Most lifters think that their strength and athleticism will get better and better as they spend more time in the game. Unfortunately, that's not entirely up to them. Father time has a big say in their lifting future.
Regardless, there are things that can be done to thwart him – things "seasoned" people need to acknowledge or adopt to make training a success and not an injury-riddled nightmare.
1. Accept That Your Life Has Changed
If you're past the age of 30, it's about time you realize that your body doesn't function the way it did when you were a 19-year-old kid. You can't eat whatever you want and have it all turn into muscle, and you can't lift with ugly technique and emerge unscathed.
By this point in your life – let alone what happens later – you've probably had to deal with a few of the following:
- Increased stress levels or responsibility.
- A struggle to maintain consistent or good quality sleep.
- Some form of injury or chronic pain.
These things are pretty universal, but they shouldn't be taken lightly. Considering that 50% of training gains (aside those made from the lifting itself) consist of recovery, sleep, and injury prevention (and then another 50% on diet), it's important to accept that you've entered another chapter in your lifting life.
To be clear, 30 is young by calendar age. The possibilities are still endless with what you can do as a lifter, and even how strong you can be – but that's not my point. This isn't a copout to allow you to scale back on training hard and consistently. It's a callout to make you train smarter.
The only way you'll start doing that is by owning up to the fact that you aren't the kid you used to be. You can take down the "beast mode" posters and kill your Arnold impersonations. You've been steeped in the culture for long enough. And since your job is the actual thing that consumes most of your day, it's time for you to create a lifting culture of your own.
2. Leave Daily Heavy Lifting for the Kids
You must train heavy. And you must train hard. But there's a difference between doing high-percentage work as part of a phase of your seasonal training and doing it every single week.
Your body simply has more mileage on it than it used to. It's a big ask for your joints and connective tissue to be pushing them day-in and day-out with little to no attention paid to their other needs. In its most basic form, this explains the law of diminishing returns.
If you've been strength training well through your 20s and you're now into your 30s or beyond, you've probably built up a pretty damn impressive base of strength. Now's the time to reassess the risk versus the reward for your body, based on your training history, injuries, current lifestyle, and "mileage."
You can't get away with as much as you used to. It doesn't mean you have to ditch traditional strength work altogether, but approaching it smartly will go a long way.
Find ways to make light weight feel heavier without increasing absolute weight. A perfect example? Tempos and pauses. If you can squat 405 for a max single, see how heavy you can go when doing squats with a 4-second eccentric/negative and a 2-second pause at rock bottom. It certainly won't be 405.
Why not make that your new "max" and build from there? Not only will it make your lifts more honest, it'll also salvage your joints while still challenging your muscles and nervous system. This can be applied to a wide variety of exercises like paused bench presses or even paused deadlifts.
3. Prioritize Mobility Training
Anyone who says mobility work doesn't matter – especially once they're past a certain point in their life – isn't thinking things through. This is especially true if their days, including their job, aren't what anyone would consider active.
Plenty of sitting, poor posture, additional muscle mass, poor muscle recovery, and possibly less conditioning all play a part in why a body can no longer move as well as it used to. A daily routine of mobility work may feel redundant, but it's worth its weight in gold.
Good mobility is actually a product of good strength on each side of a load bearing joint. The thing is, technically sound strength training is dependent on good mobility. One feeds off of the other, and neither can be left out.
In a nutshell, the "strength training builds mobility" argument is only as good as the quality of your reps – and the variety of your exercises. Here are several mobility movements that every lifter should be getting after as part of their warm-up, or in a separate daily session:
Deep Squat Mobility
4. Start Doing Cardio
Before you say it's a gainz-killer, hear me out. If you really want to be mature about the way you approach your training, you're going to have to stop compartmentalizing things and get away from the "here and now."
The plan should be to never stop training, and ideally to be able to train hard at any age. Your 405-pound bench press, 600-pound deadlift, and legs so thick you chafe your thighs may be impressive now, but they're not going to do much for your health-related fitness, i.e., your cardio-respiratory capacity, cholesterol levels, or risk for heart failure. You can only walk around as a 270-pound monster for so long without your body starting to fuss.
It's also pretty embarrassing when, despite being the strongest person in the room, you get winded walking up a flight of stairs or jogging for a bus. The tragic fact is that the diet methods that are often associated with getting as big or as strong as possible aren't always in sync with good total health.
Realize how important it is to not rely on weight training as your only form of fitness... especially if you don't train for conditioning.
Nick Tumminello said it best: "Don't be a sedentary lifter." Play a sport a couple times a week. Go for a half-hour run or swim. Hit the elliptical or rowing machine for 20 minutes post-workout. Your heart will thank you. And you'll probably feel pretty awesome, too.
5. Got All the Size? Stop Training for More
Seriously, don't become bigorexic. It's a thing. I've seen (and become prisoner to) the mindset where you're so steeped in gym culture and hypertrophy training that you don't realize just how much size you carry compared to the average person.
This is especially true if you're around hulk-beasts all day, every day. It can be a very easy snare to fall into, where the only thing that matters in your training is the potential to build more and more muscle. There needs to be a point where you learn to train for the maintenance of existing muscle rather than for the acquisition of more.
There definitely is a point where being more muscular provides no added value to you as a lifter, athlete, or functional human being. And if your livelihood doesn't depend on getting bigger and bigger, take a cool objective look at yourself and determine whether you really need to be XXXL instead of XXL.
Maybe, just maybe, you'll look even bigger if you drop some weight, get leaner, and give those bulging muscles room to shine.
Besides, if you're a muscle-bound meathead, it probably won't hurt to shed a few. You've put the time in to build strength and you've put the time in to get huge. Now stop. At some point it's smart to transition into wiser training and eating to be healthy for your age category.
6. Get Tune-Ups
If the name of the game is to train hard in the gym, multiple days per week, for the rest of your life, you're going to need additional treatment as time goes on. And I don't only mean for the inevitable unforeseen occurrences that cause flare-ups, short-term injuries, and the like.
I'm talking about pre-emptive care: preventative maintenance so that you can combat the mileage you're putting on your body from training hard, lifting heavy, and possibly not paying enough attention to recovery due to life's responsibilities.
I haven't met a 20-year veteran lifter who's had great results but never been injured or never had anything "bother" them in the form of chronic issues. These are speed bumps we'll all have to deal with as time goes on.
Look, you can drive a car into the ground without servicing it and it'll probably last quite some time before it revolts and gives you a huge middle finger. The same holds true for your body. The longer you train hard without letting a massage therapist or chiropractor take a look at your muscles and bones, the less likely it is your body will continue to perform optimally.
Start with a visit to both kinds of practitioners once a month. It's an investment that's worth digging deep for. You'll notice the difference once you do.
7. Diversify Your Exercises and Your Rep Ranges
It's not all about strength training and it's not just about the big four lifts.
If you really want to train like an adult, you should be paying attention to movements that exist in all planes of action – sagittal (like your squats and deadlifts), frontal (like Cossack squats, lateral lunges, and abduction movements), and transverse (like rotational landmine work, woodchoppers, and side-facing medball throws).
That opens up a massive list of exercises for you to choose from. Some of them will never be quantifiable in terms of how "strong" you are at them, but in my book, that's a good thing.
On that note, when it comes to the classic big lifts, no one's holding a gun to your head to go heavy or go home. Chase reps in your squats, bench, and deads using lower weight instead of constantly sticking to the heavy triples.
In the big picture, an adult should be held just as accountable for having good muscular endurance as he would be for having good muscular strength.