By Alexander Cortes
In the first installment of this series, I covered the 4 principles that ensure life long longevity as you age. In this installment, we will examine the specifics of exercise; specifically, resistance training.
Resistance is the means to improve four key biomarkers of aging:
-Lean Body mass-
Training for longevity is not a random process. While I can encourage younger individuals in their teens and 20s to simply go into the gym and explore, that is not useful advice for people over 30.
As you age, your body accumulates the wear and tear of your lifestyle, and more sense must be given to the movement you do, the intensity you train at, and the overall planning and progression of training.
There is no perfect workout or program for longevity, but there are principles you should follow.
1. Train the entire body to move
One of the most simple but most egregious errors in lifting is the neglect of training the entire physique. While young men can get away with overtly focusing on upper body, or younger women can just do legs and not much else, this becomes problematic once metabolism slows down and lean body mass begins to decline.
The remedy for this is rather simple; train the whole of the physique along its lines of movement. Conveniently, there are 4 lines of movements. The 4 lines of movement align with their respective muscle groups that contribute to performing the movement.
Upper Body pressing-vertical and horizontal, which corresponds with shoulders, chest, and triceps
Upper Body pulling-Vertical and horizontal, which corresponds with biceps, lats, rhomboids, traps
Lower body Pressing (A Squat movement with hip and knee bend)-Vertical, forward, and reverse, which corresponds with quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves
Lower Body Pulling (A deadlift type movement with hip flexion and extension)-vertical and forward, which corresponds with glutes, hamstrings, and low back
Simplified down to the exercises, a complete “program” would resemble the following
Day 3-Squat (lower body pressing)
Lunge/step up variation
Day 4-Deadlift (lower body pulling)
Lumbar stabilization/extension variation
The following model is not the “be all end all” of workouts. But it does create an easy to use template that is readily adaptable to suit anyone’s level of training and experience.
Simplified even further, it demonstrates a single crucial point-You MUST train all the muscles of the body for lean body mass as you age.
2. Train for hypertrophy
Hypertrophy is muscle mass, and resistance training done for hypertrophy is best done with moderate to high repetitions. At minimum, exercises can be done for 6, and maximum, 20 reps and beyond can be used.
Why these ranges? A fey key reasons
-The higher reps facilitate better coordination with the movement
-The lower load used decreases joint and connective tissue stress
-the energy cost is high doing high reps versus low reps, which makes high rep, high volume workouts more effective for body recomposition (fat loss+muscle gain)
-higher reps cause more muscle damage, increase time under tension for the muscle, and prompt a greater growth response than low reps
-Higher reps promote increases in muscular endurance, which promotes overall cardiovascular health
-High reps promote increased neurological activity, which protects against myriad degenerative neuromuscular diseases
Added up together, the benefits that come with hypertrophy training are too powerful to not do.
3. Minimize joint stress
By definition, all forms of resistance training will cause some degree of joint stress and connective tissue stress. That stated however, you do NOT want your resistance training to be cause more joint discomfort than muscle fatigue and soreness.
The following are ways to minimize joint stress
-Hire a qualified trainer if you are unsure how to lift properly. A few months worth of personal training can be an investment for a lifetime
-Avoid doing movements that you immediately feel in your joints versus your muscles. If barbell bench press is stressful on your shoulders, switch to using DBs
-Use machines as needed. Some people have an aversion to machines, but machines are just as effective as free weights for building lean body mass.
-Use all different forms of resistance. Dumbbells, the barbell, machines, suspesnsion trainers cables, medicine balls, elastic bands, all of these can be used to create an effective workout. There is no singularly superior training implement
-Focus on flexibility FIRST. Static stretch muscles that are tight on a daily basis. Before training, perform 5-10 minutes of cardio to elevate core body temperature.
-Perform very high rep warmup sets before every movement, take as many warmup sets as necessary before increasing resistance
-Stretch after every workout. Do not allow the body to become stiff for days on end.
-Hydrate. Being dehydrated will cause tissue stiffness
-Eat a low inflammation diet. Address your digestion if it is poor, and eliminate foods that cause intestinal distress
Taking care of your body requires ACTIVE management, you cannot approach this subject mindlessly.
4. Dont go too hard, because you wont go for long
There is a common societal attitude, especially among former competitive athletes, that any physical endeavor must be done 100%, full out effort, every single time.
This approach WILL cause issues. You cannot force adaptation, and your body does not reward you for creating excessive fatigue and wear and tear. Quite the opposite, as you age, attempting push yourself to the edge of what you can physically handle is more likely to result in injury or overtraining.
This attitude is ego, and you must remove ego from training if you want progression to continue in the long term. Your desire to create changes as quickly as possible can become divorced from your actual physical status. Once that happens, you will pay a price.
Longevity awards patience and persistence, not speed.
5. Believe you will Improve
Some clients I work with are very enthused about the whole process. They look forward to making improvements in their health. For many others though, they walk into meet me already assuming they are a lost cause, and “how bad is it?” is their question when I talk them through an assessment.
Does mindset matter when it comes to your health? YES, absolutely. I can talk factors of longevity, lifestyle, and improvement thereof all day, but if someone’s mental approach is one of futility, it means little.
In reality, the body evidence has demonstrated many times over that resistance and overall health can be dramatically improved at any age. The body’s adaptive response may slow, but it never turns off completely.
There can be an understandable degree of apprehension to a seventy year old person attempting to improve their health for the first time. But for someone in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s, time is still in your favor. Dramatic changes can absolutely be made, and there is nothing stopping you from this other than your own self created barriers.
For someone despairing over their perceived ill health then, the change in mindset can be as powerful as any physical stimulation. Time is only an obstacle if you believe to be.
Whatever your starting point is, your mental approach should be one of being open, willing to improve, and removing judgmental criteria that you’ve placed upon yourself. With this kind of mentality, the physical part becomes far easier.
Putting it all together
Ideally, you would be putting these principles in practice BEFORE you get older. The sooner you become actively involved your health, the better your quality of life long term.
Regardless, understand that these principles pay dividends over time, and are not one time quick fixes. Your longevity in the future starts by making “good” decisions in the present.