1. PROGRAM DELOAD WORK
For those who don't know, a deload is a planned period of reduced intensity (weight) and volume (number of sets and reps). The purpose of a deload is to prevent overtraining, encourage maximum recovery, reduce injury risk and increase healing time. Don't wait until something is hurting to deload. A good place to start is 3 weeks of hard training and 1 week of deloading before ramping back up. Each person is different and may need to deload more or less often. However, it is important to be proactive with your planned deloads, especially over 40. During a deload week, still go to the gym, but reduce your weights by about 30% and remove 1-2 sets per exercise. I am a big proponent of deloads ever since I hired Josh Bryant to do my training back in 2011. His strategies helped me get ahead of the game by planning in deloads!
2. WARM UP AND COOL DOWN
Most people know they should warm up before training, but may do it improperly, too much or not enough. Warming up is especially important over 40 as your body typically has less flexibility and more joint stiffness. Here is a good warmup routine to follow, which I also picked up from my strength coach Josh Bryant. Spend 5-10 minutes doing low intensity cardio, for example, on an elliptical machine. This is a general body temperature warm up. Next, do some dynamic stretching for the muscle groups about to be used. Research these by searching for dynamic lower and upper body stretches on YouTube. Finally, move on to the first exercise of the day. Start light and do more sets and fewer reps than you may think. For example, if benching with a working weight of 205 lbs, a proper warmup would look like this:
Bar 3 x 5
95 lbs 2 x 5
115 lbs 1 x 5
135 lbs 1 x 5
175 lbs 1 x 3
Working sets with 205.
Warming up in this manner gets your body primed to lift without wasting too much energy with high reps. Increasing the number of sets you do increases your number of "first reps". This means you get more chances to practice setting up and nailing down your technique.
At the end of your workout, take time to cool down. Try some light static stretching and deep breathing. This will allow your nervous system to return to a recovery state. On days off, keep the body moving by walking, swimming or employing recovery techniques such as sauna, massage etc. This warm up and cool down will add only 10 minutes to your workout and be very beneficial to how you move during the workout and feel after.
3. EMPHASIZE EXERCISE TECHNIQUE & SELECTION
Even if you may not be able to lift as heavy as you used to, there is no reason why your technique should suffer. In fact, with proper technique you very possibly could exceed your previous personal bests. Place the highest priority on form in your lifts. Form over weight, every time. If your goal is strength related, utilizing the "main" lifts is important, since they give you the most strength benefits in the least time. If you are more worried about health and technique, don't be married to an exercise. Just because something worked when you were younger does not mean it will work now or that you have to force it to. Feeling uncomfortable and pushing yourself is good, pain is bad. If you can't squat without major pain and discomfort, use the leg press. If hypertrophy is your goal, do what you can do to push yourself to elicit growth while staying pain free. In addition to the main lifts, the secondary or assistance exercise you use, such as curls, lat pulldowns, tricep extensions or otherwise should adhere to a similar strategy. Keep these movements light and focus on form. Feel the tension in the muscle rather than throwing around the weight. This strategy will keep your joints happy. Speaking of keeping your joints happy, the next tip may help there as well.
4. MONITOR TRAINING VOLUME
Over 40, it is especially important to monitor how much and how heavy you train. Joel used to tell me that he would bench 3 times a week when he was in high school. I actually did the same thing for awhile and this kind of frequency is still a technique employed by many. This can be done with proper programming. However, over 40 years old you may have more aches and pains than you used to and this strategy may no longer work. If a movement irritates you, eliminate it. Prolong your training career by keeping yourself as pain free as possible in the gym. If you can only recover from 1 hard set per exercise, use that technique. It is different for each person, but don't be afraid to cut a set out here and there. Listen to your body and use your best judgement. This is not to say that you should be taking it easy, but it is a good idea to trim the fluff that causes you joint pain and does more harm than good. Train the movements you can perform safely as hard as possible but only as often as you can recover from. A training week doesn't have to be 7 days. It can be 8, 9, 10 or whatever works for you. Famous powerlifting family the Lilliebridges employ a technique where they deadlift heavy one week and squat heavy the next. When the week involves a heavy deadlift, the squat workout is light and focuses on form. You may want to try a similar strategy or extend your training week to accommodate recovery. As most of these tips are, the last tip is big on recovery and how to do it properly.
5. EAT, SLEEP, SUPPLEMENT
These tips are helpful regardless of age, but I hope they can be of more value to you on your continued pursuit of health, strength and muscularity over 40 years old.