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At RWF, around half our clients are over 40; so hitting the gym over 40 years old is not uncommon.

Luckily, a few of them are folk in their 60s, who refer to “you young’uns” enough for me to believe I’m still one (at 46), at least fleetingly. Unluckily, I train around 20-30 somethings and have to at least try to keep up.

I’ve held back from writing anything about training past your 40th until I had a couple of years of personal experience under my (thankfully not expanding) belt. As I suddenly realised I’m going to be 47 this year, I thought I’d share my nearly-seven-years-worth of personal findings.

  1. Niggles in the gym over 40 don’t just go away if you ignore them anymore

This has two consequences – you can go weeks or months permanently feeling injured, AND, unless you’re highly skilled yourself, you have to start spending some money on body maintenance.

Those tweaks that you used to be able to run off/train through or ignore until they disappeared ? They don’t play nice any more. Instead of getting better, they get worse and spread.

Tip: find someone who has experience keeping people moving, and see them as often as you can afford/schedule. Pre-emptive strikes on suspect areas – shoulders, knees, glutes – is also a winning strategy!

  1. Form is essential

Come on, I’ve just explained you’re going to get more niggles than before. Did you really think that good-morning-esque squat would survive injury-free into your 40s? Smacking your bench press off your ribs? Only ever training your “front muscles” and wondering why your upper back feels like it belongs in Notre Dame?

You’re going to need to lose the 20-something ego and if necessary, re-learn – if you want to keep lifting without relying on Tramadol for the rest of your life.

Tip: either go back to basics and be honest with yourself form-wise, or get someone else to check things over for you. Even the best need someone to run an eye over their training once in a while.

  1. Recovery in the gym over 40 needs more than a “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach

All the stuff you’ve read and ignored about recovery – hydration, sleep, stretching, meditation etc – suddenly is essential, not optional.

Likewise, a minor drop in hydration now hits harder in terms of cramps, headaches and lethargy than it used to.

Tip: find an extra hour’s sleep from somewhere, up your fluid intake (NOT from wine) and think about how to chill out from work/life bullshit.

  1. Now your in the gym over 40, training plans off the t’interweb aren’t designed for you anymore, sunshine

See recovery and niggles, above.

Most training plans online are aimed at 20s, possibly 30s and so contain more volume, frequency and demanding exercises than your body can easily cope with.

I’ve found that dropping the volume in sessions, but training more frequently, say, 45mins daily rather than 1.5hrs 5 days a week, has enabled me to stay at a decent level without permanently feeling like I’ve been smacked about by Thor’s hammer.

Tip: be more selective with the cookie-cutter programs you follow, or (here’s an idea) tap up a PT who can design a plan specifically for you, taking into account your inevitable injury list, work and family demands, and probably unique goals.

  1. Nutrition matters now you’re in the gym over 40

Never been allergic to anything? Never found much that “disagrees” with you? Yep, me too – until a couple of years back. I don’t know why; I’m guessing it’s something to do with the longer you intake something, the more chance your body has to think ‘nah, not doing this anymore’.

So for me, wheat-based beers, really fatty meals and genuine junk food (food that really, really has no nutritional value beyond calories) are a near lethal combination. Likelihood is, these are harder to digest foods, and as you get on, your digestive system is simply less forgiving.

You’ll also need to make sure that ever-important protein target gets hit. You know the old one about losing 5% of your muscle mass per year beyond 30 if you don’t work at it? Well, having a high enough protein intake is essential to maintaining what you’ve got, and building more of it. Now more so than ever before.

Your calorie intake might need revising too. Eat the same as you’ve always done, train the same, yet can’t quite lose weight as easy as before when you want to? Your metabolism has probably slowed a smidge by now; where you never used to have to touch cardio before going on holiday, you might now need to throw in 20 mins here and there.

Tip: buy a really good probiotic supplement (Activia won’t cut it). Take a multi-vitamin; they’re cheap enough to not care whether they work or not. Build in some more daily activity, walking, cycling etc. Keep a food diary and correlate times when you don’t feel great with what you ate over the preceding 24hrs.

If you’re trying to get started in the gym over 40 years old, and any of this has helped you, or given some food for thought, let us know. If you want some tailored help, either follow some of the links or get in touch here.

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