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Turning 40 and having to rethink everything

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  • Turning 40 and having to rethink everything

    Brief background:

    I did competitive climbing from my late teens till my mid 20s. Trying to gain an edge in climbing turned me to lifting. Lifting ended up outlasting climbing. So through my 20s I was lifting consistently and building good muscle. Both for the enjoyment, but (to be completely honest) mostly to impress girls. I am, what Joe DeFranco calls a "tall skinny bastard": an ectomorph or a hard gainer. I never had any gains to speak of (3x10 or 4x8 never did anything for me), until I started lifting by this formula: 2 warm up sets of around 12 reps with 40% of 1 rep max, 2 power sets of around 6 reps with 80-90% of 1 rep max. I would focus on compound exercises with a few isolation exercises thrown in as well. Free weights over machines. Working through my entire body once a week. Obviously as an ectomorph calories would zip right through me, so I had to eat a lot to make gains. That template served me very well for a good number of years.


    Notice how things slow down as you grow older? Through my 20s, a couple of weeks to a month of good lifting and diet and I would pretty much be 85% back to where I left off. Then you hit 30 and all of a sudden it is a struggle to just keeping lean. Just turned 40 and I am having trouble figuring out how to lift and diet. Never had any injuries to speak of, but managed to blow out my lower back (Doctor said "torn muscle in lower back") doing dead lifts. A month later I do the same to my left rear delt (Twice! After giving it 4 weeks rest). What's going on here?

    So right now I have a few problems I am trying to iron out, and so I call on the more experienced people on these forums for some help (please):

    Strength: If my strength doesn't consistently increase on a lift from session to session (either on poundages or repetitions), that is a warning flag to me. Sadly it happens a lot. I read somewhere that if you don't sufficiently increase your poundages or repetitions on a lift, you throw in another rest day before doing that lift again - as well as making sure you get enough protein in your diet, as it is basically a sign that you simply hasn't had the time, rest or diet to rebuild that muscle.

    Diet: Which takes me my diet. So as I increase my calorie intake (Specifically protein) to help building muscle, I must say that I gain a lot of body fat. Which I am not happy about at all. I have a macro split of roughly 30% fat 55% protein and 15% carbs. I eat a lot of fresh ingredients cooked simply. My wife is very supportive of my diet. So I shouldn't really be struggling with gaining fat (and no to little muscle) here. The effect of carbs sure can be felt as you have passed 40. So I try to source my energy from good fat sources like grass fed butter, coconut fat, MCT oils and whatever animal fats I come across in beef, fish etc.

    Injuries: It looks like low rep high intensity lifting, which has always been needed to trigger gains for me, is flirting with danger now. What else am I going to do? I don't really know where to turn. I really don't want to go through a torn back again. That was 2 weeks of agonising cramps/spasms, just trying to sleep at night.

    Supplements: I take creatine (with my breakfast), ZMA (before bedtime), BCAAs (upon waking, before bedtime and after working out) and obviously a lot of whey protein. The ZMA is because I feel I am bit low on testosterone (fairly low libido as well). Creatine... well, if you can't move the needle on your lifts, I need it to help me grind out a few extra reps etc.

    I should mention that I have a sedentary job. I lift at home, where between my barbell, dumbells, CoC grippers and pull-up bar I have most of what I need to work out to my standards.

    All I am asking is to see the needle move a bit; to get a little bit of the effort spent back as gains.

    Any advice out there?
    Last edited by Marque Pierre Sondergaard; 06-29-2014, 11:11 AM.

  • #2
    Hi Marque,

    Here are few thoughts that may help you along:

    1) The injuries imply that something is going mechanically wrong during the movements in which they occur. A lift performed properly, even with maximal weight, should have a low incidence of injury. This could be a result of having a sedentary job. Sitting at a keyboard all day often promotes protraction of the shoulders and tightening of the hip flexors which could explain the rear delt and low back issues respectively. Focus on mobility and identify where your trouble areas are, then address them.

    2) Once you address the mechanical issues, try this for increasing strength: train each major lift three times every two weeks. Alternate light (70%), medium (80%), and heavy (more than 80%) days. This way you are training heavy only every 9 or 10 days on each lift. It might look like this if you are using the power lifts: Monday - squat heavy, bench medium, deadlift light. Thurs Squat light, Bench heavy, Deadlift medium. Monday (of the next week) Squat Medium, Bench light, Deadlift heavy. Repeat the first "Monday" lift on Thursday and start the cycle over.

    3) To address the dreaded flabbiness, toss in two conditioning days a week. Perhaps Tues and Friday. Stick to limited volume interval work. Maybe 15-20 min total doing short bursts of runs, ropes, calisthenics, or swimming followed by short rests.

    Hope this helps!


    • #3
      Thanks for your advice Paul.

      1. I will investigate this.

      2. Could you explain what is the idea behind this? Lifting heavy and to failure is... It is very hard to not do. What is the rationale behind this formula?

      3. Sigh. I was hoping not to be expanding my training volume - as it takes a lot of energy out of me as it is. I was hoping to find some equilibrium, where I can keep body fat somewhat stable, with muscle/strength gains still in the picture. Perhaps that is naive once you are past 30 and not able to make training your primary occupation?

      Also, do anybody in my age group have any suggestions for coping with or beating decreasing energy levels?
      Last edited by Marque Pierre Sondergaard; 06-30-2014, 04:34 AM.


      • #4
        Marque -

        The rationale behind the previously mentioned training guidelines is that by training the lifts heavy less often (but still training them) you allow yourself to recover better and avoid overuse injuries without reducing your training frequency drastically. If you have always leaned toward to training to failure, this may be a difficult mental transition, but a very productive one. Personally, once I stopped training to failure all of the time, my gains increased dramatically.

        As for the cardio, if you keep the sessions short and intense, you should be able to leave the session feeling good and energized, rather than beaten down and defeated. This will help energy levels overall and your bodyfat levels.

        Best of luck!


        • #5
          Hello Paul,

          Thanks again for the explanation. I suppose a mental shift is in order here.

          Pardon my ignorance please, but I have always taken it as gospel (and I do believe it is supported by research as well) that you do need to hit that muscle failure point, for the body to trigger to start rebuilding the muscle stronger?

          If the above (my statement) is true, as your body's ability to recuperate and handle the stress placed on it diminishes with age, you are looking at a death spiral where you can't win, I suppose.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Marque Pierre Sondergaard View Post
            Brief background:
            Strength: If my strength doesn't consistently increase on a lift from session to session (either on poundages or repetitions), that is a warning flag to me. Sadly it happens a lot. I read somewhere that if you don't sufficiently increase your poundages or repetitions on a lift, you throw in another rest day before doing that lift again - as well as making sure you get enough protein in your diet, as it is basically a sign that you simply hasn't had the time, rest or diet to rebuild that muscle.
            There are so many factors involved in this. But, one thing you need to get over (IMO), is the "increasing on a lift session-to-session." Although I possess this very mentality, and often train all-out, seeking the betterment of my one-rep max every few weeks in the big lifts, it is not always a realistic barometer of progress (or lack of). As I turn 40, I have been forced to alter my training style in accordance with my recovery week-to-week, after heavy sessions. I still push for constant improvement in my numbers, but have turned to focus more to my 3-rep max, and refining my technique and speed. I have always mixed things up, but have found by doing this more frequently (and creatively), the gains continue now at 40, even with almost 30 years of training in the past (and being lifetime drug-free).

            Another thing to keep in mind is the affect of grip-specific exercises on overall short-term progress. For instance, if I do a heavy gripper workout on the same day as heavy bench, the ability to grip the bar hard is compromised, making the force transfer at the grip change, thus altering the set-up and execution of the lift, with the end-result being less weight likely lifted. As mentioned above, there are so many factors to account for with "strength."

            Design a program based upon your strengths and weaknesses, stick to the program, and gauge your progress over the mid- and long-term, not getting caught up in the day-to-day variations.


            • #7
              "gauge your progress over the mid- and long-term, not getting caught up in the day-to-day variations."


              Marque -

              No one can beat Father Time (not even the TRT crowd haha), but I feel like gains can certainly be made and training can still be safely engaged as we age. Regarding training to failure, this is a debate unto itself. I will say that the strongest powerlifters and strongman competitors in the world rarely miss reps during training ie. they are not going to failure very often. As a teen and 20 something, I would train every exercise that I did to the point of failure. I would lift until I actually missed a rep, then would often do forced reps beyond that. I did this for just about every exercise in my routines. I was also constantly injured, sore, miserable, and wondering why I still wasn't catching up with the big guys at my gym. I grew like a weed, but my strength did not match my appearance. Once I started ending sets before I actually failed more regularly, I started getting stronger.

              Hope this helps!


              • #8
                Came across this post on the Dragon Door blog:


                The idea of instead of pushing hard to failure on your max sets, but instead back down a step and increase set volume instead, to push through plateaus, intrigued me. Sounds safer, no?
                Though progressive calisthenics training brings plenty of benefits, ranging from increased flexibility, control, and of course, strength, your body perceives it


                • #9
                  Okay. Some time has passed. Thanks for helping me recalibrate. Mostly my ego of course. Shaving 90% off that, and just being happy with simple things.

                  Now I count my successes like this: 1. Did you get to the gym? 2. Did you stay injury free? 3. Did you increase your lifts in any way (even a single rep across an entire session)?

                  Big success. For more than 5 months I have been in the gym every single day and stayed injury free. Okay, so maybe I don't hit failure very often, and maybe my gains aren't explosive but across a longer period, they ARE there and they are not to be sniffed at.


                  • #10
                    I'm 50+. It's as much a physical adjustment as a mental one. I'm not who or what I was when I was 30 or 40. Adjust or reset the parameters, deal with it, get your head round it and be the best 40+ you can be.

                    I also competed recently. I NEVER hit maxes in the gym anymore. Instead I work at percentages of my max.

                    Example (see my log for evidence): One lift, the adjustable thick bar, was in the last session or two 140+ kilos x 4 sets of 3 reps. That's about 80-85% of my max. In the competition I hit 130+, 140+, 156+ (beating the old world record) and finally a 161+ kilo effort (raising the record some more). I'll be 52 in August.