In this article, we look at functional fitness for the over 40s and how to keep making progress towards your health and body goals.
Throughout this article, we will cover what functional fitness is, some age-related considerations when it comes to exercise and how you should train for optimal health and fitness. The advice in this article is useful for everyone, not just the over the 40s. But if you are over 40, this information will help shape the way you approach your exercise programming.
Working out has gained a lot of popularity over the last decade. We see more interest and engagement across all ages. Gone is the notion that once you reach your 40s, you are on the decline. On the contrary, the 40s is slowly becoming the new ‘prime’ age!
Taking care of your health and fitness should be a high priority for everyone. To quote Jim Rohm “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live”. As you age, you will need to be proactive in your efforts towards your health and fitness. Exercise is a great way not only to keep your fitness levels up but to improve your health and injury resilience.
As you age, you will notice a difference in how you exercise. A typical quote we hear when training older clients is “This was easier when I was younger!”. You can’t train with the same frequency, volume and intensity as your younger years. You must adapt your programme to ensure you get that sweet spot between getting results and avoiding injury.
Getting older does not mean you have to give up on your dream physique. You will, however, need to change your approach to make the best results possible. As you get older, your priorities towards health and fitness will change. You will want to be able to keep up with the kids or grandkids. Avoiding injuries and fixing little niggles will be crucial. That’s when functional fitness must take priority.
What is functional fitness?
We previously discussed functional fitness in this article, but if you missed it, let’s recap. Functional fitness is not a set exercise or workout routine. Functional fitness is the principal of selecting specific exercises or movement patterns which improve your daily life. For the athlete, this means exercises that complement their sports skill sets. For someone who has previous injuries, it will be exercises designed to reduce risk and improve movement patterns.
Because of this, your functional fitness needs will be different to everyone else’s. There are several personal factors which will change what exercises you use. Taking a functional fitness approach to your health and fitness will be a better option than trying to train like you did when you were younger. Let’s look at why.
Differences in age-related training
I am going to compare people in their 20s and 40s. There are three key areas which will influence how these two age groups choose to include exercise in their lifestyle. These comparisons are generalised and will not represent everyone within the respective age brackets.
Differences in goals
Let’s first look at the group in the 20s. For the younger generation, their motivation for training is appearance-based. The goal for most younger gym users is to get stronger, bigger and leaner. Fitness is one of the biggest trends due to social media culture. You can become a celebrity and make a living directly off your social media channels if you know how. If you have a good body, are camera and production savvy, you have the beginnings of becoming a fitness influencer.
Sporting performance is another likely reason for prioritising fitness. Maybe you compete in a weekend league for fun. You may even be part of an amateur or professional sports team. When I was in my 20s, I was an active professional athlete alongside my career. I would spend on average 4 hours per day training and had one day of recovery, once a fortnight.
When you are in your 40s, you are usually dealing with disorders caused by your younger years. When you are younger, you’re more ‘carefree’ when it comes to your training and lifestyle. This could leave you with issues down the line. You will also be more susceptible to picking up niggles and injuries if you overreach or over train. Therefore, injury or ‘niggle’ maintenance as you get older will be more critical.
You may want to focus on looking good, which is fine. However, you cannot use the same approach and expect the same timeline for results. Your health will also take priority as, without intervention, health declines more noticeably as we age. You will be conscious of not wanting to incur any further niggles or injuries which might put you out of action. Take a look at our previous blog for some tips on avoiding niggles.
Differences in lifestyle
Your 20s is usually the transition between education and professional work life. You might be at university for some of that time, then move into the workplace. You might have started an apprenticeship instead of, or as well as, university. Due to the age culture, social activities will be common – going out drinking or spending time with friends. During this time, you might consider settling down and starting a family.
The term ‘burning the candle at both ends’ comes to mind. You will have late nights and early starts. With age on your side, you can cram extra activities into your daily schedule. Exercise becomes not only a social event; it is also a ‘peer pressure’ requirement from social culture.
In your 40s, you are already an established professional. You might hold a position of responsibility such as management, or be an expert in your field. Or you may be self-employed, running your own business. This status usually comes with more responsibility and stress, longer work hours or both. Family life is also an essential part of your life and consumes time in your schedule. You may even have grandchildren. Your time away from work is dominated by family life and recreational time is rare and precious.
Differences in requirements
In your 20s, your requirements are easier to meet. You will be able to recover quicker and push a little harder during your workouts. You are less likely to be suffering any little niggles or injuries which will hold you back from training hard. However, you will be more prone to more significant injuries as your ego may drive some of your session intensities. You will be less likely to put effort into flexibility, mobility, stability and posture correction. Performing these tasks might be boring and take away valuable training time. You want to get in the gym, work hard, break yourself and get out again. Recovery might just mean a protein shake, a big dinner and go to bed.
When you are in your 40s, your list of requirements is likely to be more significant. Previous niggles or injuries from your younger years may impact your ability to train. You might have postural issues which developed from spending long hours sitting. You may have a sedentary lifestyle due to your busy schedule and work life. There is also the possibility of health conditions brought on by lifestyle such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
These are just some examples of how and why the training considerations will differ between age groups. You can still train hard and push for your dream physique as you age, but you must be smart about how you programme it.
Training programme considerations
The following information is relevant to all trainees, not just the over 40s! You are never too young to keep your health and fitness as a priority in your training programme. There are four key elements for you to put some thought into when creating this programme.
Cardiovascular, or cardio for short, is something everybody should include in their programme. Regardless of your training goal, cardio is the perfect addition. The duration and intensity of the cardio you choose will vary depending on several factors. At a minimum, you should include steady-state cardio (SSCV) performed several times a week.
SSCV can be as simple as going for a brisk walk around the block a few times. You can perform SSCV on anything which allows you to maintain a steady constant pace such as an elliptical or an exercise bike. At the other end of the scale, we have interval training. With interval training you perform short bursts of all-out effort followed by a rest period, repeated multiple times. Your current fitness levels, health history and exercise exposure will determine what intensity and frequency you can use across your working week.
Cardio has a host of benefits, such as:
- Helping to burn additional calories
- Improving heart and lung fitness
- Improving sleep
- Improves recovery between workouts
- Help manage heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
Lifting weights has many benefits, especially as you age. Resistance training, such as lifting weights, is commonly used to help build muscle and increase strength levels. However, resistance training also has the following benefits:
- Can help fight off osteoporosis which is the natural weakening of our bones. Resistance training can help to keep our bones healthier for longer.
- Can help burn calories and improve our muscle to fat ratio. By doing this, it aids in fat loss.
- It can help improve insulin sensitivity when combined with a healthy diet. Improving insulin sensitivity can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Improving your muscle quality through weight training can make you less prone to injury.
- The process of regular weight training can help improve your mental fortitude. Training sessions are tough and force you to push through being uncomfortable.
- Exercise can help you release endorphins which is the body’s happy drug. By releasing more endorphins, it can help to elevate your mood and increase happiness.
As previously mentioned, your rate of recovery will be slower than in your 20s. You may have to reduce the frequency of your training sessions to allow for your muscles to recover. Perform between two to three sessions per week of high-intensity lifting, meaning that you reach failure in your workouts. Perform either full-body sessions or splits that allow you to hit each muscle twice a week, depending on personal preference. By doing this, you will still be able to build strength and lean mass but, more importantly, get the recovery you need.
It is common to develop postural issues as you age. Spending prolonged periods sitting at the desk or slouched can negatively impact your posture. When you adopt an unnatural position, it causes muscles to operate sub-optimally. Muscles become accustomed to being a certain length and may hold you in an incorrect position.
The most common issues found are between the hips and upper back. Not everybody is affected the same way as there are differences in the severity of postural change. Some postural issues can be obvious, but some you may have and not realise unless pointed out to you. Having poor posture can increase your risk of injury and leave you immobile in some cases. Especially with exercise, your posture will affect your technique, which will hinder results and add to the risk of injury.
You should get a posture and mobility test to assess your current situation. By doing this, you can create a corrective programme specific to your issues. At Life Force Fitness we are qualified in functional movement screening, or FMS for short. We conduct an FMS mobility screen alongside photo evaluations of our clients to understand where their movement and postural issues are. Once we know this information, we create a corrective programme to help eliminate these issues.
Mobility and flexibility
Your mobility can go hand in hand with your postural issues. It’s the muscles that affect your mobility, which in turn creates postural problems. It is possible to have limited mobility while having relatively good posture. Make sure your muscles stay supple to reduce any issues or injury risks.
You may notice a lot of older people take up Yoga or Pilates. Both these disciplines are low in intensity but involve a lot of core, stability and mobility work. It’s good to take some of the concepts from this and incorporate some mobility and flexibility work into your routine. Performing regular mobility and flexibility work can also aid in workout recovery.
Getting older is not a reason to retire your gym kit; it’s quite the opposite. Performing regular exercise can keep you healthy and reduce the risk of injury. Training towards any physique goals is still possible; it will just look different to how you used to train. You will need to train differently from when you were younger, and it might take longer to see results, but that’s no reason to give up. Make sure you have a balance of cardio, resistance, posture and mobility correction, and you will be able to keep making gains as you desire.
We follow these principles with our clients, who average around 50 years of age. They have all still been able to drop body fat or increase their lean muscle. We have been able to achieve this while also correcting posture and improving health markers. That just goes to show, you’re never too old to make improvements to your health, fitness and physique, as long as you take the right approach.