You can’t keep training the same way in your thirties and forties as you did in your twenties. Fitness First trainer James Stitz explains how to transition to training that’s right for your age.
As you enter your mid to late Thirties, your ability to achieve the same results you did in your twenties declines. As you age, your body begins to lose muscle mass, strength, power, balance, coordination, aerobic capacity and energy. As a result of a slowing metabolism and sedentary lifestyle factors, you begin to carry excess weight on your stomach, waist, thighs, upper arms and back.
There’s a big difference between how you should work out in your twenties compared to your thirties. Your body is no longer a young adult’s, so to treat it and train it as such is a recipe for disaster. You can no longer abuse it like you once did with late nights, bad eating habits, excessive drinking and no recovery. Those days have passed.
Fitness in your thirties needs to be more than just a gym session. It needs to include four components: proper nutrition, hydration, rest and recovery, as well as proper exercise. If one of these is lacking, your results will suffer. This means settling down to an effective routine that you can sustain alongside your busy work, family and social schedule. To do this you need to invest and commit as the work done now will provide you with significant health benefits in middle age and old age.
You need to work smarter - you can no longer just turn up at the gym and undertake random acts of fitness and expect a result. The idea that you’ll do a bit of this today and a bit of that tomorrow because an unqualified influencer is doing that on instagram may make you feel good in the short term, but it just doesn’t cut it in the long run. You need a plan and you need to stick with it and monitor your progress by recording what you’ve done. You need to become invested in what you’re doing and the best way to do this is to take note of what you’ve done each session, including the sets, reps and weight.
Your approach to training in the early stages of middle age (40 - 55 years) needs to concentrate on increasing lean muscle mass and combating body fat increases as a result of your slowing metabolism. Remember that it’s easier to keep body fat off rather than putting it on and having to lose it at a later stage.
In the later years of middle age (55 - 65 years), for those who haven’t been long-term health and fitness advocates, everything will appear to head south. Gravity, hormones and your ever-slowing metabolism will continue to reduce your lean muscle mass while increasing your body fat. This can be a very trying period. Many women experience fat gain more easily (partly due to menopause) on their belly, bottom, upper arms and back. I find that men and women in this age group have also lost the effective use of their glutes, leading to a flat drooping bottom, back and knee pain, and poor balance. Furthermore, lifestyle disease such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity, arteriosclerosis, heart disease and high blood pressure are more widespread and damaging.
For those who are short on time (i.e. you only have 30minutes or less a day), I recommend high-intensity interval training (HIIT) three to four days a week, interspersed with at least two light cardio days and one day of rest. For those with more time, I advise incorporating strength training into your program - concentrate on exercising each major muscle group twice a week using either a full body or upper and lower body splits. These sessions should be interspersed with HIIT and light cardio sessions to balance out the week. One day of rest is crucial.
Strength training can be achieved via a combination of body weight, weight stack resistance machines and free weights designed into a program. Initially, I advise investing in the service of a personal trainer to ensure you have a balanced program that meets your goals and learn proper form. A PT will also prevent you from getting discouraged, monitor whether you’re working at the right intensity to get results and ensure that you can manage your training alongside your other life priorities. A simple yet effective beginner circuit strength training program consists of 10 weight stack machines: chest press, seated row, shoulder press, lat pulldown, bicep curl, tricep extension, leg press, leg extension, leg curl and abdominal curl. Each exercise is performed in the order above for 10 reps before you move to the next machine while taking a 30-second break. The initial weight on each machine should be such that the last two reps of the set are difficult, but not impossible to lift. Your tempo should be 3 seconds to lift and 2 seconds to lower. You should do the circuit three times in total.
Strength training is a powerful way to combat these effects. It helps build lean muscle mass, increase your metabolism, controls your blood sugar, increase bone density, improve mobility and it relieves stress. If you haven’t started strength training, start now. There’s plenty of scientific evidence that supports the benefits of strength training regardless of age, with some of the most significant being released by those well into their seventies and eighties. In general, at this age, I recommend your focus moves from HIIT-type workouts to strength training. This is to reduce the chances of joint and soft tissue injury associated with quick and jarring movements that are sometimes incorporated in HIIT sessions.
For those short on time, I recommend two to three 30-minute strength training sessions on non-consecutive days, with one upper body and core, and two lower body and core sessions per week. These should be interspersed with at least on HIIT type workout or two light cardio days and one day of rest a week. The focus on the lower body is to build strength and functionality, improving both fat loss and balance, and preventing the likelihood of fall-related injuries, which are more prevalent as we age.
For those with more time, I recommend three 60-minute total body strength training sessions on non-consecutive days each week. These should be interspersed with at least one HIIT-type workout or two light cardio days and one day of rest.
Consistency and effort are important during this period. You need to train hard and realise that long-term weight loss requires effort and can’t be solved through fad diets and magic pills. Ageing is a process we must all go through, but it’s up to you to determine how well you move through middle age. If there’s a secret to staying youthful, it's exercise. And as you age, you need to adjust your training accordingly. If you’ve been an avid exerciser/gym-goer all your life, the type of workout you’ll undertake in your middle years may not change significantly over time. That’s because your body will have adapted to the rigours of your program and you intimately understand how your body reacts, so you can make the necessary adjustments. However, if you're just starting or returning to exercise, you need to proceed with caution and get a personal trainer, who will ensure you’re doing a program that will lead to the results you wish in a sustainable and injury- free manner.