessity.

Here are the five areas I like to cover at each training session along with some examples for each category.

Upper body press: bench press, incline press, overhead press, dips

Upper body pull: pull-ups, chin-ups, bent-over rows, cable rows

Lower body press: squat, hack squat, leg press, lunges

Lower body pull: deadlift, kettlebell swing, glute-ham raise

Core work: dragon flag, hanging leg raise, windmill

Right away you will notice that there are no isolation exercises above. Isolation exercises have their place and can be very beneficial, but overall tend to be a distraction for most trainees. You don’t need bicep curls and tricep pushdowns to develop impressive arms and men that overly fixate on both rarely have impressive arms development. Focusing on compound moves produces superior results and saves time.  You get plenty of arms engagement with weighted pull-ups and weighted dips. Weighted dips blast the triceps (along with the shoulders and pecs) far more effectively than any triceps isolation move. Weighted pull-ups are not only fantastic for your upper back and lats, but they also work the biceps extremely well. I never do isolation moves and no one has ever accused me of having poor arms development.

Beginners and trainees with excellent recovery abilities may find they can cover all five areas at each straining session and make steady progress. Here is an example of such a program:

Program A

Monday

Barbell squat 3×5+
Weighted pull-ups 3×5+
Dumbbell bench press 3×5+
Kettlebell swing 3×10+
Hanging leg raise 3×10+

Wednesday

Deadlift 3×5+
Bent-over row 3×5+
Dumbbell overhead press 3×5+
Leg press 3×5+
Dragon flag 3×5

Friday

Hack squat 3×5+
Weighted close grip pull-up 3×5+
Weighted Dips 3×5+
Glute-ham raise 3×5+
Windmill 3×5

Always start each training session with the most productive training exercise. This is the money move and is the most important training exercise of the workout. Deadlifts and squats for example provide the most bang for your buck and have the largest hormonal response. In translation, you get far more growth signals from these moves than from doing dumbbell presses. In fact, if you only did squats and deadlifts you would likely have superior results over 90% of trainees at most commercial gyms. Deadlifts work your legs, core, grip, and back. If you only have time for one move, deadlifts are the go-to training exercise. Just make sure to avoid doing squats and deadlifts in the same session. These moves require tremendous amounts of energy and focus so do one per training session. I like to pair chest presses with pull-ups and overhead presses with rows to avoid too much overlap. Overhead presses and pull-ups in the same training session tend to overwork the shoulder axis negatively. Do each repetition deliberately and with optimal technique. Avoid momentum (unless doing ballistic motions such as kettlebell swings) and don’t get sloppy with the negative portion of any rep as the negative is far more growth-producing than the concentric portion. Start with a two-second concentric effort followed by a four-second negative effort. 

Do not do these sessions in a circuit training style. Very few trainees get strong doing circuit training as it is too disjointed. You need to focus on one movie at a time. To illustrate, on Monday’s training sessions complete three sets of five with three-minute breaks in between each set of barbell squats before moving on to weighted pull-ups. When you can execute seven reps on the third set, add 10lbs to lower body moves and five pounds to upper body moves. Personally I like to work up to completing ten reps on the third set before moving up in weight. It helps prevent increasing the weight too soon which is an all too common error (One I have made numerous times in the last several decades). It is much better to spend time mastering a certain weight than being in a rush to add more. Adding more weight is not the only progression option available. You can make each set more difficult by slowing down the reps. For example, if you can do seven reps on the third set with a two-second concentric and four-second negative try doing the same weight with a four-second concentric and eight-second negative. 

Right now I am doing a program for deadlifts where I do 3×5+ two times per week. On the last set, the goal is ten. Now I don’t move up the first time I hit ten reps. I want to hit it a few times to lock it in completely before increasing the intensity. I may stay with a weight for the entire month to own it before moving on. This requires more patience but the payoff is a higher level of mastery and a much lower likelihood of burnout or injuries. Burnout and injuries almost always come from being impatient and attempting to do too much far too soon. Be persistent and tenacious but also patient so you can enjoy training for your entire life. The last thing you want to become is that older guy who talks about what he used to be able to do but looks like he never trained in his life. I rather have moderate strength for my entire life (or as long as possible) than elite strength for a few years but I digress.

Tuesday and Thursday

High-intensity cardio such as twenty minutes of interval training on an elliptical machine, ten fifty-yard sprints, or double kettlebell swings for ten sets of 10-15 with one-minute breaks.

More advanced trainees or those with limited time may find they derive superior results by prioritizing a few moves and this is where Program B comes into rotation.

Program B

Monday

Deadlift 3×5+
Dumbbell Chest Press 3×5+
Weighted Pull-ups 3×5+

Thursday

Squat 3×5+
Overhead Press 3×5+
Bent-over row 3×5+

Tuesday and Friday

High-intensity cardio such as twenty minutes of interval training on an elliptical machine, ten fifty-yard sprints, or double kettlebell swings for ten sets of 10-15 with one-minute breaks.

You may go through periods where Program A works stupendously but then experience more stressful times where Program B is a superior option. Generally, a good rule of thumb for people who actually enjoy training is to do less and leave each training session fresh and ready to go. Folks that enjoy training tend to do too much which is human nature. People that enjoy eating tend to eat too much, people that enjoy gambling tend to lose too much money, and on and on it goes. It takes a lot of discipline to leave reps in the bank and a training session feeling fresh. However, for training longevity, it is a must. You shouldn’t be so wiped out after most training sessions that you’re worthless for the rest of the day and ridiculously sore the next day. Train intensely but avoid going to failure where you compromise technique to have the illusion of making progress. The last rep should look as clean as the first rep on every set.

There are some trainees for a variety of reasons that may find Program B is too much and they need even less volume. For example, legendary fitness expert Clarence Bass who is still ridiculously ripped in his 80s does one strength training session per week and one cardio session. 

Program C Week 1

Monday

Deadlift 3×5+
Dumbbell Chest Press 3×5+
Weighted Pull-ups 3×5+

Thursday

10 50-yard sprints

Program C Week 2

Monday

Squat 3×5+
Overhead Press 3×5+
Bent-over row 3×5+

Thursday

Double KB swing 10×15

The key barometer with training progress is performance. If you are getting stronger and more fit at each training session then you have adequate recovery abilities for the program. If not, then you may want to dial things back and or prioritize restoration by becoming dedicated to having an optimal profile. 

In conclusion, focus on training for life. I got into training, nutrition, then hormone optimization because it helps me address my lifelong depression and live life as fully as possible. Physical training is crucial for my mood and something I want to be able to enjoy for my entire life. As much as I love being strong and fit, the most undervalued benefit of intense physical training is the confidence it provides to improve other areas of your life. The same principles that are utilized for productive training are the same principles that can be utilized to build a successful business and the life you have always desired.  

Make sure to walk a few miles every day, not just on days you don’t train. Walking is fantastic for active recovery, problem-solving, mood elevation, and much more. Whenever I am dealing with a problem, I go for a long walk with my dog Reyna and keep walking until a solution arises. Without fail, it works every single time. Prioritize restoration. I make sure to sleep eight hours every night and cut off all screens a few hours before bedtime to ensure I get into a deep sleep state. Check out this article on improving sleep quality if you’re having issues 11 tips to improve sleep quality I like to get a massage every week when I am training intensely and at a bare minimum every other week. I have been dedicated to this since 2014 and it has made a huge impact on training performance. A high-quality sports massage improves recovery dramatically and is incredible for a stressed body and mind. Finally, make sure to stretch after training and do some mobility work before training 

Yours Free

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