We all have that moment when we realize that we need to take better care of ourselves. For many of my clients, this moment comes sometime in their 50s. When this moment occurs later in your life, it is important to make sure that you are approaching your health and fitness appropriately to ensure that you are mitigating risk of injury and that you are setting yourself up for success.
Below are my top five tips to help you get fit over the age of 50.
1. Focus on the Process
While you can still see amazing results in your 50s, it is far more significant to build out a healthy living pattern. You are not going to see results as quickly as you did when you were younger. As we age, it is more difficult to burn fat and build muscle. If you make yourself process driven rather than focusing on the results that you are looking for, you will develop habits that will perpetually help you be healthier and in better shape. If you shift your objectives to the behaviors that will get you results, not only will you see the body changes that you are looking for, you will also stop the yo-yoing that you have experienced throughout your adulthood.
It is also shifting your goal to something that you have complete control of and allows for you to pivot your behaviors to fit your goal as it changes. Your goals will shift over time. While today it may be just to keep up with your kids and be able to play basketball again or to simply lose 20 pounds to not have to buy new clothes, after you accomplish one goal, your goals will shift to another. If you focus on the process, you will have the right pattern. Then, you can adjust the diet and exercise variables to fit your goals as they evolve.
2. Focus On How the Workout Feels
Realize that regardless of age, what we are capable of can change on a daily basis. It is certainly appealing to look at your workouts and look for a linear progression from workout to workout. However, regardless of age, progression does not work exactly like that. It is more like the way the stock market progresses; it has peaks, valleys, and plateaus. With each workout, you should take your time and view your workouts more as easy, medium, and hard days. Don’t worry if the weights you use from one workout to another drop, focus on the specific level of intensity you are training with.
Depending on how your body feels that day, what you can do may change. In your 50s, it becomes far more difficult to add muscle. No matter if you are a man or woman, your body’s natural testosterone levels have dropped. The amount of calories you can burn in a single workout has dropped, which is due to the decrease in your maximal heart rate being directly linked to the amount of energy you use in a workout. When people told you that it would be harder to lose weight or get in shape in your 50s, they were right. However, realize that harder is not impossible.
3. Lift Lighter, Focus on Volume, and Muscular Contraction
When you first thought of weightlifting, especially if you are a man, you look at the amount of weight you are lifting as the key indicator to your progress. STOP THAT! You are 50-plus now. I hate to break it to you but the concept of consistently increasing the weight you are using on a regular basis will lead you on the road to injury. Instead of using that variable to determine how good or bad a workout session is, use how the muscles feel or how many reps/sets you did with the weight. Attempt to get the deepest muscle contraction that you can possibly get while using the lightest weight and perfect form.
Lifting heavy with low volume places more stress on the joints. Working with lower percentages of your single rep maximum effort will help protect your joints. You can get an amazing workout and progress your strength and gain muscle while training with a lower intensity and a higher volume. Instead of focusing on the amount of weight that you are lifting, focus on the muscular contraction that you are getting from the lift. Train with higher volumes where you are still able to work through progressive overload training. Progress occurs when we introduce stimuli that our body is not using to ask the muscles to do more than they are used to doing. Working at higher volumes allow us to progress the number far away from the most weight you can lift.
4. Don’t Get Hurt
I don’t care who you are or what your specific goals are, nothing slows progress more than getting hurt. You are 50-plus now. There is no need for you to ego lift and be a hero in the gym. You need to take care of your body.
Progress slowly, always listening to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, figure out why. An injury can limit you both in your training and in your everyday life. Always listen to your body.
Over the years, your body has developed different imbalances and movement patterns. Understand that these imbalances can impact the way that you perform exercises and at times the exercises that you can perform. It is important that you listen to your body and pay attention to the objective of the exercise. All too often, people come to me performing exercises to develop one part of the body and only feeling it in another, such as women performing squats to develop their butt, and only feeling it in their quads, or men performing bench presses to build up their chest, but only feeling it in triceps. These muscle imbalances need to be paid attention to, and while both examples are common, improper muscle activation can lead to injury, at the very least.
As I tell my clients, “if you don’t feel it in that area, odds are the exercise isn’t working it.” Understand that there is no single cookie cutter “right” way to perform most lifts. The lengths of your muscles and your bone structure is something that is unique to you. If you go into every exercise with a specific objective (muscles you are looking to activate with a defined purpose), you are able to listen to your body to discover the appropriate from to get the results that you are looking for.
5. Make Recovery a Focused Part of Your Program
You are now at a point in your life where you have enough going on that if you don’t plan it, it doesn’t happen. You need to look at recovery not simply as a passage of time, but rather as an active part of your program that is necessary for you. Recovery can take on many forms from working with professionals like a massage therapist, physical therapist, or chiropractor, and can also be an activity you perform like stretching every morning, meditation, yoga, and foam rolling. A complete program will incorporate both of these.
Your training is only a small part of your overall fitness and health program. Also, take the time to work on your recovery. Yoga and other stretching techniques will elongate the muscles and help them recover. If you are feeling acute pain in any area of your body, you should consider seeing a physical therapist or chiropractor to develop an understanding of what is going on with your body. Even if you are not feeling any issues currently, you should consider working with professionals to aid in your recovery. Working with professionals on the prevention of injuries can and will improve your training, and help you be healthier and feel less pain.
Regardless of what your goals are, you can see amazing results beyond your 50th birthday. However when you are getting started, you should shift your focus to help ensure your longevity and health.