Published January 12, 2011
Aging is typically associated with fatigue and weakness. Why? Are these inevitabilities of aging or a result of lifestyle changes that occur alongside aging? There are plenty of examples of athletes defying age.
Brett Favre, at the age of 39, signed a two-year, $25-million contract. At the age of 44, MMA fighter Randy Couture was the heavyweight titleholder.
Aging is inevitable, but dwindling muscle mass doesn’t need to be.
Most guys over 40 can actually reverse the loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging, and do it in less time than they think. With many guys juggling 40+ hour work weeks, families and a dwindling social life, there isn’t a lot of time to waste on marginally effective exercises.
High-quality exercises are those that hit a lot of muscles groups at the same time. By building a training program around these exercises you can strengthen all the major muscle groups of your body in the shortest amount of time. These exercises also result in a greater energy expenditure and a more favorable hormonal response, meaning you’ll build more muscle, get stronger and burn more fat.
A chin-up differs from a lat pulldown in that it necessitates the use of your core to stabilize your lower body. This makes it a superior exercise for training your upper back, arms, forearms, and core musculature. If you can’t do a set of chin-ups on your own, you have a couple of different options. You can start by jumping to the “up” position, then focus on lowering yourself down slowly. Over time you’ll build the strength to get up with smaller jumps, and then eventually just be pulling yourself. Another option is to have a partner help “unload some weight” by spotting your lower back while you go up and down. A third option is to throw a thick band around the bar and stick your knees in it. The band will stretch as you go down, providing some help at the bottom, which is where most people struggle the most.
2. One-leg dumbbell deadlift
The one-leg dumbbell deadlift shares a lot of the benefits of a traditional deadlift. However, the one-leg deadlift trains your balance and works the muscles on the outside of your hip more than the traditional version. It’s a great exercise for guys over 40 any time, but especially when beginning a new training program, because it’s not loaded as heavy as a traditional deadlift and lets you slowly build core strength, while training a functional movement pattern.
3. Standing cable rotational pull-into-push
This exercise can be performed with a long bar (as in the video) or with a rope. You turn your hips all the way in at the beginning, then rotate powerfully all the way around, transferring the force through your core and following through with your upper body. It’s a great rotational core exercise, teaching power transfer from the hips to the shoulders. If you’re a golfer, this is a must-include in your program.
This under-respected exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen the chest, shoulders and triceps in a functional pattern. Like the low pulley row, the push-up allows full movement of the shoulder blades, unlike a bench press or dumbbell chest press. Coordinated movement of the upper arm and shoulder blade is essential to keeping the shoulders strong and pain-free.
5. Low pulley row
One of our favorite upper-body exercises, the low pulley row helps build a strong upper back while also teaching proper movement of the shoulder joint and shoulder blades. This can help cut back on shoulder pain, which is pretty prevalent among older guys, especially those who spend a lot of time in the gym.
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6. Reverse lunge
This is another great lower body exercise and it’s easy to learn. Unlike the deadlift and squat, which take a bit more coaching to get the hang of, almost everyone can do a perfect reverse lunge within minutes of seeing the exercise. Taking a large step back and pulling through the heel of your front leg will help strengthen your hamstrings and glutes. This can also be done by holding dumbbells, which helps to strengthen your forearms. Improving grip and forearm strength can help prevent musculoskeletal problems of the hand/forearm muscles from excessive typing (i.e., carpal tunnel syndrome).
7. Back leg raised split-squat
This exercise is the king of lower-body training. Because it’s a single-leg exercise, it won’t be loaded as heavy as a two-leg exercise such as a traditional squat. Lower loading to the spine can help preserve back health in the long run. However, people almost always perform this exercise more on one leg than half of their back squat max. In other words, if someone could back squat 400 pounds for one rep, they can back leg raised split-squat 200 pounds for more than one rep. The result is a greater load to the legs, without the deleterious effects of excessive spinal loading.
The squat-to-press is a great full-body exercise, targeting your leg and hip musculature, core and shoulders. The only downside of this exercise is that the weight you use will be limited by what you can press, which is substantially less than what you could squat.
The deadlift is arguably the best full-body exercise. It takes leg strength and power to initiate the movement and core and upper back strength to transfer that power to the bar. If you have strong legs and a weak back, the bar won’t budge.
10. Standing cable pull/push
This is one you don’t see in many gyms. The standing cable pull/push is the poster child of functional movement. Whether you’re walking or swinging a golf club, one arm typically moves in the opposite direction of the other. This exercise strengthens the upper back, biceps and posterior shoulder on one side, and the chest, triceps and anterior shoulder on the other, while teaching core stability and proper rotation through the upper spine. Admittedly, the standing cable pull/push is not a superior exercise to the deadlift; it wins the No. 1 title for its uniqueness. Despite common practice, if you only picked one or two exercises to help you build muscle and lose fat, you’d get the most bang for your buck with full-body exercises like the squat-to-press and deadlift, not upper-body exercises.