^ Yes, the title image is Hugh Jackman at 49. You’ll note that he’s only gotten better with age. This is no surprise given his training consistency over the years — there’s a lesson in that. Let’s dig in.
Consider Yourself As An Individual, Not Your Age
The first thing to understand is that there are no “training plans for over the 40s / 50s / 60s” (or diet plans for that matter).
You might see things advertised as such, but this is just marketing BS — advertisers preying on fears people have that they are doing something wrong or need something special.
You aren’t going to age into a group where we can all of a sudden day that you, along with everyone else your age, needs to do X, Y, and Z.
Sure, as a group, the 20-somethings will be fitter on average than the 40-somethings. But I bet you can think of a few 40-year-olds who are in better shape than the average 20-year-old, and I’ve worked with several people who told me they are now in better shape at 50 than they were when they were 30.
So when someone asks me what they should do differently as a 40-year-old trainee, I don’t have any specific answers for them.
The Same Training Principles Apply AS YOU AGE
All the training principles that applied to your 20-year-old-self will apply to your 40-year-old self.
👉 If you’re still making progress and feeling good, you can keep your training volume as frequency as they are, or they can even go higher.
👉 If you’re feeling worn down and that you can’t recover (and you are taking care of business outside the gym — sleep and stress), then pull back a little. But bear in mind this is because you as an individual aren’t recovering, not because you as a 43-year-old aren’t recovering.
👉 If you have past injuries or mobility limitations, make sure you’re not dogmatic about exercise selection. If you have squats written in a training plan but they cause you pain, do something else! Choose exercises that target the muscles you’re aiming for, where you can work through a full range of motion (ROM) without pain. If you need to shorten the ROM or adjust the angle, feel free to do it.
Two personal examples here:
- I can’t press overhead without my right shoulder getting cranky. The solution for me is to press at a slight angle — half-kneeling landmine presses work a treat.
- I also don’t have enough shoulder mobility to get my arms back fully enough to back-squat without pain. The solution is to front squat or do safety bar squats.
Suggested Exercise Substitutions
As we age, we gather mobility limitations. And though a daily mobility routine like this one I do for 15 minutes each morning can certainly help, you’ll probably need to change the exercises you do at some point.
The following ideas come from the newsletter of my friend and fellow coach, Bryan Krahn. He has been writing for over 20 years, the clarity of his thinking shines through in his writing, and his email newsletter delivers the highest “I-wish-I-thought-of-explaining-it-like-that!” of any I subscribe to.
(👉 Subscribe to Bryan’s newsletter — you won’t regret it!)
SAFETY SQUAT BAR
This replaces the barbell in the back squat or good morning and is a game-changer for those struggling with elbow pain and/or shoulder mobility, making supporting a heavy barbell a net negative.
FOOTBALL BAR (aka SWISS BAR)
This bar replaces a traditional barbell for chest pressing. Now, they’re all a little different, but the common trait is the multiple grip options, incl. parallel, neutral, and even angled grips. This allows for a neutral grip—which makes things a LOT easier on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
TRAP BAR (aka Hex Bar) Deadlift
The trap bar provides an anatomically advantaged setup for the deadlift. It allows for a more upright pull without the need to clear the knees on the way up. You get all the benefits of a heavy hip–hinge that’s easier to set up, more “quaddy,” and a WHOLE lot safer. Plus, no more bleeding shins.
LANDMINE Shoulder Press
The landmine is an excellent replacement for DB or barbell shoulder pressing, and you’ll find these hanging off most racks nowadays. With the anchored fulcrum and single-arm focus, the landmine loads the shoulders while encouraging proper scapular function. You can even do heavy-ass rows too. Pretty sweet!
The cable station is great for everything from rows, presses, and pulldowns to every kind of curl and extension. Not only does it offer excellent variety and range of motion, but the constant tension adds an entirely new dimension to your training. And unless you go out of your way to do something completely asinine, like wrapping the cable around your throat to train the neck extensors, it’s really VERY hard to get injured.
PARTING WORDS OF ADVICE
Don’t make the mistake of looking at an athlete who is in their 40s, assume they have found some ‘special source,’ and copy them. They are an outlier; you are not.
Similarly, please don’t make the mistake of observing that there are very few athletes in their 40s and assume you’re going to decline at that age, also. Explosiveness drops off as we age. More relevantly, they have put their bodies through 4–6 hours of training every day for decades. This is very different from your 90 minutes in the gym four times a week.
- Many powerlifters are still getting stronger as they age; many natural bodybuilders are also.
- Consider yourself as an individual, not your age.
- Don’t get sold anything special.
- Assume you’ll do great, push hard, but listen to your body and it will tell you if and when it’s necessary to pull back.
Thank you for reading. 🙏🏻