Redefining Fitness At 50 And Beyond

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Redefining Fitness At 50 And Beyond
© Doug Champigny,
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

As both a sport and an industry, fitness as we know it today is quite young – 50 years ago home gyms and commercial gyms were almost unheard of, especially outside major cities. While explosive growth has changed that massively, most fitness programs, routines and ‘truisms’ don’t apply to people trying to get back in shape at 50 and beyond.

Fitness At 50 - No Pain, Still Gain

The reason for this is that the sport grew by demand from young people, a group always known to be in a hurry with little patience for anything that didn’t provide instant gratification. The young men wanted the biggest muscles – today. The young women wanted that bikini body – yesterday. Oh, and for both, please don’t let it take much time from my busy social schedule either. This led to the ‘Build Bigger Muscles FAST!‘ and ‘Lose 20 Pounds THIS WEEK‘ headlines in the magazines, fueling the drive that much more.

Fast forward to today and those same ideas persist, many of them in spite of current science. And if you’re approaching 50, are 50 or over 50 years of age, you may well still be clinging to those attitudes like they were carved in stone. Compounding the problem, fitness writers and most personal trainers tend to be younger and treat baby boomers in one of two ways – either they try to use the exact same routines and schedules on every client regardless of age, or they feel those in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s should stick to cardio with a bit of light-weight work on machines for higher reps.

Not only does that miss the mark, but those issues can also cause a lot of mature people to avoid the gym for fear of being intimidated or ridiculed. Equally damaging, many try to jump straight into full-blown exercise regimes or crossfit-style workouts using the same body they’ve over-fed and under-utilized for the previous 10, 20 or 30 years.

This doesn’t mean, however, that older athletes can’t get healthy, strong and active again – or run marathons, play tennis and golf or any other sport. What needs to change is the mindset around and the routines developed for fitness at 50 and beyond.

So what does that entail if you want to get in great shape, or at least better shape and be fit over 50?

First, by now you should know this isn’t a race. Fitness isn’t a goal, it’s a lifestyle. Add in some patience and some of that wisdom you’ve gained through life experience and you’ll see the best route is a calm one, making small improvements over time that lead to big overall results.

If you’re out of shape, don’t try to run a marathon next month. Start by walking for an hour every day. Over time, look to increase the distance you go in that hour. When that’s quite comfortable you can start jogging or running for a couple of minutes followed by walking for 5 to ten minutes, repeating that cycle til your hour is completed. Slowly increase the running time while cutting back a bit on the walking time til you’re running the full hour. And from there you just slowly increase the length of your runs til you’re up to 5k, 10k, half-marathon and finally marathon-length runs.

The same goes in the gym… Chances are you’re not preparing for a bodybuilding contest if you’ve never done them before this, so there is no deadline. And, though it hurts the ego, understand that you have no need to big, hulking muscles – sorry, the girls on the beach aren’t going to ask you to show off your biceps. Then again, at this age you have no need for them – what you DO need is strength, energy, balance and bone density. No more light weights and high repetitions for you – what you need is very heavy weights moved through the full range of motion for relatively lower reps – in essence, a powerlifter’s workout. And this is true for both men and women who are weightlifting at 50 and beyond.

But again, there’s no rush. Remember the famous ‘No Pain, No Gain’ slogan of your younger days? Replace it with ‘No Pain, Still Gain’. There’s no reason to rush into it and hurt yourself, or push your body to the point of ongoing pain or, worse yet, injury. Start by checking with your doctor in case there’s any pre-existing condition you need to take into account, then start light and learn the proper form and train through the full range of motion. Learn the exercises to strengthen your joints, protect your knees, free up your hips and shoulders, etc.

Once you have the proper form committed to memory and are past that first term of stretching out the muscles by using full-range compound exercises, you can start slowly increasing the weight you lift. If you can successfully perform 4 or 5 sets of 5 repetitions with your current weight, increase the weight slightly at your next session. The increase should be small enough that you can still finish 3 full sets without breaking form, but too much for you to finish those fourth and fifth sets. Stay at that weight til you can do all 5 sets with perfect form, then increase it again.

Don’t expect big muscle size growth from this – it’s not that style of workout and you don’t have as much testosterone as you did at 20. What will happen over time is you’ll get much stronger, much more limber, have better balance and be increasing your bone density. And remember – Be Patient & Persistent. You’re looking to be strong and healthy for the rest of your life, so if it takes a year or two to get where you want to be, so what?

You CAN get fit at 50 and beyond, have plenty of energy to outlast your grandkids and kids on a day out, wake up pain-free and feeling good – it all depends on your choices and the actions you take. Start YOUR journey to the fitness lifestyle today, no matter what age you are!


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