Training Into Your Forties and Fifties

Airmen working out on cardio machines. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephanie Mancha)
Airmen working out on cardio machines. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Stephanie Mancha)

Many tactical professionals (military, police, fire fighters) build a history of injuries, and these can be the difference when it comes to being active when you get into your forties and fifties, and beyond. If you are still highly active and have spent many years in tactical professions, you are likely very smart with your training. Or you might be very lucky, as many tactical athletes require new joints (hips, knees) and other surgeries after many years of hard living doing jobs that are dangerous and have a high potential for injury. Traumatic injuries (accidents) and overuse injuries take their toll on the tactical athlete.

Depending upon your injury history, it would be great to be able to do what you could when you were twenty. By properly learning how to address overuse injuries before they occur and actively pursuing recovery and maintenance, you might be that old guy still getting after it in the future.

Adding a Mobility Day Off

Building a mobility day off or non-impact cardio options instead of hard running every day can add to your longevity — especially if you start taking your joints into consideration when you are in your late twenties and thirties. Having multiple non-impact cardio options to master during the year versus running year-round at high volumes can make all the difference. See my story about my body almost “breaking” by age 27 and the following 20 years of periodization training.

If a “Day off” is not in your vocabulary, you may like the idea of a Mobility Day Off. Adding a combination of cardio, resistance, mobility, and active recovery days into the middle of the week after a tough 2-3 days of training is an option. Or you can be flexible and add in the mobility day off when you feel you need it — maybe once every other week. A personal favorite of many aging athletes is the non-impact cardio / foam roller / stretching day. For instance, on Thursday, after a tough three days prior, consider the following:

Repeat 5 times

  • 5 minutes of bike, row, elliptical, or swim
  • 5 minutes of stretching or foam rolling

If you have a pool, you can also add in the treading and dynamic stretching in chest deep water as in the Mobility Day Off workout mentioned above. 10-15 minutes of treading and moving in the water is very therapeutic and will help make the following days of your week’s challenges much more competitive.

If you are training hard, every decade of life requires some mobility and recovery days. If these recovery days are not part of your planning, you should consider adding a recovery day mid-week and you will feel better and see your performance improve. Otherwise, the inevitable overuse injuries of working hard and playing hard year after year will start to catch up to you. Even when you're young, you do not grow, or recover, unless you sleep, eat, and train smartly. Do not mistake youth with invulnerability. Learn how to train for longevity now.

In some circles, wise and active people say that if you are in your twenties, you need to train like you are in your thirties. If you are in your thirties, you need to train like you are in your forties, and so on. This mentality does not completely agree with the life of the tactical athlete for obvious reasons as the physical job requirements are different than the average athlete, but it is understandable. But, there are days when you need to train like you are older. If you do this (with some luck), one day you will be capable when you are older and will still have much of the same abilities that you have when you are young.

Old age will win out over youthful enthusiasm, eventually. But if we plan accordingly, be more thoughtful, and be much more strategic in how we train and recover, we can keep going into each new decade. That is really the crux of all of this. It takes proper planning and education and understanding if you want to remain successful as a tactical athlete after 40 years of age. That is why I highly recommend the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s Tactical Strength and Conditioning program.

Learning More About Tactical Fitness and Periodization / Recovery

There are tactical fitness books that are based on this periodization format. I am working on my next book and should be out this month: Tactical Fitness For the Athlete over 40 - Actively Pursuing Recovery and Healthy Maintenance.

Another option is the Maximum Fitness book. It was an advanced 52-week training cycle with all four quarters (4 x 13 week cycles) focusing on all the elements of fitness spread throughout the year. Also, the book, Tactical Fitness is a very challenging program and a little more advanced level. But it tests all the elements of fitness in what is called the Dirty Dozen Tactical Fitness Test. It has workouts for your upper body, lower body, full body, cardio, and core applied in a tactical testing format. The books focus on all the elements of fitness: strength, power, muscle stamina, speed, agility, endurance, mobility and flexibility arranged throughout the year so you do not burnout on any one element of fitness.

If you want to stay strong, keep lifting. The Tactical Strength book, is a pure lifting, speed / agility with moderate cardio cycle (plenty of non-impact options) that focuses primarily on strength and power. It has some faster cardio (speed and agility) with some limited impact cardio.

Of course, there are many free articles out there that you can read about how we implement periodization and mobility into training year-round. If you want to read more about periodization and designs to help you recover, improve performance, and build a body for longevity, check out the related articles from the Fitness Archives:

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