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If you are in your 40s and looking for ways to keep your game strong in the gym or within your field of sports, there are some important factors to consider for performing at your optimum level. Of course, if you have been inactive for some time, you simply need to get started in order to improve your health, but if you are already on your fitness journey, you should closely consider issues such as injury prevention, physical limitations, and making sure to understand your limits in order to make incremental progress.
Muscle & Fitness spoke with sports medicine specialist and orthopedic surgeon Jonathan Gelber, MD, MS, and checked back in with 42-year-old bodybuilder Jason Parish to get some take-home tips for pushing ourselves safely after our 40s. The great news is that there are still plenty of PR’s to be had by those who train smart.
First things first, test your heart health by simply climbing some stairs. A recent study by the European Society of Cardiology suggests that being able to ascend four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health. “If it takes you more than one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, your health is suboptimal, and it would be a good idea to consult a doctor,” says the study’s author, Dr. Jesús Peteiro. So, before attempting to ramp up your training, it is important to talk to your medical practitioner to avoid any heart related risk factors.
This shouldn’t come as too much of a wake-up call, but you can’t clang and bang like you did in your 20s. As we head into our 50s, the body will be carrying all kinds of wear and tear from bravely getting you to this latest phase of life. “Our tendons begin to weaken over time, some people’s more than others,” says Gelber who is based at Olmstead Medical Center in Rochester, MN, and the author of “Tiger Woods’s Back and Tommy John’s Elbow: Injuries and Tragedies That Transformed Careers, Sports, and Society.” “The area I see this most often is in the rotator cuff of the shoulder, especially after 50 years old. It’s very unusual for a younger person to tear their rotator cuff, but as people approach 50, these injuries become more common. The tendons aren’t as resilient to trauma as they were when someone was younger.” Those who want to take the best possible care of their joints should consider supplementing with glucosamine.
Long-term trials have shown that crystalline glucosamine sulfate slowed the progression of osteoarthritis of the knee. Chondroitin promotes the growth of cartilage and may have a positive effect on joints. Turmeric, and its compound, curcumin, have been shown to reduce joint pain. Additionally, EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to reduce inflammation while also helping lower blood pressure. Still, no supplementation regimen will make up for too many overzealous jumps or lifts.
“I often tell people to listen to their body, not their ego,” Gelber says. “If you’re not an athlete being paid millions of dollars to push through pain, then back off. To protect shoulders during weightlifting exercises, I recommend keeping your hands where you can see them. Don’t go too far behind your body. With lateral dumbbell raises, try to keep your thumbs up, rather than a thumbs down position. Experiment with the incline of the bench for presses and find angles that work best for you.”
Your 40s are by no means “over the hill,” and while we can’t all hope for the genetics and talents of Cristiano Ronaldo (36) or Tom Brady (44), there should still be plenty of gas left in the tank for those who train smart. “Those guys have a team of talented people around them, helping to keep their bodies in shape,” Gelber says “Many elite athletes push through pain or play through injuries that would sideline many of us, but I wouldn’t recommend that unless you are getting paid enough to cover your future doctor’s bills.
“You can train different body parts each day. The rules are the same when you are younger too; avoid overtraining by training smarter, not harder,” adds Gelber, who’s worked with legends such as Randy Couture and also wrote “The Ultimate Guide to Preventing MMA Injuries.” “Don’t fall into a mindless routine. Some advice I give to MMA athletes who are in a training camp and want to stay healthy is to keep track of your progress, to reassure yourself that you are improving.”
“Pretend [your training is] a video game and start with an easy Level 1, and then progress through each stage,” says Gelber. “With athletes returning from an injury, we often prescribe return-to sports-protocols that center on a progressive, stepwise pattern. You have to complete each level twice with a day of rest in between each level. If you pass this test you can go up to the next one. If you can’t pass a level, go back down until you find yourself back at a comfortable level.”
This advice is great for making safe, incremental gains at any ability. An example of this in sports would be for a baseball thrower to start with light throws and continue to progress from there, attempting to beat the distance each time. It’s the same principle with lifting heavier weights, start low and work your way up (or down) in a controlled, stepwise fashion.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that taking a more controlled, smarter approach to your training means that you are “past it.” In truth, this chapter of your life is a critical time to work on your fitness and strength in order to maintain your optimum performance now, and in later life.
“I absolutely lift heavy, but I also think that this should be on a person-by-person basis because ‘heavy’ is relative to the lifter,” says competitive bodybuilder Jason Parish, who is 42 and is known on Instagram as @gentlemanjacked. “Simply put: Use it or lose it. If you stop lifting heavy, you lose the ability to lift heavy, which will undoubtably affect your overall physique and performance. However, I also subscribe to working smarter not harder. When I was in my 20s, I would max-out on the bench press every week, always looking for bigger and bigger numbers. Now that I understand that my goal is not to be the best bench presser, but rather to have a well-rounded physique, I almost never max-out, but I do still move heavy weights and rotate my strength phases with my volume (hypertrophy) phases. I also employ strategic weeks of training with lighter loads, in order to give my body some solid rest and recovery.”