Now that I’m well over 40 years of age, do I train the same way as I did when I first picked up a weight as a high school sophomore?
It’s a terrific question, but not one that can be comprehensively answered in one chapter. Instead, I’ll approach it by identifying two thoughts at each of these moments in time: One aspect of my fitness life which was positive and one I would go back in time and change. I’m sure you can relate to some of these thoughts in your own fitness journey– or if you’re just starting out, this can help you avoid some of the same mistakes!
At age 15, I had just discovered the weight room. As many of you can relate, it was love at first sight! The ability to “change your body” and get stronger was a new and powerful feeling. I was hooked:
The Good: I developed dedication to a specific goal! I love seeing the young bucks in the gym every day — establishing good habits which will become your lifestyle and serve you well. I was the same way in my high school weightroom, every single day after school.
The Bad: Just like some of the young folks I just mentioned, I did the same workout, every single day! Like many young folks, my desire far outreached my knowledge. For example, I’m pretty sure I bench-pressed every day for the first six months at that age. Sure, in time, I learned more and realized that I could benefit from some simple concepts like session planning, recovery, and goal setting. But honestly, it would be years until I started benefitting from total-body training and specific strategies to benefit my athletic progress.
At age 25, I was playing soccer professionally, working part-time as a martial arts instructor, and finding an hour each day to spend in the weight room. No doubt some of you young professionals can relate to that phase of life — in which you are busy running from commitment to commitment, but you still want to find time for good workouts.
The Good: I had learned a lot about personal fitness and how to help others, (and myself) to create positive change. I was still dedicated and spent time in the weightroom every day. I do attribute some of my “success” on the soccer field to the fact that I was physically fit and strong, and stayed in shape year-round. This was when I learned one of the truths I still stand by, and that’s “it’s easier to stay ready than it is to get ready.”
The Bad: Back then, the term “sports performance” was still a foreign concept to me. This was the early 2000s, and athletic development was not nearly as prevalent as it is today. These days you can find a good training center in most towns where young athletes can train to run faster, jump higher — and avoid injury. Looking back, I was still training more as a “bodybuilder” than as an athlete. If you are playing sports, and you’re looking to improve your competition abilities, then you need to train differently than if you are just trying to get leaner, build muscle, and look a certain way with your shirt off! In retrospect, I should have focused on building lower body power and explosiveness, rotational strength, and injury prevention — and not quite so much time on bis and tris.
At age 35, I was a police officer on the tactical response unit of the Phoenix Police Department, I was coaching soccer, I was acting and modeling part-time, I was training for and competing at the World Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive, and I also happened to be a dad of three little kids with our fourth on the way. I was BUSY. And I know many of you guys in that same phase of life can relate. Life is an absolute hustle — there doesn’t seem to be enough time to eat or sleep, let alone work out, right?
The Good: Honestly, this phase was the most dialed-in I’ve ever been, because I had to be! If you are in a nonstop phase of life, I recommend scheduling your day to include two critical appointments: meal planning/preparation, and working out. That’s right, schedule them just like you’re putting a meeting or event into your calendar. And you must protect those two appointments as strongly as if they were a meeting with your boss or picking up your kid from school, because they are just as important. Trust me, your whole lifestyle will start to crumble if you allow yourself to skip workouts and don’t think in advance about your nutrition. Consistency is the most crucial aspect of a fitness lifestyle.
The Bad: Something I wish I had been better about in this phase was listening to my body better. I was training so hard, and my work environments were very intense, and I didn’t allow my body sufficient recovery time or methods. I suffered a couple of injuries — mainly due to overuse and not training smarter. I think many of us who are “high-achievers” are probably cut from the same cloth, in which it’s hard to downshift and rest sometimes. But that rest and recovery is an absolute crucial piece to the whole puzzle — we must learn to listen to what our bodies are telling us. If there is a little nagging tweak or pull somewhere, then don’t push through that like we would have in our teens or early 20s! As you’ve heard me say before in the Ask Andy column, “no pain, no gain” is stupid. Whoever came up with that expression is most likely injured right now…
Finally, at age 45: well, I’m no less busy than I was 10 years ago! You guys can relate, it’s a different hustle, but no less intense. I’m up early with a task list of 10 things to accomplish. Then after running full-tilt all day, I crash into bed with more on my plate than when it began!
The Good: I have learned to be efficient and effective in my training and nutrition. I break my workouts into two shorter sessions; a resistance-0training circuit workout, first thing in the morning, and a cardio session at lunchtime. The first session is fasted, and it’s short and sharp; focusing on one muscle group each day, alternating both a core exercise and running two laps in between each round. The second session is usually 30 minutes or less of a jog or elliptical session, depending upon the weather. For nutrition, I’ve learned what my body doesn’t burn well, or, more accurately, what my body chooses to store as body fat.
So, I do my best to avoid “BBCs” meaning Beer, Bread, Cheese, and Sugar. That might sound a bit spartan, but I still do some work in front of the camera, so I’ve learned that’s what it takes to look and feel the best I can. You guys can apply similar guidelines in your own training and nutrition, but you have to be your own scientist and “study yourself” to identify how your body reacts to certain exercise and intake. Couple that data with your personal goals, take into account what your daily schedule allows for exercise and intake preparation, and you can create your own daily program to optimize your fitness lifestyle.
The Bad: The bad, these days, might be obvious to my fellow fitness freaks out there who are in your mid-40s and older. It’s simple: certain things hurt! Certain movements/exercises/challenges just don’t make sense anymore. This doesn’t have to be a pure “bad” though. We must learn to train around these age-related or “wear-and-tear” issues. I’m not talking about injuries or any kind of physical damage- those issues should be addressed and hopefully fixed. But when it comes to certain aches, stiffness, slowness, or other challenges we face which are direct results of just having too much mileage on your machine, then we can adapt and overcome. Open our minds and use the knowledge acquired to train differently, evolved.
One quick example? In my teens, twenties and even thirties, I NEVER used a Smith machine. I mean, why would I? Well, now I use it regularly for all kind of different movements. One of the main reasons I like it is because I never need a spot, and at my age I’m always training alone especially during this weird pandemic world. Oh, and another reason I find myself pulled toward it is because it’s always available- because none of the younger folks would be caught dead using it.
Andy McDermott is a proponent of basic truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally over a lifetime of fitness. He got his first personal training certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s gym in Chicago. He completed the 40 Hour EXOS Sports Performance Mentorship, TRX Instructor certification, and earned his third-degree Black Belt in tae kwon do. While serving as a police officer on the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as Subject Matter Expert/Lead Instructor in Physical Training of all Arizona Law Enforcement. He’s won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. He played professional soccer for seven seasons after graduating from Northwestern University. He also holds the US Soccer National Coaching A License. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications. Andy posts fitness challenges on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.