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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Older trainees and exercise frequency

by Pete Ryan

This one is going to annoy you in some respects.  I will tell you right from the outset that there are not an ideal number of times per week, duration or intensity to train at.  A lot depends on things like exact age, outside stress, other activities that will affect how many times a week you train and how long those sessions last. I can sum up the ideal in one sentence though and from there we can look at options.

The amount of times a week you can stick to and the time you are willing to put in each session is the ideal...

That answer probably nearly made you throw your phone/laptop through the nearest wall! I know that is a really aggravating answer, but that is the stark truth.  I can give you the perfect workout for you, but if you are not willing to do it, then it is an inferior workout to hitting the whole body once for 45 minutes a week. If you can stick like glue to once a week, but do your ‘perfect’ workout for 2 weeks and then never do it again, which is the best?

Being honest with yourself

Let’s start with being honest. You may have decided that working out 4 times a week is perfect to maximise your muscle gains, but will you actually turn up for every session? I am not talking about now, but in 3 weeks, in 3 months or even in a year or more? What about when you have that room to decorate, what about when you need to get those tax returns done, what about when the stress at work means you are feeling burnt out?  If you can, then fine, but if you can definitely get 2 sessions in per week, but would struggle with 4, then 2 would be your ideal.
I will start with something many people will find very controversial, my opinions on age and training.


Let’s cut to the chase on this one.  I find it hard listening to a young guy talking about how older people should exercise.  They may have some experience in that area, but they do not live with the issues getting older brings.  I am sure many younger people have insights, but I prefer to get the opinion of older coaches and personal trainers. For the record I am over 50 and have had injuries and issues that many older trainees have been through.
My belief is that older people need to do more than their younger equivalents.  I know, that is not the common view point.  In fact most coaches suggest that older athletes do less, but hear me out and make up your own mind.

Most older trainees are less interested in competition and more interested in training longevity, plus most older trainees have previous injuries (because we too were once young and very stupid!). So, our goals are often not maximum lifts, but heavy weights done for sets, encouraging hypertrophy (muscle growth) and fighting off old age. To do these lifts we need much more time warming up and doing mobility than the younger lifter doing the same exercises.  An older person may need to warm up and mobilise the shoulders and elbows for 10-15 minutes to hit a press, we may also need to move our bodies a lot more to maintain flexibility and strength throughout the range of motion of an exercise. So, we may spend a greater proportion of time doing mobility, bodyweight movements and preparing our bodies for the workout than a younger person. 

So whereas a younger person may have:
  • ·         5 minute Warm-up
  • ·         45 minute workout

An older person may have:
  • ·         20 minute warm-up
  • ·         40 minute workout

So as you can see, the older person will be moving their body for longer than the younger person.
As you age the whole idea of use it or lose it becomes much more immediate.  The older you become, the quicker it is to lose the ability to do an exercise and the harder it is to gain new skills or regain lost physical abilities.  If you do not practice skills regularly, then they will disappear, so if you are like most people who hit the gym and do not wish to lose any skills you have acquired over the years, then you will have to practice skills a lot more often than when you were younger.  The sheer mass of abilities you want to keep also force you to be doing physical activity a lot more.   Let me hasten to add that you may do these outside the gym.  You could practice a range of bodyweight movements at home (Planche, L-sit, pull-ups, push-ups, headstands, handstands, sprinting...the list goes on), but these all have to fit into your weekly/monthly, schedule if you wish to keep these abilities into really old age. Also most of these need some sort of warm-up to avoid injury.
So, as you can see an older trainee may need to spend more total time working out as they need to warm-up in a thorough fashion and practice physical abilities more often.

What this does not mean is working out balls to the wall every day, or anything like that.  I do believe that older people should do something physical everyday.  This can be as simple as some push-ups and pull-ups at home, or going out and sprinting for 10 minutes, rope jumping on the porch or 30 minutes mobility, but everyday something should be done.  Coach Dan John has a saying: 

If it is important, do it every day

For the older athlete this is especially true.  If you need to improve your squat, then squat every day.  This does not mean go to max every morning doing a back squat.  Simply add bodyweight squats into your warm-up, or just knock out some squats every day.  Even ditch your chairs and sit on a cushion on the floor, so if you want to get up or sit down, you are forced into a full squat. For the older athlete holding a barbell, a single kettlebell or dumbbell overhead and squatting adds unique challenges, using weights that stress the back a lot less, or get an Ironmind Hip Belt if the back is an issue.  As an older trainee you need to get creative working around the limitations your body imposes.

Movement (NEAT)

Non-exercise Activity thermogenesis is the fancy term used to describe things you do that burn calories, but are not part of your exercise routine. In keeping with my belief that older trainees need to workout more often, I also believe that the older you get the more important it is to move more often than younger people. Things like walking to the shops, spending 10 minutes after each meal walking (good for anyone who wants to improve insulin sensitivity), just doing physical things becomes more important for the older athlete.  You need to plan your life in such a way that you can be active outside of the gym. Think about it, no matter how hard you workout for 30-60 minutes, it will never, ever overcome being sedentary for 23-23.30 hours every day, how could it? So, plan on regular activity throughout the day.  Anyone can go for a walk for 10 minutes after each meal, just try it.  Eat a meal then walk 5 minutes one way, turn around and walk 5 minutes back, aim at a brisk pace.  If you sit for an hour, get up, stretch and do mobility for 10 minutes, then carry on.  In the long run this will help you achieve your goals.

Picking your movements

Most of the movements you choose should be things you enjoy.  If you hate everything then you will never succeed as you will find any excuse to avoid them.  However, there are some things you know need to be done, you will probably hate these.  These are things you need to do.  Add them at the start, not the end of a session, put the things you really enjoy at the end, so you are more likely to finish a session.  So, if you have a bad shoulder, doing band dislocates, band pull aparts and clubbell swings may be boring for you, but they may be very necessary.  You may need to add in 5-10% of things you do not enjoy doing, but mainly include things you enjoy doing.
Exactly what you do isn’t important. You need to include:

Upper body vertical pushing (overhead press, steep incline press are 2 examples)
Upper body vertical pulling (Pull-up, chin up)
Upper body horizontal pushing (Bench press, push-up)
Upper body horizontal pulling (bent over row, inverted row)
Hip hinge (deadlift variation, KB swing)
Legs (Squat variation, leg press)
You do not need to do these every session, or even every week. Simply rotate thing in and out as often as you like.
Wrap up
I could talk a lot about this, if you are interested comment below. I can discuss routines, methods, diets or go into more details about any related issue if those are of interest to you? 

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