At 54, I’ve trained for my entire adult life and feel as goog in my fifties as I did in my twenties or thirties. I’m not as strong as I was in my twenties and thirties but I love my 45 minutes of training every day. I wouldn’t miss it actually.
And now with the continued advancement of nutrition science getting lean, strong and healthy is getting easier. In the eighties, conventional wisdom was that ‘fat makes you fat’, and every athlete of any caliber was eating high protein, high carbohydrate, low fat diets. It gave rise to the food pyramid guides of the day, and that we still unfortunately find many leading bodies advocating.
Today of course, performance nutrition scientists understand that high protein/high carbohydrate diets have had the disastrous effect of leading an entire generation into obesity and adult onset diabetes. Heck, even those who forego the high protein part of the equation but continue to routinely eat high carbohydrate meals, will experience negative body changes and sub-optimal health as they age.
The second part of the equation is where this post will focus, and it relates to how I’ve learned to exercise in order to achieve maximum benefit. Of course, what one person sees as maximally beneficial is highly subjective, so I’ll define what that means for me. My goal is to:
- look and feel younger than my age, keeping my muscle to fat ratio as high as I can while still being functionally very fit,
- having my yearly blood work come back in an exceptional range for my age, and
- keeping my cardiovascular health top notch.
If the field of nutrition science was ahead of me in coming to understand what worked best for what I consider optimum fitness, in the arena of exercise science I can confidently state that I was ahead of the curve of the prevailing wisdom. This was partly because by the time I had reached my late thirties I had figured out what didn’t work for me, and partly because my first twenty years of training in the conventional manner had led to some injuries that forced me to change my training.
So what’s the best way to train to get to my definition of optimum fitness? Without getting into it too deeply in this post (and we’ll dive in deeper later on) my fitness program must contain these features:
- Variety. My training involves elements that target each aspect of my goals. For example, heart health is extremely important as we age, so twice a week I run hills or perform box jumps or skip rope plus other forms of high intensity interval training (HIIT) that targets my heart and cardiovascular health. Four days a week I train with weights and/or perform body weight movements in a manner that increases my strength and my muscle/fat ratio, and once or twice a week I take private fight classes with a pro, learning how best to be functionally fit.
- Short workouts. My HIIT training typically is for 15-20 minutes max. This has been shown in study after study to be the optimal time limit to getting maximum results. My weight training days are a bit longer, typically being 30 minutes and sometimes pushing to 40 minutes but never more. This maximizes the production of positive, anabolic (growth) hormones produced by the body. Anything longer than that and your body will begin producing destructive catabolic hormones which will negate much of the benefit of your training.
- Intense workouts. Both my weight training workouts and my HIIT training is intense. During HIIT training I push to reach heart rate maximum for my age bracket within 30 seconds, then allow 60-90 seconds for my heart rate to drop by approximately 30 beats per minute (bpm) before repeating. During weight training workouts, I go to failure on EVERY exercise movement, every set, while keeping my weights light enough that I can always perform at least 12 repetitions before I reach failure, and heavy enough that I can never perform much more than 20 repetitions. By journaling each workout, I know where my ‘sweet spot’ is for each movement.
- Full recovery. Because I train hard, I always allow for as close to complete recovery of each muscle group as possible before I train it again. This will depend on what stage of training I am in, which is the next point…
- Seasonality of training. This point will at first seem to contradict my point I made about intensity, but in practice it doesn’t. I will explain it more in another post. In brief, a body will eventually get used to just about any movement. For example, where I live in Australia the farmers bring in sheep shearers twice a year to harvest the wool. If you’ve never seen sheep shearing trust me when I tell you it is absolutely back breaking work. Yet, for the men and women who perform this task, because they do it every day, their bodies have become used to the work. For our goals though, we never want our bodies to become used to the work. That’s why we always add variety of movements to our training, and that is why we also should incorporate seasonality into our training. Sometimes during the year, I’ll train slightly less intense, allowing me to train each muscle group more times per week. At other times I will train extremely hard, and it will take a full 6 days before I can train that body part at the same intensity again.
There are other, more subtle training tips and advice that I’ve learned over the years but I would say these points would constitute the basics of training for maximum fitness. We’ll get into some of the subtleties another time.