By: Marco Paul
Hello my fellow Bricksters, this may come as a shocker to you but… I’m 41. I know what you are thinking: “What?! No way! You don’t look a day over 30!”- LOL! Ok, that last part may be stretching it a little, but in all seriousness, the reality is that I don’t feel 41, but my body is.
I’ve been strength training since I was 22 and started doing CrossFit a little over 6 years ago, so all together almost 20 years of lifting things up and putting them down. I always try to pay attention to form and managed to stay injury-free, while still PR-ing and progressing in my performance, until last August. I was training at BRICK one morning last summer when suddenly I felt something on my left shoulder as I came down from a set of strict pull ups. The pain was enough that I had to stop training and I immediately noticed that I couldn’t raise my left arm overhead. Obviously I was concerned. I went home, massaged it, took some Advil and hoped it was just muscle soreness and/or tightness. It wasn’t.
The next few days I couldn’t sleep on my left side, I couldn’t even raise my left arm to do so much as a jumping jack or hang from a pull up bar, even getting up during a burpee hurt, ugh! Needless to say, it was incredibly frustrating. I did acupuncture, which helped a little but didn’t solve the problem. Finally the physical therapist told me what I was dreading to hear: it was tendonitis. He went on to explain the most common cause of shoulder tendonitis is overuse of the shoulder. This means the tendons in the rotator cuff are overworked beyond what they can handle, and over time they eventually become damaged. Among other factors, heavy lifting and improper technique can cause overload of the tendons (#fml).
What followed was several weeks of physical therapy, along with a very modified workout routine to be able to train around my injury. It was the first time that I had experienced chronic pain and let me tell you, it wasn’t fun. This led to me reevaluate my fitness goals and take a closer look at my objectives and more importantly the purpose of my training. I came to the realization that whether I liked it or not, my body is not the same as it was 20 years ago, not even 6 years ago, when I first started doing CrossFit, and as such, I needed to be more careful with how I trained. I had to accept that after lifting for over 20 years, I have some wear and tear across my body and it cannot withstand the same type of stress it did when I was younger and less experienced.
Here are a few of my tips on how to approach fitness after 40 (and beyond):
> Stop being in competition with your former self
CrossFit athletes tend to be very competitive, but I realized that I had to break off that mindset. Not only is it wrong to compare yourself to other people (each person is unique), but also, stop being in competition with your former self. Realize that you may not come close to the amount of weight you were able to lift in your mid-20’s or 30’s.
> Think of the end game
Shift your mindset and think of what truly is your end-game. For me it is to have fun, look good and more importantly stay healthy and injury-free. Unless you are a professional athlete, the majority of us workout because we like it, so let’s keep it enjoyable.
> Listen to your body and get enough rest
You should always listen to your body and get enough rest, regardless of your age. This becomes even more important when you are over 40. You may not hit the same PR’s that you did, or it may take longer, but that doesn’t mean you are not performing. Also, taking that extra day off to do some other low impact activities is just as great.
> Maintaining when you are over 40 is ok!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still focused and determined when I work out and give myself goals to hit, but I’m also realistic about them. I’m still pushing as hard to break my PR’s, but I’m not discouraged when it doesn’t happen. Being able to keep up with your previous performance is just as good!
> Incorporate tempo into your workouts
I’ve learned to switch from focusing just on increasing load and volume, to now using lighter weights and low volume, while keeping the intensity high. Incorporating tempo with more pause reps (increasing the time under tension) and eccentric accentuated work is a great way to do this.
> Variety is good
When my body feels off, I train around those issues by doing exercises that are easier on my body, even incorporating certain machines that feel right. Variety is your friend.
Training over 40 doesn’t mean that you have stopped progressing and that you are now declining — it is mostly a mindset change. You must understand your body and be realistic about your fitness goals, while still having fun and staying injury-free. I now train more for the pleasure of it, than to beat my previous PR, and that has made all the difference. Also, my shoulder thanks me. 🙂