Ask Stew: Tactical Periodization When You're Over 40

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Chase Lawrence runs his final lap during an APFT (Photo By: Jermaine Jackson).
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Chase Lawrence runs his final lap during an APFT (Photo By: Jermaine Jackson).

As we age, our bodies change, and inevitably, multiple years of wear and tear can start to take its toll on even the most active people. Here is a question concerning a method of training I have used for twenty years, but starting to realize some alterations are needed from when I started in my late 20’s as I enter my 50’s:

Stew, I have been following your training methods for nearly 20 years. Periodization has really helped me with my fitness, not just in my job but my overall health as well. However, I am noticing that the running cycles feel like too much running and the lift cycles feel like too much lifting, any alterations as I am now in my mid 40’s but still pretty advanced in my fitness.  I am not looking at making it easier – just different. Jim

Wow! 20 years! Good on you Jim! A great question. I figured out the answer a few years ago and created a few new rules when it comes to training over 40-50’s. Consider your fitness life in different phases.

Phase 1 - You are young and learning how to train, play sports, receive the foundation of fitness for whatever journey you have in front of you. This is typically your teenage years. A life of subsequent injuries can start here and learning to work around them later is required.

Phase 2 – You are now entering your twenties. You may forego fitness for a while, get out of shape, consider specializing in sports and advance to college-level athletics or challenge yourself with new types of fitness in preparation for the tactical professions.  Depending on your choices, injuries or long-term weight gain can occur at play or on the job. Dealing with these later will become an issue.

Phase 3 – You have now finished athletics and maybe your fitness halts altogether, maybe you pick up new activities for health and wellness, maybe still competitive in racing. If in the tactical professions, typically by now you have finished most boot camps, academies, selection programs and are working to maintain your fitness for tactical professions. This phase can carry you through your 30’s and into your 50’s depending on your choices and goals.  The Tactical Fitness for the Athlete Over 40 addresses many of these with a 16-week advanced level program.  If you neglected your fitness and saw a steady increase in weight over the years, you need to Rebuild that Fitness Foundation – treat yourself like a beginner and start building good habits that will save your life.

Phase 4 – Typically, after 50 and into the 60’s and beyond, fitness is about joint care, longevity, healthy medical scores, fighting a good fight with the battle of the bulge (weight loss).  You can still lift, run/walk, non-impact cardio, and do calisthenics, but mobility and flexibility can enhance life tremendously.  Now dealing with a lifetime of aches, pains, weight loss at a slower metabolism is the challenge.

But, yes, as I entered my 40’s, I realized that my body type and athletic history was great for getting strong and gaining weight/bulk if I lifted and ate like I was in my 20’s.  After a cycle a few years ago, my body weight was heavier than any period in my life, I was strong, but out of cardio conditioning, running hurt, and to top it off my health screening numbers were bad for the first time ever (cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides). So, I focused on weight loss and tried a few diets (that I wrote about), but really found that eating less (even of good foods) was my best answer. Also, during the next lifting cycle, I only lifted about 50% of what I normally did and replaced the other sets of the lifts with TRX suspension training.  I added more non-impact cardio into the workouts as well just to burn off the extra weight that was only slowly coming off. Finally, dropped 20 pounds, back at my college / BUDS weight, and running does not hurt anymore. However, I am now running every OTHER day (one of my New Rules for Fitness Over 40) with a non-impact cardio activity in between.

This change in mileage and sets/reps of heavy lifting has made a big difference in how I feel, weight loss, health numbers back to normal, and better cardio conditioning with less joint pain. Still strong enough in the weight room, but not breaking any records. So, consider the few adjustments to your weight room sets, add some TRX or weighted calisthenics (weight vest), reduce running days per week if used to running daily, increase more non-impact cardio. The Spring and Summer cycles remain largely the same with high repetition calisthenics though if you start to feel joint pain, maybe add some dumbbell movements to simulate those same movements, or add bands, TRX, weighted calisthenics with fewer reps.

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