You know it, and I know it. Once we hit our 40s, we just can’t be as carefree about our physical health, can we? Case in point – did you know – did you know that you can lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade in muscle mass once you hit 30. And now that we’re 40….well you can do the maths! Thankfully strength training in your 40s can be your best friend here. So why aren’t more of us doing it during this period of ageing?
The problem is, when we think of strength training, thanks to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and co., we can feel a little intimidated by the concept of strength training. But given the above statistics, it’s time to kick those stereotypes to the curb and get with the programme. Because strength training in your 40s has never been so important.
But why? And how? Fret not friends, I had a little chat with former Olympian Greg Whyte OBE and Her Spirit app (your friendly coach in a pocket) and their Coach2Kilos challenge to give us the low down on everything you need to know about strength training in your 40s.
You can’t stop ageing, but you can slow it
Once you hit 40, you start becoming startlingly aware of the ageing process. But here’s the good news, strength training can actually help slow the ageing process. So how does this work?
According to Whyte, ‘One of the problems with aging is that we lose muscle mass. That is particularly facilitated by the menopause but can actually happen in both men and women. Women, in particular, have this changing hormonal environment, which leads to a reduction in muscle mass with ageing. To some extent, while there is an aesthetic element to that, it’s actually more around the functionality of strength that we lose with that loss of muscle mass. Ultimately, we lose power, and with that what we call our health-related quality of life and eventually the ability to perform activities of daily living, so things like carrying the shopping, doing the gardening, walking upstairs picking up grandchildren or children just become that little bit more difficult.’
You might be thinking this doesn’t apply to you right now, but like with anything in life, what you put in now – in your 40s – is going to feed into your golden years. So if you don’t want things to feel more difficult and less enjoyable as the years continue to roll on, essentially – now is the time to act.
Of course, there is also a vanity element here. Simply put, ‘we can use muscle to change body shape, and make us look better. And so because we look better, we feel better. It’s all of that it’s all runs into improving quality of life.’
Newbie to strength training? Fret not!
You may be thinking you’ve never done one iota of strength training in your life. Well, strike that! Because we all have, even if it’s unknowingly. According to Whyte it’s just that we need to start viewing strength training differently.
‘It’s all about changing that image of what we believe strength training is. If you’re over 40, you’ll probably remember images of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gold’s Gym, Muscle Beach.
I think many of us have this image that strength training is about being a bodybuilder. Well, of course, actually, we do strength training on a daily basis. When we start out from a seated position when we stand up, that takes strength. When we walk upstairs, it takes strength. So all of those activities of daily living actually require strength.
The first thing to always think about is don’t just change your image of what strength actually is, and what strength training looks like. Strength training, in its very simplest form, is anything that resists motion, anything that increases the resistance to motion. So for example, instead of walking on the flat, if you walk up a hill, that could be deemed as being strength training, because there’s a resistance to move.
So it’s about just changing what you see as strength training. Remember that strength is very much part of everyday life. But then, much like it is when you want to improve your aerobic fitness – that we should walk more, and we should be more active – it’s exactly the same with strength, in that if we want to improve our strength, what we have to do is we have to dedicate some time to improving that strength.
Thinking about The World Health Organization guidelines for physical activity for health – which is the same as the Chief Medical Officer’s for the UK – we often talk about this 30 minutes of physical or aerobic activity on most days of the week, so that is at least 150 minutes a week. The advice also includes two dedicated strength sessions a week. So it really is about just making time in your weekly activities to do some dedicated specific strength work.
Putting strength training into practice
So now we all know that we should be doing (at least) two strength training sessions a week, how do we put that into practice? As someone who loves a bit of strength work, I know that it is surprisingly easier and more enjoyable than you might think and Whyte backs me up here:
‘Strength training can be literally anything. The Couch2Kilos challenge, for Her Spirit is just a great example of that. You can strength train at home, on your own in your front room. You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t have to wear spandex. There are lots of ways in which we can integrate strength exercise into our weekly activities, without actually really going out of our way.
Going to a gym and diving into the strength area can be quite intimidating. So getting that experience and confidence before you take that step is really very important and the Coach2Kilos program is a great place to start. If you’ve never done it before, or it’s been a long time since your last you can modify the exercises and then build progression based upon your experience and what your own personal strength is. The wonderful thing about training is that it’s very easy to track your progress. So it’s actually quite motivating and you can see things like change in posture, how you carry yourself, and therefore the aesthetic change also quite quickly.
Getting started with strength training
So we’ve sold the idea of strength training to you, but nobody wants to get an injury so what are the do’s and don’t? Whyte says:
‘What’s always important with exercise in general, is making sure that you start at a level, which is commensurate with your own ability. Don’t start off too hard and more importantly, progress slowly because there is a risk to exercise, generally. So what you want to do is avoid injury or in particular, avoid excessive muscle damage. I guess the underlying message here is that it should be enjoyable. The more you enjoy it, the more likely you are to stick to it. Progression is probably the most important thing in strength training and that you progress slowly so that you are always working within yourself, but also increasing enjoyment, which will help keep you motivated.’
Finding the joy
Personally I LOVE strength training and get a real kick out ot it. I have personally been taking part in the Coach2Kilos challenge with coach Elle Linton (watch out on our Instagram for more on that!) to try and progress my own ability and it just feels so good when you’re doing it. But why is that and what is going on in your body to make it feel that good? According to Whyte there are two factors at play here:
‘Strength training is incredibly social. It can be high intensity, but a very short duration which means you can be social, and chat, while you’re doing strength training especially during the recovery periods between the exercises, which gives you an opportunity to interact with other people.
The second factor at play is much like any sort of aerobic exercise, strength training elicits the same physiological response inside the body. So what we do is we release happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine which improve mood. They make us feel happier, reduce lethargy and increase vigor. We feel happier and more alive. What you get from strength training is the best of all worlds.’
Time for a snack?
No sorry, I’m not talking about your favourite cookie here! One of the beautiful things about strength training is that you can fit in pretty much anytime, anywhere. In fact, I often do my strength training while I’m cooking dinner or while someone else is cooking dinner, which Whyte also advocates:
‘You can dissect strength exercise down into very small packages and actually snack on the strength training. So it’s something you can just fit in, when you’ve got the time. For example, while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, you can be doing squats. While you’re brushing your teeth, you can do heel raises. Whilst it’s the adverts in a TV break, you can do some press-ups. There is no necessity to do it all at once you can actually spread it across the day.
Fear of bulking up
Maybe you’ve been giving strength training a wide birth due to a fear of bulking up. Well good news because this irrational fear is based on fallacy as I can vouch for as someone that strength trains and is pretty much a bean pole! So why do so many of us have a fear that we’ll end up looking like Arnie? And what really happens instead. Whyte explains:
‘This is an absolute misnomer. It’s a sort of a dogma that resides around strength training which is that as soon as I lift a weight, I’m going to get massive. You would have to you have to train incredibly hard, with very big ways to get what we call hypertrophy, increasing muscle size. The likelihood of becoming large in terms of muscle with strength training is incredibly low.
In addition, when we do it competently, we do it at the same time as aerobic training. So, for example, going for a walk and doing strength after the walk or in whichever order. What that does is dampen the hypertrophy response. So, just by using a mixed method type of exercise, we limit the increase in the size of muscle. The bottom line is that by lifting weights, you are not going to get massive.’
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to future proof yourself and start strength training app. Whether you are a total newbie or looking to just do that little bit more, the Coach2kilos challenge is a great place to start.