Adapting your exercise regime dependant on your age

Brace yourselves, this is a long one… where do i start - We constantly hear that we need to be moving more and experts are quickly on hand to point out the risks of not engaging in regular physical activity hand how this impacts upon us. But are we adapting these “workouts” as we get older, are we incorporating new training techniques to suit our bodies ?

I always advocate proper technique  and form above all, but as we age, education about our ever changing bodies is also critical in getting optimum benefits.

So what happens as we age ?

Our metabolism slows down leading to unwanted weight gain, we produce less testosterone leading to a decreased libido and our energy and mood levels aren't what they once were. Our bodies become more susceptible to injuries, as we spend more money on posture related treatments like chiropractors and osteopaths, in our later years we are at a high risk of muscular and bone degenerative diseases.

So how should we adapt ?

As a trainer i have clients ranging from 13 to 74, so adapting our sessions to optimise results is our main general focus.Iin order to do this we have to be aware our bodies capabilities, i am the first to say your only as old as you feel. But be clever with your training, even the athletes amongst us can’t compete at the level we did when we were twenty.This doesn't mean that you can’t be in the best shape of you life, but box clever, get knowledgeable and tailor your training to suit you, so you can be the fittest possible you at any age that that might be.

20’s & 30’s

These are the years where you can push your body the hardest and demand the most of it. There’s no doubt about it.But don’t mistake youth for invulnerability.The last thing you want to do is leave your younger years hampered by injuries, overtraining, and metabolic slowdown. The older you get, the harder it is to come back from such setbacks.Your goals during this period should be simple:

Learn how to train properly.

Trust me–those wobbly-kneed half squats, bowed-back deadlifts, and behind-the-neck shoulder exploders will come to haunt you one day, even if only through joint pains and muscle imbalances.Don’t make these mistakes. Shove your ego back into the box, take the time to learn proper form and execution early on, and don’t stray far from these boundaries.

Yes, this way makes it take longer to progress in your lifts, but everything you gain will stick. How much weight is on the bar doesn’t matter if you eventually slip a disc, tear a knee tendon, or grind up your shoulders.

Build the muscle you need to look the way you want.

There are limits as how much muscle you can build naturally, but most people become happy with their overall size before reaching their genetic potential for total muscle gain.In my experience, the “sweet spot” for men is about 40 to 60 pounds of muscle gained and about half of that for women. This plus a low body fat percentage (sub-10% for men and sub-20% for women) takes them from “normal” to “fitness model,” but stops short of “bodybuilder.”Ideally you’d gain this muscle in your 20s and 30s because it’s a bit easier physiologically but, more importantly, logistically.The truth is every aspect of getting fit is easier when you’re younger. Take advantage of this.

Learn how to get and stay lean.

For many people first getting into weightlifting, it’s all about adding mass. Body fat percentage be damned. They’ll take anything over scrawny.

As time goes on, though, the focus usually changes. The more muscle someone gains, the more he or she wants to get lean and see what they’re really working with.If you can, and for the same reasons given in the previous point, do this in your younger years. It’s just physically and logistically easier.I think it’s also advantageous to establish a lean body weight set point during these years. It will serve you well in your 40s and beyond when your diet and training are more likely to get bumped and jostled by life.

40’s &50’s

Mid life crisis and excuses !!! or not ….

Research shows that 1) as you get older, your muscles become more susceptible to training-induced damage; and 2) repairing this damage takes longer than it did when you were younger.These aren’t deadly sinkholes that prevent progress, though. They’re just speed bumps that necessitate slowing down and rolling over. That is, it just means that you may have to make some adjustments to your training protocols and take extra measures to ensure adequate muscle recovery. Extra time warming up and cooling down are key, incorporating a stretching routine into your programme will really help !

Don’t worry–your metabolism is fine.

I thought we’d start with some good news: your metabolism isn’t going to be a problem.

And that means that no, your body isn’t programmed to be forever fat. Yes, you can get lean “at your age.” Yes, you can eat foods you like every day. And plenty of them.Research shows that the average adult’s metabolism slows by about 1 to 3% per decade. The primary reason for this is muscle loss so if you maintain your muscle, you maintain your metabolism. If you add muscle, you increase it.Why, then, do so many people gain weight as they age, if not physiological decline?For most people, the answer is very simple: lifestyle changes. They were active in their younger years and ate accordingly and now have reduced activity levels but not food intake. The result, of course, is weight gain.So, unless you’ve lost significant amounts of muscle from things like starvation dieting or excessive cardio, your metabolism is working more or less as well as it did when you were in your 20s.And even if you have made those mistakes, you can correct them with proper diet and training.

Be a stickler for form (and especially if you’re new to weightlifting).

The older you get, the less shenanigans you can get away with in your lifting.

Lumbar rounding in your deadlifts…knee bowing in your squats…elbow flaring in your bench pressing…it all increases the risk of injury at any age but gets more and more  dangerous as the years go by. So much so that I would say people doing these things will eventually get hurt if they’re also loading the bar heavy.This is why I put a lot of emphasis on learning proper form as the first goal in weightlifting. If that means you have to cut your weights in half, so be it. Half-reps aren’t real lifts anyway.

Pay more attention to weekly volume and intensity.

According to the hordes of Instagram and YouTube muppets, if you’re not training every muscle group at least twice per week with a huge amount of both heavy- and light-weight training, you’re not even trying. - This is misguided.

How frequently you train a muscle group is less important than total weekly volume (number of sets) and intensity (loads lifted in terms of % of 1 Rep Max).

That is, you could train a muscle group 2, 3, or even 4 times per week with poor programming and make less progress than once per week with good programming.Furthermore, when people are hitting muscle groups several times per week, do you think they tend to overtrain or undertrain?Overtrain, of course, and that’s exactly what you want to avoid as you get older.  Therefore you need to keep a closer eye on what you’re putting your body through every week.

The first thing you should know is that as intensity increases (as weights get heavier), volume must decrease (you must keep total reps lower).

If you wanted to do 20-rep sets of squats with a light weight, let’s say 40 to 50% of your 1RM, you could easily do a couple hundred reps per week and be fine. Increase the weight to 85% of your 1RM though, and a couple hundred reps in a week will put you in a wheelchair, box clever !!!

Take at least one day off the weights each week. Two is better.

Don’t underestimate how taxing heavy weightlifting is on your body.Even the young’uns can’t do it every day, week after week, without eventually running their bodies into the ground.Try to train hard seven days per week and physical fatigue will start accumulating. Your sleep will deteriorate. Your workouts will suffer. You’ll continue feeling worse and worse until you dial it back and give your body more time to rest,  this is one of my own biggest obstacles with my own training, is realising when to stop !!! That’s why a big part of proper recovery is taking time off the weights every week. And resisting the urge to replace it with some other form of intense physical exercise or activity.

Rest or deload more frequently.

Pulling, squatting, and pushing heavy loads puts a lot of strain on your muscles, joints, ligaments, and nervous system.Even when you’re properly managing your volume and intensity and taking a couple days off each week, your body eventually needs a bigger break. And the older you are, the sooner that time comes.Specifically, what I’ve found is while in our  20s can go anywhere from 12 to 15 weeks before needing additional recovery time, people in their 40s and 50s may need to dial it back every 6 to 10 weeks.There are many factors that determine how long you will be able to go–age, training programming and history, genetics, sleep, diet, etc.–but it’s pretty easy to discover for yourself.

As you continue to train, you’ll start noticing symptoms of slight overtraining: worse sleep, lower energy levels, various aches, less interest in training, etc.Many people mistake these symptoms as mental obstacles to push through and try to fight fire with fire. It doesn’t go well. When you sense the fog of overtraining creeping in around you, get out of the gym for a a little bit and it’ll dissipate.

60’s & Beyond

Our aesthetic goals here might slightly change and we may have a stronger focus on functional fitness.Can i still touch my toes ? Can i still climb the stairs without getting out of breath?

The only decline you may notice compared to your 40s is in your body’s ability to recovery from your workouts. You can use the strategies given above to adjust for this and you should be fine.

Why not try some stabilising exercises:-

  • Swimming and other water exercises for cardiovascular training without putting pressure on joints;
  • Yoga classes to combat decreased range of motion and increase mindfulness, and;
  • Balancing exercises to reduce risk of falls.

You may also benefit from a “linear periodization” workout structure that reduces the amount of overall strain the weightlifting places on your body.

Here’s a simple 6-week setup that you would repeat:

  • Week 1- All exercises performed in the 10 to 12 rep range with ~70% of your 1RM
  • Week 2- All exercises performed in the 8 to 10 rep range with ~75% of your 1RM
  • Week 3- All exercises performed in the 6 to 8 rep range with ~80% of your 1RM
  • Week 4- All exercises performed in the 4 to 6 rep range with ~85 of your 1RM
  • Week 5- All exercises performed in the 4 to 6 rep range with ~85 of your 1RM
  • Week 6- Deload


I’ve used this exact setup with both  men and women in their 60s and it works extremely well. It’s enjoyable, it allows for regular progress, and it allows for plenty of recovery.

The Bottom Line

Fitness truly is a lifelong journey that doesn’t end until you breathe your last breath.In an ideal world, you’d use your 20s and 30s to build your ideal physique and then enjoy maintaining it for the rest of your life.If you’re starting later in your life, don’t despair. By making some simple adjustments and taking some simple precautions, you can still do just about everything you could a couple decades ago and you can still reach the same end goals and enjoy the same endgame. If you want to take part in your first iron man at 50 do it, if you want to join crossfit at 45 do it, if you want to start pole dancing at 60 (Yes you know who you are haha)  Do it !!!


“Your Body Achieves, what your mind believes”