So you are 40+ and want to look good…

Aging is inevitable.

Turning back the clock is reserved for movies, stories, and mental gymnastics. We all will slam face first into the wall of time one day.

No number epitomizes the turning of the clock like 40.

Sure you can say, “but isn’t 40 the new 30?”

No, 40 is still 40 and despite our best efforts to minimize aging, you need to accommodate for it and make changes in order to have longevity with training.

  • Eating “cleaner” is more important.

Remember when you were younger and eating a large pizza seemed like a great idea? Opening that box, inhaling it, and relishing your gluttony made you full but you didn’t feel like a house of bricks fell into your gut and stayed there for 5 hours.

How about those cheat meals you can’t wait for? A burger with fries didn’t seem to make you feel like hell quite like it does now, does it?

There are scientific reasons for it and it has partly to do with intestinal permeability and aging.

In a study published 1 Sept 2017 on Jamda it was found that:

Serum zonulin was associated with both systemic inflammation and 2 key indices of physical frailty. These data suggest that a leaky gut may play a critical role in the development of age-related inflammation and frailty (reference)

For years, leaky gut was laughed at as quackery until study after study was published demonstrating its clinical implication on gut health and immunity.

“The integrity of our gut declines with age and problems with intestinal permeability are now suspect in chronic inflammation, metabolic diseases and even neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said Buck professor Pankaj Kapahi, senior scientist on the study. “The possibility that dietary restriction, or the use of dietary restriction mimetics, could help prevent this decline in humans opens a new area of research that could influence healthspan and longevity.” (reference)

To avoid this article being a lesson in ‘how many studies can I cram into this to prove a point’, you can safely assume that our gut health becomes more of a factor as we age and our dietary integrity becomes more and more important.

Yes, I am fully aware that habits can be an absolute bastard to change and there’s much solace in coming home after a brutally hard day of work and not giving a shit about the quality of food you are eating, but rather the comfort of it.

Facts are facts, and even if science doesn’t have all the answers wrapped up into a PubMed package for you, anecdotal evidence says quite a lot.

When I discussed aging and eating on Facebook, the replies were telling:

I used to have an iron stomach… Now I have gas all of the time… I have skin rashes and crap… Used to be able to drink a gallon of milk a day with zero issues. Annoying as hell!!

Another one said:

I love pizza, I don’t love the effect on my digestion the next day 😆 10 years ago I’d eat 2 large dominoes pizzas with no issues

This one broaches the subject of even more research:

We produce less and less enzymes that can break down certain foods, such as lactase and becoming more intolerant of dairy as we get older. (relevant study)

Degradation of the intestinal walls lead to more permeability, as well as decreased strength in intestinal contractions that allow for more physical digestion (I.e moving of the mass/constipation issues). (relevant study)

Microbiome shifts – similar to the enzymatic issues but the fact that as age, but our physical micro-biome becomes weaker as we age due to other digestive related issues. (relevant study)

Yeah, there’s a lot we may not know, but we have pretty good general understanding why people can’t handle certain foods/junk foods as they age.

Conclusions are easy to come by with this, but the practice of changing a lifetime of dietary habits is daunting for many.

Whole food, nutritious food, minimize grains, keep carbs to a sensible amount and not the 400 grams of fun you used to do in your 20’s, and eat “junk food” in moderation.

Your diet becomes more critical as you get older. Many of you will undoubtedly agree from firsthand experience.

  • Managing stressors 

40+ years old most likely means you have a career, a house, a family, and the need to manage it all while trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

That career, the house, your family, and even the sanctuary of a gym provides stressors to your body that are magnified as you age.

In a recurring series by the APA called Stress in America, Generation X’ers have the second highest stress rate next to Millennials. From age 23 to 54 you have 31 years of accumulated stress.

We don’t have to rehash the impact of stress on your heart, gut health, sleep quality, and overall sense of well being, do we?

Stress is, without a doubt, a silent killer. It can impact your health, relationship, personal well-being, self esteem, and even your workouts. I know there will be someone out there thinking, “bro, stress fuels my gains” and I will roll my eyes at that person who feels they are special enough to think that. Stress catches up with everyone eventually. Being younger means you can let it roll off your back a little easier, but when you have obligations that lend themselves to supporting other people around you, those stressors can add up exponentially.

What I have been doing lately to manage my stress is simple.

  1. Downloaded Calm from the App Store
  2. Use it daily
  3. Don’t forget

This simple act has given me some crucial mental downtime in order to fully relax, breathe deeply, and start to find ways to slow down my thoughts.

Meditation has shown to be vital in helping to relieve stress patterns in numerous people. With work, patience, and diligence this can be a critical component in your war on stress.

I will never be so bold to say this is THE answer, but it is part of an answer to a complete plan.

Does your relationship stress you out? Find out why and make a decision on it.

Does your job stress you out? Can you manage the stress of work or is the juice not worth the squeeze?

Does your training stress you out? Change your program and find a way to train that doesn’t make you feel like bashing your face into a wall.

I find that when I dedicate myself solely to pure strength training, I start to ache in places that I shouldn’t ache. When I train like a bodybuilder and pick my battles wisely in the gym I feel better; therefore, less stress.

Some of our egos will have a difficult time with the training part, as you have pigeonholed yourself into a label, but do you train for a label or do you train for you?

  • Choose your training battles wisely

This one will require you to crush your ego a little and come to the swift conclusion that you aren’t what you used to be and are most likely going to have to change a few things.

I know what you are thinking, “this dude is 45, crushing it, so why can’t I?”

I will reply by asking you a few questions.

  1. Do you know EXACTLY how they feel and train?
  2. Are they you?
  3. Are you the exception to the rule or do you just think you are?

For every ageless wonder that posts Instagram videos of themselves crushing weights you have yet to hit there are a few hundred other people the same age who are throwing their belts off after a set because *insert bodypart here* aches too much to continue.

The fact is simple, you aren’t and probably will never be what you used to be but that doesn’t mean you need to quit. It just means you need to find a more efficient training pattern and tell your ego to take a seat.

Aches and pains compile, your tendons aren’t as resilient as they used to be, and despite exercise helping to slow the tendon aging process, you simply cannot turn the clock back fast enough to when you were crushing a 8×2 at 90% of your 1RM day and not feeling like a truck crashed straight into your joints.

Playing through pain is only noble when you have a multi-million dollar contract on the books which pays enough to set your grandkids up for a secure future. Playing through pain when you have obligations other than lifting to contend with is largely a lesson in futility.

The adages of calling yourself a warrior, fighting your battles through iron, and other words of self-masturbatory over indulgent phrases mean little when you are sitting at your desk trying to find a comfortable position because your knees, back, and hips hurt like hell.

There is a solution for that and it involves picking your battles wisely.

I won’t tell you HOW to train unless you specifically pay me for a program or buy my ebook, but I will give you two killer suggestions to help you along.

Train for reps and not weight

If you want to have one foot planted in the door of powerlifting-style training there is a simple plan for you.

Let’s give yourself a rep goal for a working set, shoot between 6-10 reps. I like to err on the side of 8-10 reps because the idea is to get stronger and not stress your joints doing heavy work for low reps too frequently.

You will work up in sets of 5-6 until your week’s working set.

For example if your target reps are 10 and your working set is 315, this is how a sample 6 week protocol would look for you (last set is contingent on how you feel for that day and how much you can push):

Week 1: 135×10, 185×5, 225×5, 275×5, 295×5, 315×6
Week 2: 135×10, 185×5, 225×5, 275×5, 295×5, 315×6
Week 3: 135×10, 185×5, 225×5, 275×5, 295×5, 315×7
Week 4: 135×10, 185×5, 225×5, 275×5, 295×5, 315×8
Week 5: 135×10, 185×5, 225×5, 275×5, 295×5, 315×10
Week 6: 135×10, 185×5, 225×5, 275×5, 295×5, 325×6

This is boring, yes, but training is training and it isn’t always going to be a party.

The above layout will serve a few purposes:

  1. You will be consistent with submax weights, owning your warmup sets by virtue of repeating them week after week.
  2. You will track rep progress and not advance until you are hitting strong numbers.
  3. One extra rep per week is still extra poundage per week.
  4. It prevents you from using your ego and forces you into accepting a more steady rate of progress.

When you are younger you can afford to push big lifts harder, as you hit 40+ years old, those battles become more selective.

Do you want to be the soldier who runs head first into enemy combat without hearing strategy, or do you want to listen to the smart plan of attack, and come out victorious? Shitty war analogy be damned, it works.

Train like a bodybuilder but not to negative failure

Training to negative failure means you lift the weight until you physically cannot move the weight.

Training to positive failure means you lift the weight until you feel you cannot get one more rep.

Positive failure is preferable as you get older for safety reasons, form reasons, and plain common sense reasons. Training to negative failure too frequently COULD cause injury if you are not cognizant of form; whereas, training to positive failure means you have control over the weight at all times and are able to maintain mostly good form.

Jim Brown’s Forged Training goes over this in great detail. I am a member of his Forged Training Circle and it has been invaluable for my knowledge base. This system combined with the above principle of “train reps, not weight”can be combined for an ego free training experience.

Another thing bodybuilders do very well is train the muscle and not the movement. The mind-muscle connection has been called bro-science until the Evidence Based Circle-Jerk got wind of this study which said:

Resistance-trained individuals can increase triceps brachii or pectarilis major muscle activity during the bench press when focusing on using the specific muscle at intensities up to 60 % of 1RM. A threshold between 60 and 80 % appeared to exist.

In layman’s terms, focus on the muscle you are working instead of just moving the weight.

If you are doing bicep curls, visualize your bicep stretching and flexing as you execute the movement. Go through the full range of motion with crisp reps and only deviate from near perfect form when nearing the last set of positive failure.

Not only will you train safer, you will also add muscle in bodyparts that both look good naked AND in clothes.

Win win if you ask me.

Being 40+ is an exciting time. You are set in your career (hopefully), you are at the midway point of your life where you can set yourself up for one hell of a retirement in several years, you can still train, see results, and age a little more gracefully than the guy down the street who bitches about his life and does nothing about it.

To have the rewards of training, you need to adapt and overcome your limitations. Admittedly it isn’t easy for many to do this, but the ones that do manage expectations intelligently have many more years ahead of them to reap rewards from their lifestyle instead of many years bitching about how much they hurt from last night’s heavy squat session.

As Marcellus Wallace once said, “Pride doesn’t help, it only hurts”.


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To inquire about training, contact us for more information or to set up a call about remote coaching.

If you are local to Kansas City and wish to kickass at my gym, visit us at Kansas City Barbell for the ultimate training experience.

2 thoughts on “So you are 40+ and want to look good…

  1. Excellent article that resonates with this 54 year old man. I’ve been seeking hacks my entire adulthood, only to repeatedly discover there are no hacks for quality food intake, purposeful training and constant, realistic re-evaluation of relationships with your self and others to progress to your goals. Thanks for the reminder.


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