Muscle for the Middle: Solutions and Substitutions to Stay Strong!

Mark Brown’s Muscle for the Middle

When did we become the old ones in the weight room?

For those of us dipping a toe into middle age, we are fortunate to be part of the first generation of exercisers exposed to the great value of strength training. Prior to the 1990s, the weight room was reserved for bodybuilders, powerlifters and strength athletes. Sports like basketball, baseball and boxing avoided the iron for fear of becoming slow and “muscle bound”, and the average man or woman jogged or did aerobics while living in fear of getting “too big”.
Luckily, research has shown we can build muscular strength and endurance, increase bone density and lower our body fat percentage with simple, consistent strength training. Most importantly, science tells us our bodies can continue to reap these rewards at any age. Muscle is not reserved for the young!
However, as we view our current landscape, mainstream fitness information IS reserved for the young. Glossy muscle magazines have migrated to the internet, where content is often more about inspiration than information. The middleaged exerciser in search of workout ideas will have to scroll through dozens of channels featuring “trainers” who may be closer to their children’s age. Worse, a few minutes of viewing will quickly reveal routines designed to garner views and impress the audience, leaving little time to teach or offer any applicable training advice to the average individual.
Unfortunately, a quick 180 degree turn doesn’t improve our view. Instead, many in the fitness community suggest any of us with a hint of grey hair pick up some colorful, plastic weights and perform workouts sitting in a chair. While we may have some miles, we also have some muscles, and this crowd is not ready to sit! For most of us, we can still move forward in our muscle building journey, provided we make smart choices and respect our bodies. We are still playing by the same rules as our younger gym friends, we just need to adjust the fine print in the rule book.
When it comes to building muscle in an effective and efficient manner, there is no substitute for progressive overload using big, compound movements, such as squats and bench presses. These lifts involve multiple joints and muscles, allowing heavier weights to be used. In addition, the ability to safely perform
these types of movements in the gym will improve our ability to function better in daily life. Pressing ourselves up from the floor to lift a grandchild overhead is the type of move we train for and live for, so if our workouts do not help us in this direction, we need a new map!
The following substitutions offer solutions for us to continue training compound lifts for movement patterns that must remain strong if we are to continue to maintain function and strength for the rest of our lives.

Click on the following link to learn more about the moves you need and how you can adapt and apply them to your own workouts!

Mark Brown’s Muscle for the Middle


Halftime Adjustments

If you read the previous post and agreed to play the role of a great athlete who excels in those clutch moments of the second half of life, we need to follow the lead of the best coaches and make some crucial halftime adjustments.  Coaches and players who do not make changes throughout the game are destined to fall behind. If we can objectively analyze our play in the first half and put those adjustments into play, we will be prepared to not only win, but dominate the second half!  Pull up a seat in front of the chalk board and let’s draw up some of those adjustments to help keep you moving and improving!

Clock Management:  Controlling the clock is critical in the second half of any game and our life is no different. While the internet, and, for us, our favorite 80’s movie training montage, may have us believe more is better, longer duration exercise is not needed. To better manage your clock, set a specific time each day and stick to it. If you are new, or returning to exercise, realize that 30 minutes most days will be plenty to see improvements. If you have worked out consistently for many years, you may find that reducing your workout time does wonders. It can help you eliminate redundant exercises, put your phone down during your session, and, best of all, add time to your day outside of the gym, so that your improved fitness leads to improved life!

Know Your Team:  Great coaches know their team, and work to maximize their strengths, which may vary from game to game. For us, the first team we need to know is us. Great exercise programs are traditionally planned for long term success, and may have progressions built along 3-6 month training cycles.  While I love following a detailed plan telling me what I will be training three weeks from now, in middle age I don’t always know how my body will be feeling three weeks from now! Recognizing this fact is crucial for successful fitness in our second half. While I initially saw this as a limitation, and missed my pages of notebooks with detailed workouts, I now see it as liberating. It is perfectly ok to take physical inventory each day, plan accordingly, and make those adjustments on the fly. As a coach may change a play in response to the defense, we can change our workout in response to our day, and how we feel both physically and mentally. If the first day of spring brings a post card sunset, go for a hike outdoors, the dumbells will be there tomorrow. Now, more than ever, what will matter most is not what you do, but that you do!

Monitor the Training Table: To live and feel athletic throughout our lives, we need to eat like an athlete.  While yes, we have earned the right to splurge on occasion, those trips off the track become harder and harder to bounce back from and eventually we have to consider what we actually gain from a typical weekend of excess.  We often reward ourselves with poor food choices, justifying by saying we “deserve it” after a week of good eating. Stop and consider what you deserve…is it to feel bloated, sluggish and guilty? Or do you deserve to feel strong, energetic and healthy? Fuel your body to perform in the second half!

Playing Not to Lose? Many coaches get in trouble in the second half because they get conservative and, instead of pressing forward aggressively, they pull back and try to avoid mistakes or risks that could backfire. Are you taking your time, watching the clock and hoping it ticks on so that you can hang on to a victory? Why not do all you can to INCREASE your lead? Press forward, lift, learn and grow, for your own fulfillment, and, at this point in life as an example to your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you know who feels they can no longer get better.

The whistle is blowing to start the second half, come out strong!






Halftime Performance?

Though by definition I’m probably a few birthdays in to “middle age”, my most recent cake and candle splurge really reminded my that yes, I am solidly in that particular demographic. Time for a new Mustang, plastic surgery and prescriptions, right? Not a chance, time a new approach is a better option!

After a lifetime of sports and fitness, I could be accused of viewing life through a small, gym lens, where just about any situation can be improved by a bout of exercise. Simple, yes, but you just might work.

A great thing about embarking on a fitness regimen is always having a new goal or challenge in front of us. Many of us even become addicted to the daily high of effort and achievement, with the positive rewards pushing us forward to greater progress. Unfortunately, with age, some of that progress becomes increasingly slow, and fighting gravity with free weights is at times easier than fighting gravity with our skin! So often this is when discouragement sets in and our workouts that added vigor to our day begin to drag, and that drag and lack of energy often bleeds into our other activities.

Looking at these realities ( and the mirror!) I realized that our middle years are simply that, the middle, and the ex-athlete in me related this to halftime of a ball game. Half time is far from over the hill, downhill or the peak of the game. It is the mid-point where the smart coaches and players review the first half and make adjustments that allow them to dominate the second half! Many sports analysts will point out that the team who comes out fast after halftime will go on to win the game. If we can approach our 3rd and 4th quarters with that same outlook, think of how many more “games” are there for us to win. In a great life or great game, the game winning, clutch moments take place late in the game, and that is what all athletes strive for and are remembered for.

What adjustments can you make at halftime with your health and fitness routine that will allow YOU to be stronger in the second half?

Follow along for tools and tips and fitness routines that not only allow you to win in the gym, but more importantly leave you with plenty of time and energy to improve and excel in your daily life.