FITNESS OVER 40 – PART I: Getting to Properly Know Your Body

FITNESS OVER 40

You are your body, but you probably don’t know it as well as you should. After all, it doesn’t come with a user manual, and the education system doesn’t place much focus on teaching you how to take care of it! To get the most out of strength training, you need to build a better—and more understanding—relationship with your body. Let’s take a quick look at how the body works and how you can make it work for you, in the pursuit of improved strength, health, and fitness.

Misconceptions Around Aging, Muscle And Strength Training

There are a lot of incorrect ideas floating around when it comes to aging and strength training—the conceptions people have about how we age and what it does to the body are, often, simply wrong. 

The classic idea of aging gracefully—of not doing any exercise and resigning yourself to a steady decline—is well out of fashion. Rather, we’re seeing the science suggest the opposite: you only decline if you let these expectations stop you from doing healthy exercise or eating in a considered way. 

The way that over-40s are portrayed in media definitely contributes to this: the expectation of aging and decline is one of the causes of it! Changes in behavior are the problem, not changes in age. 

THE WAY OVER 40S ARE PAINTED IN THE MEDIA 

Everywhere you look, you’re going to see people aging badly—almost like it’s inevitable. The way we treat life after 40 is steadily becoming more reasonable, but for generations it’s been the “midlife” stage where we are all meant to put on our comfy slippers and start taking it easy. 

As nice as it sounds, that’s not how the body works, and it’s not reflective of how fit, healthy, and active we can all be for a whole lifetime. The expectation produces the problem, and not the other way around: you don’t stop lifting weights because you age, you age because you stop lifting weights. 

The things that make you feel strong, healthy, and confident in your 20s are the same in your 40s, 60s, and 80s. You might need to undo a few decades of bad habits along the way, but you’re also armed with the wisdom and patience of experience! 

Kicking off the comfy slippers and getting or staying active means holding off the worst effects of aging but, even more than that, you can continue to improve well into and beyond your 40s. Unless you were an elite athlete in your younger years, there’s no reason you can’t get into the shape of your life now. 

Expectations only change when we prove them wrong: strength training over 40 is growing and setting new standards, and the old stereotypes of exercise after 40 are evolving beyond golf and yoga. Strength suits you at all ages, and the science tells us it’s only more important as we get older. 

EXPECTATIONS DRIVE DECLINE, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND 

I mentioned this above, but there is no necessity to getting old, pudgy, and inactive. The changes that happen to diet, sleep, and exercise are the main drivers to these changes—and they’re far from unavoidable. 

Hell, you wouldn’t be reading this book if you were resigned to this kind of lifestyle! 

There are changes that happen in the body as we age, but we’re not stuck with them. If you pick up exercise at 40 after decades of inactivity, you’ll have better hormonal health and improved strength compared to what you experienced in your 20s. 

This is because behaviors dictate the body’s health and performance, rather than the other way around. The problems of aging are associated with dropping crucial habits that strengthen and maintain the body—the effects of aging only lead to decline if you’re already in perfect shape. 

If we keep up these crucial behaviors, then the result is not only maintenance, but progress. We can see this with all kinds of elite athletes and sportspeople: there are a handful of Olympians over 40, while we see martial artists like the Gracies practice jiu-jitsu into their nineties. 

Sport, exercise, and activity keep us young—and our health and fitness only change after 40 if we forget the joy of movement and the confidence of strength. 

A YEAR IS NOT THE SAME FOR EVERYONE 

One of the things we learn from other cultures is that the way we treat age is weird—closely tying together age and expectations of health and strength doesn’t make a lot of sense. 

There is not a single effect of a year on your health. The way we age—the changes a year produces—are completely individual, based on the ways that we live. Forty years is completely different for someone smoking, drinking, and binge-eating compared to someone living a healthy and active lifestyle, full of exercise, lean proteins, and veggies. 

The number of years under your belt doesn’t determine your health, it’s a function: it multiplies your habits. Imagine the effect of 40 years of bad habits, but also imagine 50 years of good ones—who is likely to be doing better? 

This is the choice we have before us, and it’s important to make sure that the years to come will build good habits and positive change. 

STRENGTH GETS MORE IMPORTANT AS WE AGE 

There are conditions we have to guard ourselves against as our age increases, such as osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and fractures. These are a part of getting older, but the problem is that we use them as an excuse to be inactive and hide away from the possibility of injury through exercise. 

This is completely wrong: strength is more important as we age, since maintaining what we’ve got and building additional strength, muscle, and fitness staves off these problems. It’s also harder to succumb to frailty when you’ve got a surplus. If you’re losing a pound of muscle a year from aging, having 10 extra pounds of muscle means 10 more good years in the bank! 

This is the medical reason for strength training over 40. It reduces the risk of any changes to the body, as well as buying you even better, healthy, active years down the road. If you’re in your 40s or 50s, the work you do now isn’t just going to mean looking and feeling great this year, but also building another decade of quality living into your 80s, for example. 

You can still reach amazing goals in your 40s, 50s and beyond with proper habits, and it’s clear that your body doesn’t need to fall apart—it’s all down to what you choose to do and how you use your body. That’s why we need to talk about how your body works, and how you can get it to work for you…

Getting Set For Training — Preparation And Progress.

Setting up for fitness is a part of succeeding in strength training. It takes a smart approach to maximize results, and I’m going to explain how you manage that. After all, many people fail with fitness because their approach is wrong, not because they’re weak or unmotivated. Getting it right from the start ensures you’re on the right path and that you don’t have to double back and try again. This is going to cover a few areas that really need to be set out properly:

  • Expectations 
  • Goal setting 
  • Setting reasonable timelines 
  • Appreciating the process (at least) as much as the goal 
  • Building systems to keep yourself going 
  • Key factors for training

Each point listed above will teach you a few things about why people fail and how you can avoid this failure. Let’s get into them so you can ask yourself key questions: what are your goals, how are you going to avoid getting demotivated, and what are you going to do to maximize results from the outset?

EXPECTATIONS: WHY PEOPLE FAIL

One of the main causes of failure is poor expectations. When we get the expectations wrong, disheartenment and disappointment are inevitable – and this is something we see all the time when it comes to strength training, especially for the over-40s. Odds are you’ve experienced this yourself, in the past, and that’s why you’re reading this book.

Underperforming against our own expectations is a common sight and the problem is that there are two moving parts: performance and expectation. These can both go wrong, but more often we see people who get the expectations wrong—setting the bar too high, then mistakenly thinking their performance was the problem.

Setting expectations is important: we need to be realistic and remember that fitness is a lifelong process and not a short-term solution. How can we fix a lifetime of bad habits in a short time? It’s just not possible—and it wouldn’t stick if it was!

Set low expectations and be willing to move them up regularly when you meet them. This change of approach is key—and you need to get past “I want to lose 30lbs of fat in the next four weeks” type of goals.

We’re adults and we need to be willing to commit to a longer process than that. In fact, timelines themselves are crucial to setting expectations and then goals.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR SUCCESS TIMELINE

Setting your timeline long is the key. Short-term changes are fickle and it’s no surprise that they’re often lost after they’re achieved, with 93% of people failing to stick with diets over time. The difference is the amount of success expected and the time given to it.

Your body doesn’t do anything that fast—it’s a system of slow adaptations to stressors. You need to find a training and exercise routine you can see yourself doing forever: that’s the timeline of your ultimate strength, health, and fitness goal.

Of course, we can also return to 30lbs of fat loss—a goal that should take roughly half a year. That’s a 6-month goal, but the time is going to pass regardless, and during that time there are further benefits like changes to muscle mass, appearance, and confidence.

We need to set longer-term goals that are in line with how the body works. We can achieve shorter-term goals, but our immediate results can’t be sustained for months at a time. Short-term results are big, then stall and, when this plateau hits, many people feel like they’re failing.

Let’s be clear from the start: losing a pound of fat every seven to ten days is a huge success, as is gaining half a pound of muscle. That’s the pace the normal person’s body takes, and that’s what you need to set your goals around, rather than rapid fat loss or muscle gain.

This is where you center your expectations: a rate of weight loss or gain that can be sustained over time and helps you keep on track with the goals you’re setting—the next step in a successful approach to strength training.

SIMPLE TIERED GOAL-SETTING FOR STRENGTH TRAINING

You need more than one goal, or you’re going to fail somewhere along the line. Big goals are too far-off to feel relevant in everyday life, while goals that are too small aren’t rewarding and don’t motivate us to keep going when things get tough.

Everyone who wants to change their life needs big, medium, and small goals. The big ones are what you want to be: athletic, healthy, strong, whatever. It could be that 30lbs of fat loss, regaining strength and aesthetics from youth, or competing in a sport. It just needs to be something that motivates you to keep going for six to 12 months from today.

This can be anything you want and as outrageous as you feel like you can achieve, but within the realistic timelines I mentioned above. The key here is that it’s not the only goal you’re relying on, so you can avoid feeling like you’ve failed while you’re on the journey.

Medium goals should be something you work toward where you can see direct progress. Humans need a sense of meaningful progression to really feel like we’re doing something useful and maintain motivation.

Medium goals can be anything that you want to achieve in the next two to six weeks. It could be your next size down, your next 10lbs milestone, or the next 10kg on an exercise you really enjoy or benefit from. You want to be able to see and feel the movement from where you are to where you want to be.

These are the workhorse goals, the ones that really carry us from now to the end goal, and they deserve to be celebrated. Milestones is the perfect word for medium goals: they’re telling you that you’re making progress on your journey and show you how far you have left to go!

Small goals really are just that: things you can do anywhere between ‘by the end of the day’ and ‘by the end of the week.’ These are the things you need to be doing every day, better habits and good decisions—the fundamental unit of high-quality lifestyle change.

These are simple things like, “I’m bad at push-ups so today I’m going to work on them more closely.” This is the penny in the jar that, after months, adds up to something worthwhile—they’re the tiny choices that make 1% differences day by day and, without notice, produce amazing results.

You need to focus on these whenever possible since they offer a kind of onthe-ground change that makes everything else possible!

PROCESSES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOALS

One of the focuses we need to lean into is prioritizing processes over goals whenever we can. Goals can be failed or achieved, but processes don’t really care. They’re also what you’re going to spend most of your time dealing with, so they should be the bit you focus on most.

Processes include things like regular training, how you diet, how you prepare food, how you cook, what you do with your environment, and similar factors. These are processes because they’re things you do repeatedly over time, and which produce a long-term trajectory of what you did and the results you got from it.

Focusing on processes is great because they determine the trajectory of your results, which is crucial because trajectory over time determines where you end up. When you look at timeframes like the rest of your life, the difference 1% can make in terms of your trajectory is enormous, so you need to zone in on these processes.

For example, nobody cares how motivated and intense you are in the gym if you’re only turning up once a week or training at home every so often. Rather, a good process is being consistent and persistent, showing up regularly, doing the things you know you have to do, and going home for good food and rest.

The more we can shift away from goals and toward everyday behaviors, habits, and choices, the better we’re able to change behavior and start improving who we are and how we act. This is why our everyday goals are important, and it’s how we manage to achieve the medium goals—they are the result of repeated positive choices and habits.

It’s totally reasonable to ask yourself how far you are from your goal, but it’s always going to be more relevant to ask, “how am I moving toward that goal today?” This is what processes are all about, and it’s why you need to prioritize consistent improvement over chasing a specific goal—the goal will come and go as you work on your process.

So will the one after that, and the one after that, and so on. That’s because the keys to success in strength training are twofold, but also very simple.

CONSISTENCY AND PERSISTENCE

These are the two tools that are most important in fitness at any age (over 40s inclusive) and if you overlook them, your strength training journey won’t progress the way you want it to. This is because consistency and persistence —always doing the right thing and sticking with it over time—are what separates you from your goals.

Imagine what you could do with your goals if you had 10 years of just doing the bare minimum. That’s a lot more than you’re getting right now—even those results, which aren’t nearly maximal, are enormous.

This is why consistency is going to be key: doing something 80% correct, for example, over a year is more effective than 100% perfection for 6 months.

This consistent, sustainable approach is what we’re looking for: you don’t need to live like an elite athlete, you just need to live better than you have been doing for a long time.

Time is the winning factor in your training, and all it takes is making good choices, regularly. You cannot possibly fail your goal if you stick with it— the only thing that changes is the timing. Better, stricter habits get you there quicker, but even the minimum viable effort will get you there eventually.

Focus on a system of exercise, diet, and lifestyle that you can maintain forever, and you can improve along the way, rather than insisting on things being perfect (and unsustainable) from the start.

SYSTEMS OVER MOTIVATION—BUILT TO LAST

The idea of motivation is a fickle one. This is tied closely to how you set your goals and expectations, and we want to rely on it as little as possible for training as well as for nutrition.

The idea is to make things systematic and obligatory, rather than relying on a burst of enthusiasm for them. The feeling of wanting to lose weight will come and go, depending on the tempting foods and tired mornings when you need to make good choices. Treating these habits like they’re non-optional is always better.

You also want to set up systems and environments that make them easy. Have your gym bag packed in your car at all times, set out your workout clothes the night before, and (heaven forbid) get a good sleep so you’re fresh when it counts most.

The idea is to give future you all the advantages you can in order to avoid the problems that you know trip you up. This means setting out reliable, easy meals that are relatively healthy and you know you can motivate yourself to eat instead of take-out, or just going to the gym even if you’re not feeling it. Get something done and you’re likely to find your motivation along the way.

Remember: Your behaviors affect your feelings more than the other way around. Get the behaviors right repeatedly and you’ll start feeling better once you take the first step.

“It’s never too late to CHANGE old habits.”