Ask The Trainer #41 – Too Old To Grow (Part 2 of 2)

QUESTION (From Part 1):

Hello, Chad,

I am 58 years old and have been lifting weights for about 35 years. I know my building days are over but still work out 6 days a week including squats. What kind of workout do you recommend? I am starting to lay off the heavy weights and going more for the higher reps to get the blood flow. I do anywhere from 30 reps a set to 15 reps. The lighter weights are much easier on my joints and I get sore like I have not gotten in a long time. I work one body part a day and each body part once a week. Is there anything I should be doing different? I still drink a protein shake once a day and try to watch my diet.


ANSWER (Continued From Part 1):

3. Optimize Your Hormones To Support Muscle Gains: It’s common knowledge that as we age, certain hormones instrumental to synthesizing muscle tissue gradually decline. This notion is the primary reason why people believe they can’t build muscle after a certain age.

It’s true that protein synthesis reduces when growth hormone and testosterone levels decline. In other words, our rate of recovery slows because the biochemical resources that support recovery and growth cannot be replenished as quickly as they did when our hormones were within more optimal ranges.

Another cause of declining hormone levels is the fact that as we age our bodies are plagued by more oxidative stress within the cells throughout the body. The body fights back with an inflammatory response, which unfortunately causes more unwanted stress to our cells.

This inflammatory response results in a host of possible problems. These include increased cortisol levels, reduced testosterone, and growth hormone levels, achy joints, rheumatism, thyroid issues, etc.

Over time chronic inflammation will also make us more susceptible to more serious health conditions, like heart disease and cancer. In other words, inflammation gradually degrades all of our healthy cells.

Avoid Overtraining

Chad ShawSo, the first and most important step to reducing inflammation in the body is to avoid overtraining.

What you put in your body has a profound impact on inflammation as well. Foods like wild salmon, tart cherries, pineapple, avocado, dark leafy green vegetables, pomegranates, walnuts, and olive oil have all been shown to help with reducing inflammation.

On the other hand, most processed foods, fast food, safflower seed oil, sunflower seed oil, wheat germ oil, soybean oil, canola oil, margarine, and butter substitutes have been shown to increase inflammation.

Fortunately, research has also shown that supplementing creatine, fish oil, boron, and vitamin C were effective at reducing inflammation.

We’ve already established the aging process hinders our ability to recover. All age-related disadvantages aside, if you lift weights intensely 6 days per week, you’re going to overtrain your nervous system, your endocrine system, joints, and your muscle tissue.

The result will be reduced or even a full cessation of progress, along with more aches and pains.

As people get up into their 40s, 50s, 60s and above, the likelihood of overtraining becomes much more significant. Therefore, you must be more mindful to limit the duration of your workouts and increase the amount of recovery time between lifting sessions. If you don’t, you’ll put your cortisol-to-growth hormone ratio in a very destructive balance which will all but guarantee your building days are over.

I speak from experience as I’m 41 years old with moderate testosterone levels. If I attempt to lift weights intensely more than 3 times per week, I WILL experience a plethora of overtraining systems. Even worse, any progress I was making comes to a screeching halt.

One point I want to make is even though your anabolic hormone levels aren’t quite what they were when you were in your prime, you can still stimulate muscle tissue growth. In fact, I’ve seen people in their 70s do this when they took the right approach.

Duration & Frequency

The key is to modify your workouts by limiting their duration and frequency. Doing so will shift your growth hormone and cortisol levels to a ratio that’s more favorable to recovery and growth.

Since everyone’s training threshold is different, it’s hard to recommend a universal training split that’s ideal for everyone. In fact, it would be irresponsible for me to do so.

What I will tell you, though, is that my most successful clients followed a training split where they engaged in intense weight training no more than 3 nonconsecutive days a week.

Additionally, their workouts lasted no more than 30-45 minutes, including setup, switching weights around, etc. Research has shown training intensely for a duration much longer than 45 minutes can result in an increase in catabolic stress hormones and a significant decrease in anabolic hormones. Obviously, this is NOT what you want if you’re trying to build more muscle!

As I mentioned before, I train each muscle group specifically every 2 weeks. The only exception is calves and abdominals, which I train once a week. These muscle groups contain a greater proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Slow-twitch fibers contain more mitochondria which allow their cells to receive more energy and recover at a faster rate than the more anaerobic fast-twitch muscle fibers.

I train all my muscles groups within a 2-week split, not 1. For example, Week 1, I train back on Monday, Quadriceps, and Calves on Wednesday, then Chest on Friday. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I perform 20 minutes of cardio training. I also include an abdominal workout along with one of my cardio sessions in that same week.

In Week 2, I train arms on Monday, hamstrings, and calves on Wednesday, then shoulders on Friday. I do cardio and abdominals exactly the same as in week 1. I’m not saying this particular split is right for everyone, but for, it works very well.

There are countless ways to devise a 3 day a week weight training split. I only offered mine as one possible example.

For those people who are adamant about training every muscle group once per week, I’d advise them to do so by training all of the muscle groups over the course of 3 non-consecutive days to avoid overtraining.

For example, you could train Back & Chest on Monday, Legs on Wednesday, and then Arms and Shoulders on Friday. Include abs with a cardio session on an alternate day.

I know many people will read this and still not be able to wrap their mind around the idea that sometimes training smarter means training less. They will continue to hammer out their workouts 5-6 days a week, months will pass, and they will nothing to show for it.

My question to these people is this: If you’ve gone weeks, months, or years without making any meaningful progress, what do you have to lose by attempting a different approach?

The way I see it… you have nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

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