By: Josh Bryant
Rene Garganta approaches 50 and routinely wipes the open division clean. In 1994, George Foreman shocked the world by winning the boxing heavyweight championship of the world at 45 years old. Ronnie Coleman was Mr. Olympia into his forties. I have the privilege of training many of the top strength athletes in the world; surprisingly, many of them are over 40 years old. Two of my former training partners did world-class feats of strength into their 50s, George Brink became the first person over 50 to deadlift over 800 with 804 and Odd Haugen, at 55 years old, was still winning professional strongman contests. I have seen it first hand and coached it first hand—if you are over 40, you can do it! I am going to share with you five training strategies than can help you keep gaining strength into your golden years.
Be inspired; all of these world-class feats of strength are by athletes over 40.
Master Technique Any technical breakdown is leakage of power that could be directed into the object you are lifting. When strength is the objective, don’t think about muscle confusion or going to failure. If technique breaks down, not only does the chance of injury increase but the practice of the skill of the movement is aborted. Strength is a skill! To develop that skill, you need to do it over and over with perfect form. If strength is the objective and you are over 40, view technical failures as failure because you must look beyond the equation of brute strength and master the movements you are training.
Bonus Tip for the Over-50 Lifter Consistency of the correct movement pattern is of the upmost importance. Always error to the side of stopping short of technical failure; when in doubt live to fight another day!
Avoid Ultra Heavy Single-Joint Movement Your elbows, shoulders and knees are more vulnerable to injury after age 40. However, this does not mean avoid all isolation exercises. The key is to keep isolation movements strict. Many times, I will even include a four to five second eccentric to help my lifters develop a mind-muscle connection; isolation movements are not about moving a weight from point A to point B as abruptly as possible, they are about working a specific muscle. Avoid cheat curls, skull crusher PRs and swinging lateral raises; use isolation exercises with strict perfect form to work the specifically-targeted muscles and to bring up your weak points.
Bonus Tip for the Over-50 Lifter It is very important to track your training sessions. Avoid constantly going for personal records on isolation movements; let your strength-measuring sticks be big compound movements like squats, presses and pulls. Heed, eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney’s words when using isolation movements, “Stimulate don’t annihilate.”
Proper Warm-Up Warming-up should never be overlooked for any athlete but for the over-40 athlete, the consequences can be dire. A proper warm-up improves physical capabilities for a host of reasons, helps you get in the right mindset and, of course, reduces the chance of injury. A general warm-up is great and is encouraged but it is very important to practice how you play. Meaning, warm-up with the movement you will be training. If your first work set of squats calls for 315, instead of 20 minutes on the elliptical and starting right at 315, do just a couple minutes on the elliptical and warm-up something like this: Set 1-45 x 6 Reps Set 2-45×6 Reps Set 3-135×5 Reps Set 4-135×5 Reps Set 5-185×3 Reps Set 6-225×1 Rep Set 7-260×1 Rep Set 8-295 x 1 Rep You get more practice building the skill of the movement, increase training volume and better mental preparation all without inducing greater fatigue by warming-up like this.
Bonus Tip for the Over-50 Lifter If warming-up is an issue, do a five to 10 minute general warm-up on your favorite piece of cardio equipment or just take a brisk walk, then perform dynamic stretches. This dynamic stretching routine can be completed in two minutes:
Then, go into warming-up the lift you are training.
Reload You are no longer invincible; well, you never were but at least you are now aware. To gain strength, you can’t always be full tilt in the gym; sometimes you need “down” weeks or workouts. This is not accomplished by just lying around, this is active recovery training or reloading. A great place to start is three weeks of intense training followed by a lighter week with less volume. A good starting point is to use 70 percent of total training volume on reload weeks and gauge it from there. Some will need reload more often, maybe every third week. Others can go longer; frequency of reloads depends on training intensity, volume, recuperative ability, injury history and host of individual variables. Your body wasn’t designed to go all-out 52 weeks a year; generally, the stronger you are the more often you will need to reload. Don’t use reload weeks as blow off weeks, use them as technical reinforcement weeks! Weights are lighter so this is a prime opportunity to perfect form.
Bonus Tip for the Over-50 Lifter Just because most of the world operates off a seven-day week does not mean your training schedule must. If you bench pressed and squatted twice a week in your 30s and doing the same thing now leaves you under recovered—stretch out your week. Your training week can be 10 days instead of seven. I use this strategy with my client, Tom Deebel, who has officially deadlifted 640 at a 197 bodyweight at 52 years old.
Sleep As an athlete ages, recovery becomes more and more important; however, the social pressures of partying all night are eased. Instead of staying up all night watching “Saved by the Bell” reruns, do yourself a favor and get some sleep. When you sleep, you recover, and when you recover you repair, and rebuild—which are needed for optimal size and strength gains. Shoot for minimally seven hours of sleep every night, in a perfect world eight to nine.
Bonus Tip for the Over-50 Lifter Create an optimal sleep environment: Sleep in a cool, dark room on a comfortable, supportive mattress. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and intense exercise late the evening.
Final Thoughts It’s amazing in almost all walks of athletics how many people over 40 are not just participating as master’s athletes but actually challenging the best in the world. Strength training is certainly no exception. With these five tweaks in your training regimen, you can take your strength game to a new level after 40. In the word of Frank Sinatra, “The best is yet to come.” NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!! Amazon #1 Seller Grapple Strong