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Fit at 50 – Training for Great Results and Longevity

 

While supplementation and nutrition are rightly considered indisputable prerequisites for phenomenal fitness past the age of 50, little in the way of progress can be achieved without a safe and effective training plan predicated on principals that work. Fit at 50 – Training for Great Results and Longevity is only achieved through a balanced ratio of consistent training, targeted supplementation and optimum nutrition that may we achieve and ultimately maintain the quality gains we so ardently desire.

But the wrong kind of training can do more harm than good. Thus it’s ultra-critical to ensure that the all-important sets and reps, form, function and training split are properly programmed and modified as we age. Drawing from the recent success of Sean Haralson, currently in the best shape of his life at age 50, this article will show you how to balance and structure your training for superior size, shape and shreds.

Though entirely beneficial and largely to be encouraged, training past the age of 50 can be a tricky proposition for many. First there are the niggling sprains and strains from a lifetime of general wear and tear interspersed with more challenging activities.

Such ‘niggles’, however minor, can be exacerbated with the kind of intensive training that allows for the incorrect execution of key movements and/or too much intensity and volume. Hence safety, the most important training consideration regardless of age and experience, becomes an even greater concern the older we get.

For those starting from scratch, the challenge can be even greater: knowing what to do, how to do it and when to modify training to spark further progress must first be learned through a combination of methodical planning and trial and error, then improved upon as we go.

However, because you have entered your fifth decade does not mean you must adhere religiously to endless ‘power’ walking, light weights and ‘joint friendly’ isolation movements. Far from it! Training progress, at any age, strongly correlates with one of the most important training factors of all: optimal stimulation. To stimulate change, the body must be challenged on multiple levels, and properly programmed progressive resistance (via incremental weight increases) must take precedence when it comes to hitting the weights.

The obvious question is: how do we stay injury free and healthy into our 50s and beyond while pushing the body in a manner sufficient to force fresh gains in size, strength, fat loss and cardiovascular conditioning? Read on as Sean relays his wise words of advice which you too can adopt to keep your training safe, productive and fun.

A Different Approach

With an ever increasing array of debilitating injuries keeping him in constant pain, Sean’s foray into serious training as a way to reduce pain and shape up was not, as you would expect, a sustained onslaught of heavy duty sets and reps with maximum weights and intensity. To get the results he wanted he instead chose to leave his ego at the door and focus more on form, function and lighter, more focused lifting. It paid big dividends.

Though previously a heavy lifter, Sean was forced to rethink his approach to hoisting the iron. He found success in variety, constant change, and moderate weights.

Says Sean: “I train very differently at 50 than I did when I was young. The days of lifting heavy weights to impress friends, workout partners, and anyone else that’s looking are over. As you age you start learning to leave your ego at the door. None of these people you’re trying to impress are there while you’re sore at home icing body parts, asking yourself if it was worth it. Don’t let anyone control your workout routine. The fact is some people are naturally stronger than others. If you’re not the strong type and you’re trying to keep up with someone that’s naturally strong, that’s a recipe for injury.”

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The good news for Sean was that he was still able to lift decent weights all through his 40s but didn’t have to hoist back-breaking poundages to get the job done. To obtain his desired physique, the lean and heavily-muscled body that he currently maintains, he began placing more of an emphasis on form and function rather than “ego” lifting. He also learned to go against the grain to enjoy the best workouts of his life.

I LEARNED THAT I CAN USE LIGHT TO MEDIUM WEIGHTS, UTILIZE MACHINES, CABLES, AND EVEN BANDS TO ACHIEVE GREAT WORKOUTS

“Change is good, especially when you get older. Don’t be one of those people that do the same body part, on the same day every week like a robot. You know what I’m talking about! You walk into the gym on a Monday and its national chest day worldwide. How does this happen? It’s like a disease that’s spread all over the world. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the east or the west, or any place in between. It’s actually kinda funny. You know what I do to resolve this issue? I let everyone do chest on Monday and take advantage of all the empty leg or back machines.

Genius! I’ll go have a killer leg workout, or crush back! Then on Tuesday, if I choose, I can get a great chest workout in and don’t have to fight for a chest machine. There’s no rule that says you have to even start your workout week on a Monday. If you work a normal Monday through to Friday work week, which I don’t, then why not start your workout week on the weekend. I love to work out on the weekends, especially in the afternoons when the morning rush is over.”

Fit at 50: Training Split
What follows is Sean’s preferred workout split. If short on time he may change to an alternative split (see below – second split).  Says Sean:

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ALTER YOUR WORKOUT IF TIME DOESN’T PERMIT YOU TO COMPLETE THE SESSION IN ITS ENTIRETY

Sets: 4-6 (per movement) – Reps: 8-15 (per set)
I don’t focus on a number, like 10 reps. I’m done with my set only when my body fails to produce another clean rep. Sometimes, at the end of my set, I complete a few partials to keep the muscles engaged. This method applies to almost all of my workouts. I think when you focus on a certain rep count (like 10) your mind will stop you before your body is done.
Monday: Back and Abs

Back: wide grip pull ups, lat pull downs, bent over barbell rows, seated rows, rack pulls, hyper extensions

Abs: rope pulldowns, incline crunches, leg raises, standing twist with a bar (no weight).

Tuesday: Chest and Calves

Chest: Hammer Strength press, incline press, chest flies, alternate incline chest press, lots of push-ups in-between sets.

Calves: standing calf raises, seated calf raises. Both movements are done for a 12-20 rep count with a pause and squeeze at the top, and a stretch at the bottom of each rep.

Wednesday: Legs and Abs (doing legs mid-week gives my upper body time to recover)

Legs: Leg extensions, leg curls, squats, leg press, hack squats, walking lunges with dumbbells.

Thursday: Shoulders and Calves

Shoulders: barbell press, front raises, side laterals, incline rear deltoid raises, cable extensions, upright rows, rope pulls.

Calves: standing calf raises, seated calf raises. Both movements are done for a 12-20 rep count with a pause and squeeze at the top, and a stretch at the bottom of each rep.

Friday: Arms and Abs

Arms: single arm curls, preacher curls, barbell curls, reverse curls, seated incline curls, standing rope curls, triceps extensions with rope, reverse grip extensions with bar, bench dips, over-head seated extensions, kick-backs.

Abs: rope pull downs, incline crunches, leg raises, standing twist with a bar (no weight).

Saturday: Chest and Back (Push/Pull)

Sets: 4-6

Reps: 15-30

“I incorporate this session because I love this workout, and I like to focus on my weaknesses,” says Sean. “This is more of a high volume workout (15-30 reps), lighter weight session. I like to alternate one set of chest, then immediately do my back set. You can put together a variety of push/pull exercises.”

  • Dumbbell press/wide grip pull-ups
  • Incline press/machine rows
  • Machine flies/close grip pull-downs
  • Hyper-extensions/dips
Sunday: Rest day

Sean does 20-30 minutes of morning fasted-cardio 4-6 days a week to “maintain conditioning, and it’s great for your health.”

Second Split (to be used if pressed for time and a shorter workout week is required)

  • Monday: Back, Shoulders, and Abs
  • Tuesday: Chest, Arms, and Calves
  • Wednesday: Legs and Abs
  • Thursday: Rest Day
  • Friday: Rest Day
  • Saturday: Repeat Monday-Wednesday
Note:
  • Use the same movements, as listed in the first training split.
  • With this second split Sean maintains his 20-30 mins of morning fasted cardio 4-6 days a week.

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The Power of Change

As with most facets of life, stagnation of training results is usually preceded by stagnation concerning the processes used to achieve these results. In other words, if you keep doing the same things over and over and expecting further progress beyond any expected outcomes, aside from fitting one definition of insanity you’re also likely to become disillusioned with your lack of results. Instead, do as Sean does and keep the gains coming through constant change.

Says Sean: “I like to change the order of my training days, because change is always good for the body. Try not to get too comfortable with your workouts. As we get older we tend to fall into a routine with training. At my gym I watch the same people walk into the gym, start on the same machines, and follow the same routine daily. And I hear the same thing over and over. ‘I’ve worked out here for years and my body never changes.’  And they look so bored doing it. Your body will get used to anything if you continue to repeat the same pattern as you age. We have to continue to shake things up and confuse the body. Change is good!”

Besides changing around his training days, times and exercises, Sean also alternates between different training modalities. “Some days I utilize only cable machines and bands. Some days I will use just free weights. And other days I’ll only use machines. As we get older we can’t afford to fall into a routine. It becomes really boring. Don’t be a gym robot.”

Maximize Endurance

It’s a well–known fact that the older we get, the more our metabolic machinery begins to falter. Whereas once any excess weight may have melted off despite less than optimal nutrition and training, it now clings on for dear life no matter how diligent we are. Along with stubborn adipose we may also encounter declining general fitness with advancing age. It’s nothing to be taken personally. Each of us is subject to a natural declining of health and vitality. But you can, as Sean has done, take steps to reverse many of the markers of aging and subsequent ill health. To enhance metabolic efficiency and to keep his heart running on all cylinders, Sean ensures his rest periods between sets remain short.

“When doing your workouts you should rest no longer than 30-60 seconds between sets,” he says. “I have found that being older, it’s best to keep your heart rate elevated during your entire workout. If you have trouble increasing your heart rate, do 10-15 minutes of cardio right before your workout. This will also help you to maintain your conditioning.”

Gaining by Dropping

Consistent with his penchant for keeping his training interesting and productive, Sean also incorporates various methods he feels will intensify without placing undue pressure on his joints. One such method is drop sets. Here he can keep intensity high without having to load up excessively on the weights (as is often done to increase the intensity of straight sets).

“I love doing drop sets. Here I’ll start with a heavier weight, drop to a lighter weight, then drop again to an even lighter weight. Sometimes I’ll go the opposite way and start with lighter weights and go heavier each time.  Here you will increase the weight 3-4 times. Your rep count will get lower as the weights get heavier. Now you’ll have to play with both these techniques to determine your ideal weight. Start off light, because the weight will sneak up on you rather fast.”

High and Low

“Another technique you may want to try is high/low sets,” says Sean. “Here your first set will be performed with enough weight for 8-10 reps, then your next set will be with lighter weights for 15-30 reps. Then you may alternate back to the heavy weights for lower reps, then back to the lighter weights for higher reps.”

Always Learning

Gaining muscle and stripping fat is an ongoing process of learning, experimentation, adaptation and refinement. Regardless of how successful you become it’s worth remembering and further applying the methods and principals that got you to where you are. An important training principal requires us to be open to new information. In this regard, better and more efficient ways to achieve our training objectives must constantly be sought. Sean remains open to trying new things that might work better for him.  “Another thing that helps me sometimes is working out with different people to pick up on new things to try. Try everything, get rid of the things that don’t work for you, and keep the things you like.”

Slowing the Process

While the aging process is inevitable, it’s frequently observed effects need not adversely impact the way you live your life. Faltering fitness, less muscle, more fat, and poor performance are but a few of the more readily discernible effects of advancing age. However, by adhering to a solid training plan you can stifle and, in some cases, reverse many of the signs of aging. By following the above insights you’ll soon be looking and feeling your best. You can take Sean’s word for that. “Remember, age is not our friend,” says Sean. “But we can sure slow the process down by taking care of the only body we have.”

Fit at 50 – Training for Great Results and Longevity

Contributions to article from Sean Haralson

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