How To Push The Boundaries of Fitness & Stay Safe In Your 40's

Life begins at Forty. And you are testament to that. You are here, you are not giving up to the tide of time.

And you still have the passion.

You may be a little scared but you're not gonna let that stop you shedding the pounds and building that muscle.

You have heard them say that testosterone drops off in your Forties, or that muffin tops are harder to get rid off pre or post menopause. But is that a reason to stop trying? Have you not breath in your body?

These are all questions i had to face myself, well not the menopause cause I'm the wrong species for that. But the motivation, the lowering of my bodies main muscle primer, testosterone. The fear, the procrastination...

Then I noticed all these buff guys training in my gym i had just re-joined. These Titans training in their Forties & Fifties on YouTube. There must be a way to do it without steroids and fat burners. A healthy way.

And there is.

Everyone's body is different. You have to fine tune and listen to it. But there are a few universal truths that everyone should adopt in their middle ages.

In no particular order

  • No 1 Don't train for hours on end 4 or 5 times a week
  • No 2 Don't expect to maintain muscle mass or shed pounds on a Weslo treadmill without adequate sleep
  • No 3 Don't start any program with a do or die gung-ho attitude after a long lay off (maybe years).
  • No 4 Phase into new fitness/bodybuilding/strength building routines.
  • No 5 BCAA's are your friend if you do long cardio/training sessions
  • No 6 Cycle the training intensity- don't go heavy or hard all the time.
  • No 7 Avoid over training- especially if you have children or a long suffering partner or they will bear the brunt of your bad mood swings
  • No 8 Work on mobility and your body and mind will thank you for it.
  • No 9 Don't become obsessed with the perfect body - there is none. Yours is the only one you will ever get- be kind to it.
  • No 10 Even if you think you know how to do an exercise learn how to practice correct form. When lifting weights stabilize your body and don't swing wildly or use momentum
  • No 11 See how fit you are for your age by doing the chair and step test
  • No 12 11 points are enough, no need for more

Working Through The Pain

One thing I hear a lot throughout my gym lore chats between people of a similar age is "I'm just working through the pain". Or it goes something like this.

My shoulders all right on dumbbell bench presses, but as soon as i attempt a shoulder press or lateral raise it's agony.

Never work through consistent or regular pain. Don't warm up with 10 light sets before hitting your max set, or do a 15 minute stretching routine if you experience the same niggling pain each time you do an exercise.

Pain is your bodies way of telling you something. Incorrect exercise form and adding poundages or reps to an exercise that hurts you is a recipe for disaster.

You may be building up or have previously had scar tissue or an injury you didn't even know about. Continuing to pump out on your new 552 dumbbells will pour more inflammation, scar tissue and wear and tear on your joints. Your body will also adopt and create muscle imbalances in order to cope with the load.

This can lead to a host of injuries, some even career ending, which can also store up a lot of pain for you in the coming years.

Get to know your body and a good exercise or physical therapist. Get a foam roller-investigate how to use it- or use this foam rolling guide.

Home Gym or Gym Subscription?

Which should you opt for? What is your lifestyle like? Do you cut workouts cause you don't have the motivation or because your schedule is too busy? Find the answer to this and whether you actually enjoy a commercial gym before looking at any home equipment.

Home gym equipment doesn't have to be expensive to be good. You can even opt for a no frills powerless treadmill and still receive great benefits.

Muscle Building or Fat Loss?

Defining goals can be simple. First off start with your main object.

Is it muscle building or is it fat loss?

To achieve these objectives use a calorie tracking app to streamline the main factor - how much and what you eat. Going to the gym comes second to calorie consumption.

Using a calorie tracker is actually less work than you think, and after a while you won't have to weigh food and you'll get so attuned to working out protein, fat and carb ratios. You'll simply be able to look at a packet of food and calculate if I eat half this packet I've consumed this much calories and this many macros.

If you want to add noticeable muscle mass you'll have to increase your weight. To achieve this boost your calorie intake by 10%. If you want to lose weight lower your calorie by 10%.

How do you work this out? Log your current weight. Download a calorie tracking app from Google Play or iTunes. Just eat like you normally would for a full week.  Track what you eat using the app. The best ones will have all your regular food brands listed, you can add products by name, barcode or manually enter the details.

Over the week your calories may fluctuate. Take the 7 day figure and work out what you eat daily on average. Say it's 2500 calories. That's what your body needs to maintain its current weight and body mass. If you want to increase your muscle mass add on an extra 250 daily calories. To reduce your weight subtract 250 calories from your daily consumption.

Why 10%?

This is just a base figure. Too many people go crazy and cut weight by a 1000-2000 calories. Your body is used to averages. If you cut or boost too aggressively you will bloat up or cause energy crashes, and this will affect your mood and also open you up to health effects and sugar cravings. 

Don't go down the crash diet or bulk weight gain routes. This will open you up to wasting your gains or losses not long after you reach them. The 10% figure is a base rate. After a month you can judge whether it is still working. If it is stick to it. If not increase it further.

In the case of weight loss you just can't keep on cutting calories forever. But you can increase your cardio and strength training (when combined clinically proven to reduce fat- see study).

Muscle Building & Fat Loss Combined - Best Of both Worlds

Resistance training and cardio such as hiit has been shown time and time again to build muscle and burn fat. Most of the fat loss and muscle building occurs outside of the gym. If you follow a basic sensible weight training program such as 5x5 or your own individual program, all you need to do is reign in the calories.

It isn't just making sure you know how many calories you need to maintain your weight, it is also the proportion of the calories that come from fats, protein and carbs - The MACROS. In the old days of bodybuilding the macros would be broken down something like this when protein was of the highest esteemed value. It was not uncommon to see 45-10-20 ratios.

Protein: 45%

Carbs: 10%

Fat: 45%

In some cases protein intake would even go as high as 60%. But from what we now know, too much protein is not only ineffective but it is also harmful to your kidneys. Bodybuilders will always argue that they are not normal athletes and need more protein to sustain and build their muscles.

That is not true, especially with the use of anabolic steroids which heavily tax the kidneys and liver in terms of toxicity, especially when they are over used. All steroids do is increase the rate at which protein is synthesized by the muscles. Overloading with extra protein will cause little effect except to the kidneys and liver.

Nowadays 40-40-20 (protein-carbs-fat) is more common. Carbs have found favor.

The Bad Fat Rap

Fat gets a bad rap, namely because of its name. But fat is good, especially healthy fats. Increasing your fat consumption to 30% or higher has benefits especially as you hit the 30-40+ mark. Eating diets higher in fats can not only reduce your bodyfat levels but it is also essential for lowering cholesterol and reducing your chances of heart disease.

So many bodybuilders in the 70s built tremendous physiques. This is before the advent of growth hormone and advanced steroids available today. Steroids today are vastly superior to the 1970s, but just look at the build Arnold had. He didn't have the legs of today's bodybuilders, but that may be due to genetics and lack of growth hormone. 

His upper body, particularly his biceps and mammoth chest are just as conquering as the modern mass monsters such as Ronnie Coleman and Phil Heath. Coleman was much larger than Heath, but there is no difference is his chest and biceps than Arnolds. Arnold's waste is more tapered so he actually looks to me to have the best upper body physique, from the front of all time.

image credit

Arnold is considered to be a classic bodybuilder. But is terms of today's classic class at the MR O, Arnold would be too massive to compete. With modern steroids and IGF he would be a mass monster albeit in one with a slim waistline, and more aesthetic physique. Unless he overdid the growth hormone and got a soft bloated waste like most of today's competitors. (LOL)

People think it's just modern bodybuilders who have legs. Just look at Tom Platz. His legs were insane. Only 3 or 4 bodybuilders since then have got close to his leg development.

Tom Platz extreme quad development

Tom Platz supersized legs

Fat is also not stored as fat. Fat is used for energy and carbs are  actually stored in the body as fats for later use.

This study of the Mediterranean diet showing eating foods higher in fat can control body fat levels.

Some healthy fats include

  • avocado (just got onto this this year and found my initial observations to be untrue- simply delicious if ripe)
  • coconut oil
  • dairy products - whole eggs - full fat yogurt, kefir milk (made with whole milk)
  • dark chocolate (what i like to call  "healthy" chocolate- higher the cocoa content the better)
  • fish (salmon, tuna)
  • lean grass fed beef (not processed crap)
  • nuts (walnuts, brazil, pistachios, almonds)
  • olives
  • seeds (chia, pumpkin, sunflower)
  • Tofu

This is not the same as a keto diet that balances high fats with low carbs. I am personally not a fan of keto, carbs are not bad. Keto is only useful as a short term solution or for someone with medical issues who has to switch on to it.

Eating clean is the main goal. Clean carbs are miles away from eating simple sugars- cookies, chocolate, sweetened drinks, candy....and more like complex carbs - rice, pasta, multi-grain bread, yams (unless you are intolerant), potatoes.

The same is true with protein and fat, the cleaner, the healthier. Filling your diet with cheat carbs and fats will increase your calories but also leave you full of processed crap, that will supercharge your insulin and cholesterol levels. Plus the more crap you eat, the more you crave, especially when you crash down from the initial sugar rush.

What my dad used to say was, the higher you go up, the faster you fall.

Cheat Days

No one is required to eat clean everyday. It is impossible. It will not make you live any longer neither. You won't win a badge of medal, so anyone who is on a strict vegan, keto or religious diet has nothing to lord over you. As the bible says the pagans obsess over what they eat. This is not  license to eat crap, but not to be so over obsessed with what you are eating/doing so it becomes the focus of your life.

We all need a comfort day every once in a while. Your own milestone might be eating a cheat meal every day. Or reducing your cookie habit to twice a day. Little steps. What's simple for 1 person may be a giant obstacle to you.

The most essential part of weight loss in your forties and fifties is habits, it's consistency. The same rings true for building muscle. That's why calorie tracking is so important. The body responds to what it gets consistently. Consistently eat high junkie fats and carbs and you will carry excess body fat. Consistently eat clean and reduce or boost your calories and you will get results.

Without habits you will crash and burn if you don't get a break. Holding on to your gains will become hard when complacency and inconsistency sets it. The best way to start a habit is not to read 10 life changing books. Just do it. You will fail. But embrace failure. The more you do something unpleasant like tracking calories the easier it gets.

About Eddie Eastwood