Today, I’d like to share some general thoughts about lifting weights when you’re over 40. Because yes, as you age, things do change. What worked when you were 18, 25, 30, etc. might need to be modified as you age.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to shy away from heavy weights as you get older. I’m a firm believer in the positive impact of iron on the aging process. I’m also not going to talk about specific training routines.
Instead, I’ll mainly focus on one thing: your mindset.
The importance of patience
If there’s one thing that’s changed more than anything else in recent years, it’s been my mindset. My willingness to be patient, and to let the process work. My overall work capacity is (I think) similar to what it used to be. But my body recovers and adapts more slowly than it used to.
But that’s okay…
I’ve long since realized that strength training is a marathon, not a sprint. I’ve got the rest of my life to get stronger. Sure, sarcopenia will eventually get the better of me, but there’s no need to rush. In fact, rushing the process will only do one thing: increase the likelihood of injury.
The high cost of impatience
A few years ago, after too much time out of the gym, I jumped back into things faster than I should have. I didn’t give my body enough time to adapt to the increased workload. And guess what happened? I started to pick up overuse injuries. I developed a bit of tendonitis in my left shoulder. And I developed some pretty severe tendonitis in both elbows.
Unfortunately, to this day, these things still flare up and bother me. And I’m pretty sure that they could have been avoided by one thing: patience. But I was in a rush to get back at it. To recapture the so-called glory days. I did too much, too fast. And I paid the price.
The older you get, the slower your body will adapt, and the more time it will take to recover. This sucks, but it’s true. Please don’t just ignore this reality. Recognize it, and train accordingly.
The way forward
I’m nowhere near as regimented as I used to be. Yes, I still shoot for four solid gym sessions per week (I’ve been running PHUL for awhile now). But I don’t alway stick to the Mon/Tue, Thu/Fri prescription. Instead, I move my rest days around as needed.
Related: Do BCAAs Help With Recovery?
This flexibility is even more important given my commitment to fairly serious erg training on top of my weightlifting sessions. Sometimes I’m just worn out and need a bit of extra time to recover. And that’s okay. As long as I’m hitting my overall workload goals on a weekly basis, I’m not going to sweat some day-to-day variation in my schedule.
As a quick example, I’m hitting the weights this week on Mon/Wed and Thu/Sat, with erg sessions sprinkled into the mix. I’m listening to my body
*Note: While it’s important to “listen to your body,” please (please!) don’t use this as an excuse to slack off. The goal here is to train smart so you can keep progressing, not to train lazy.
Another modification that I’ve made is to back down a bit on my weight progressions. As always, I’m committed to progressive overload. But I’ve found that slowing it down just a bit has made continued progression much more feasible (and comfortable).
Instead of bumping up the weight every time I succeed in the gym, I’m forcing myself to be more patient. Once I succeed on a lift, I stay at that weight for one more workout. I only increase when I’ve succeeded twice in a row — though I’ll often do an AMRAP final set to keep it challenging.
I’ve also picked up a pair of 1.25 lb plates. This allows me to micro-load as my progression slows down. Instead of jumping up by 5 lbs and stalling out, I can move up in smaller increments and keep progressing. Similarly, my IronMaster dumbbells allow me to increase my dumbbell lifts in 2.5 lb increments vs. the normal 5 lb jumps in standard dumbbell collections.
These small tweaks have worked wonders for me, and I’m progressing faster despite (on the surface) going slower. Once again, patience is the key. Instead of rushing and getting hurt, or stalling and getting frustrated, I’m taking my time. I’m staying healthy and getting stronger by the day.