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Mark Rippetoe Answers: How Do You Keep Making Gains Past Age 40?

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If you want to know the best ways to keep making gains after age 40, without spending hours every day in the gym, taking a boatload of supplements, or destroying your joints, then you want to read this interview with Mark Rippetoe.

Key Takeaways

  1. As you get older, you need to decrease your volume (number of sets) and keep increasing the intensity (weight) on your big, compound lifts, to keep making progress.
  2. If you start lifting when you’re over 40, you won’t make as much progress as you would have if you started earlier, but you can still make significant gains.
  3. The best way to avoid getting injured when you’re older (and younger) is to learn how to squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press with proper technique.

Many people think that when you’re over 40 (or over 30 in New York City), the wheels start to fall off.

Weights that used to fly up suddenly feel glued to the ground.

You stop building muscle at all or even start losing muscle, despite lifting heavy and eating right.

Your joints fall apart just getting out of bed in the morning.

Others say that you don’t have to change anything about your training when you’re older, and they’ll quickly show you a video of an 80-year old powerlifter that would have made 20-year old you jealous.

Who’s right?

How can you keep making gains when you’re “over the hill?”

Well, I decided to ask the grandfather of barbell training, Mark Rippetoe, to get to the bottom of this.

In case you don’t know him, Mark is the bestselling author of Starting Strength and Practical Programming.

I’m a fan of Mark and his work, of course, because nobody has done more to promote, teach, and defend barbell training than Rip, and because he’s extremely disagreeable, which always makes for a fun conversation.

Plus, he’s old, which makes him the perfect guy to talk about making gains in your 40s (or 60s) and beyond.

Here’s his take…

(Rather listen to this interview instead? Click the play button below.)

Mike Matthews: So, in this interview, what I want to do is I want to talk about training for people when they start getting to the middle-aged years because I get asked about it a lot. A lot of guys and girls, actually, and women in their 40s and 50s and beyond are kind of worried that it’s almost too late to get into shape. You know, if they didn’t do it when they’re in their 20s, can they really do anything? In terms of guys, most guys that have this concern, they think that they can’t really build any muscle to speak of and that their hormones are all messed up now, and they won’t be able to get lean.

What can men and women in their middle-age years expect?

Mark Rippetoe: Well, let’s first define middle-age years. It’s been my experience that you have a relatively normal novice training response up until you’re in your early-to-mid 40s.

Mike: Okay.

Mark: Okay? In other words, there’s not that much difference between a 40-year-old guy and a 30-year-old guy in terms of how he responds to training and what constitutes too much volume and that sort of thing.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You take a guy that’s just starting out and he’s 40 years old, just put him on a regular program just like we normally talk about.

Mike: Right.

Mark: He can go three days a week. He’s probably gonna have to be a little more careful about getting enough sleep

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: But he can handle the three day a week volume. He can handle the normal novice progression as we describe it in our books –

Mike: Right.

Mark: Without any real alteration in volume load. Now, as a general blanket rule, here’s the deal, the older you get, the more sensitive you become to volume, to number of reps –

Mike: Right.

Mark: In a workout. Okay?

Mike: And would that also then apply –

Mark: This means that a guy that’s 60 years old is probably not going to be able to do three sets of five across three days a week.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: He could go two days a week. Volume is what we find that older people are more sensitive to. They just can’t recover from all of the reps, so –

Mike: So if we’re looking at 15 sets per week on a major muscle group. You’ve seen that –

Mark: Well, 15 work sets.

Mike: Yeah, 15 work sets. That’s your 15 heavy sets.

Mark: Say for instance, it’s gonna be more like 9 probably.

Mike: Yeah, yeah.

Mark: But you get up to where you’re 60 years old, we’re talking about 6 work sets per week instead of 9.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of people go through this process, and what strikes me as being the constant across all masters training … this is men, women, everybody, you have to curtail the volume, which means that a masters lifter can deal with the intensity –

Mark: In other words, heavy weight is fine. That’s not the problem. The problem is doing a bunch of sets with the heavy weight.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: I personally, for instance, right now I’m just trying to stave off death with my training. I squat one heavy set of five once every two weeks.

Mike: Wow, and you’re able to maintain with that.

Mark: Yeah, yeah. I can maintain with that. In fact, I make a little progress every once in a while. I’ll pull heavy once every two weeks. Last night, I deadlifted 435 for 5, and it was easy.

Mike: Nice.

Mark: Okay, but it’s going to take me a while to recover from that, which means that I’m going to be more sore than I would have been 20 years ago.

Mike: Right.  

Mark: It’s going to affect my other training more than it would have 20 years ago, so I’ve got to wait a little bit longer between now and anymore lower body work, any squats or deadlifts. I alternate Mondays. Every other Monday, it’ll either be heavy squats, heavy pulls, and I don’t do any other stuff –

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: For those movements except once a week, so I’ll pull heavy about twice a month.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I’ll squat heavy about twice a month, and that’s enough. If I try to go up in volume, and every once in a while I’ll forget everything I know just like people do, and I’ll try to go up in volume and add another set where I can’t get away with it.

Mike: Even if it’s in a higher rep range?

Mark: That’s right. Especially if it’s in a higher rep range.

Mike: Okay.

Mark: Let me say that again. Especially if it’s in a higher rep range. This is my point. Sets of 10 for guys my age, for master’s guys, are not a good idea.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Even if it’s only one set.

Mike: Going somewhere approaching failure as opposed to taking 50% of your one rep max and just kind of … it’s almost like getting a warm up.

Mark: Well, 50% of your one rep max is not a –

Mike: Yeah, it’s not enough. If you’re 70 to 75.

Mark: That’s not enough weight.

Mike: Exactly.

Mark: Set of ten load would be 70%, 75% of one rep max.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: 78% of one rep max, somewhere in there. Fifty percent of one rep max, a warm up set, it doesn’t really do anything.

Mike: Yeah. That’s what I mean…

Mark: Work weights for sets of 3, 5, 10, you can get away with triples and fives when you’re older. You can get away with perhaps a couple of triples or three triples across, maybe –

Mike: Right.

Mark: But when you get to where you’re handling sets of 10, it’s going to bother your knees. It’s just going to make you sore. The inflammation doesn’t go away as fast.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: My advice to older guys is to hold it down to sets of 5 and try to use as few of sets as you possibly can to get a training effect.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: You’ll be less sore. You’ll sleep better at night. You won’t tend to accumulate tendonitis. Your life will just be more pleasant while you’re training, but if you overestimate your recovery ability, then you will not have good luck with this. Your recovery ability is best taxed by a bunch of volume.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Don’t do 20’s. Don’t do 10’s. Hold it down to 5’s.

Mike: I’ve found that stuff rough even when I was in my early 20’s trying to do everything twice a week and trying to do all this volume, and training to failure all the time.

Mark: Right. Volume is training to failure all the time, a whole bunch of volume, 5 sets of 5 across. That’s a young man’s deal.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Older guys, look, you’re not going to have good luck with that. In fact, what we find is that when we put older guys on a linear progression, when we come in, test them the first day, 3 sets of 5 across. The second workout of the week, go up 5 pounds. They’ll get away with that for three or four months. They’ll go up. They’ll get stronger –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: But they’re going to peter out on that linear progress pattern a lot faster than a younger guy will, and if you go more than the first month doing 3 workouts a week instead of 2, you’re going to get burned out. It’s just too much to recover from.

Mike: Right.

Mark: Especially for an untrained older guy.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Recovery is trainable too. Your ability to recover will –

Mike: Improve over time.

Mark: Will improve over time, and that’s even true for an older guy, but there reaches a point of diminishing returns on that faster with older guys than there does with younger trainees.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: My advice to older people is to just … look, if you waited till you’re 58 to start working out, you fucked up. Okay? There are consequences to that. You cannot make as fast a progress as you could have if you had started doing this when you were 19, 20, 21.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You have to admit that you’re not going to approach your potential as closely as if you had started when you were –

Mike: Younger.

Mark: A kid.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Younger, with a better hormonal background to help you with your recover. All of that stuff is gone.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: It’s all gone. I’m sorry. It’s gone. You’re not a kid. You can’t pretend you’re a kid. There’s a price to be paid if you do.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Hundreds of reps of anything for an older guy is just hospitalization.

Mike: Absolutely.

Mark: That’s what that means. It’s not a good idea.

Mike: Yeah, I’ve run into a few guys in their 50’s, friends of mine, that started with CrossFit, even though I told them it’s not a good idea. They just got into weight lifting for the first time in their late 40’s or 50’s. Two in particular, one got hurt, and the other one wasn’t a bad injury. He was having nagging pains. He was approaching injury, and now he got out of that and now he’s just coming with me in the morning. He’s back to just what you’re saying, heavy lifting. He’s doing about 9 to 12 sets a week for each major muscle group, all just compound movements, and he’s doing amazing. He’s turning 50, and he just pulled 315 today. This is a guy who never really lifted. His first time ever even doing a deadlift was maybe four months ago, so –

Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike: I definitely have seen the same thing that you’re talking about. All the high-rep stuff, like I said even five, six, seven years ago, I found that taxing. I can only imagine what it would be like in a 50-year old body.

Mark: Well there’s a time to tax, and that time is when you’re in your middle, late novice period.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Your intermediate period. See what you can do.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Push it. Push the volume up.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: See what you can recover from. Tax it. Find your limit. Train at your limit because when you’re that age, you can get away with it.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: That’s how you build the big, giant, strong guy is pushing it to that limit. Finding where the limit is, extending the limit –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: But when you’re 58, when you’re my age, when you’re 60, 65, you just have to be realistic about what you’ve got.

Mike: Right.

Mark: What you’ve got is a completely different hormonal milieu than you did when you were 22. When I was 22, I could jump off of buildings for plyometrics and all it would do is make you stronger. That’s not now.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: That’s not now. Several things change as you get older. Obviously, the hormone situation changes. Your growth hormone, which helps you hold up connective tissues and stuff –

Mike: Your testosterone.

Mark: Testosterone, and it’s not that the levels are down, but the receptors are not as effectively responding to the presence of testosterone as they were when you were young.

Mike: Yeah. They could be down, depending on –

Mark: Transcription errors accumulate, you know? You don’t build things as effectively and in terms of the effects of accumulated training, you’ve accumulated injuries.

Mike: Right.

Mark: As a result of accumulated injuries, you’re in a minor level of pain all the time. This is a stress. That minor level of pain all the time, affects your ability to sleep effectively at night. You don’t get to sleep like you used to. If you medicate, the quality of sleep isn’t as good.

Mike: Right.

Mark: Nutritionally, you’re not as good at absorbing nutrients, most especially protein as you get older; therefore, you have to have a higher protein intake in terms of grams of protein a day –

Mike: Yep.

Mark: Per pound of body weight and the protein has to be of a higher quality.

Mike: Right.

Mark: You know, you can get away with Hoffman’s high protein soy flour when you were a kid, but as you get older, the protein has to be of a higher quality because you’re not absorbing as much of it as you were when you were younger. All of these things accumulate into the fact that you are not going to be as effective at recovering from training as you’re older. The training variable that seems to be the one that is the most hard to recover from with age is volume.

Mike: Right. I work with a lot of people, and I find even a lot of these young guys that are natural and they’re trying programs that are having them do, for instance, a medium volume … probably like a 12 to 15 set heavy workout for upper body, and then 12 to 15 set heavy for lower, and then doing that and then alternating in the same week with something about the same with a bit of a higher rep range, so like 8 to 10 rep range in their upper/lower, and they’re trying to run a program like that. Massive weekly volume. I’ve yet to come across a single natural weightlifter that’s been able to do it for any longer than a few months, regardless of age, and they also were in a calorie surplus. Forget about it if they’re in a deficit. People I’ve talked to –

Mark: Oh no. It’s not possible.

Mike: They were just miserable. They had to stop. Even in a surplus, I remember running into one person that said that they were able to do it for about three months in a surplus and progress –

Mark: And I mean a big surplus.

Mike: Yeah. Even at the end of that, though, they didn’t feel good, and they just stopped. They had to reduce weekly volume.

Mark: You know, you cannot run a high-volume program for more than 6 or 8 weeks at a time. It’s been my experience it doesn’t matter what you’re taking, doesn’t matter what you’re on, doesn’t matter what you’re eating. It just beats the shit out of you.

Mike: Yeah, it does.

Mark: At a certain point, the inflammation is going to accumulate faster than the gains are and then you got to quit, and that’s just the way shit is. You know?

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I don’t know anybody that’s been able to sustain an extreme training regimen like that for periods of time.

Mike: I’ve come across guys that are on a lot of drugs that … you’ve run those kinds of programs for longer periods of time, that’s for sure, but I don’t know if –

Mark: Yeah, they’re wonderful for that.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: That’s their primary function is to deal with the effects of overtraining. They help you recover. Once again, stress, recovery, adaptation is the cycle.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: If stress is inadequate, you don’t make progress. You don’t adapt. If recovery is inadequate, you don’t adapt. Both factors must be there, and the older you get, the easier it is to provide the stress or hurt, than it is to provide the recovery. That’s just biology.

Mike: Makes sense.

Cool, so then for the listener, just as a simple takeaway here is to understand that’s just how it is. In my experience, you have to listen to your body and see how your body responds, but you do have to know that your weekly volume –

How my program is laid out is it’s the same principles as yours. Heavy compound lifting. The split is just a little bit different. You’re doing upper/lower work and you’re doing a bit extra upper each week because most guys are like, for instance, the number one complaint is not enough chest. Their chest is too small. Chest is a bitch. If you don’t –

Mark: Yeah. It’s just if aesthetics are your deal, you’re going to have to bench twice a week.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You have to bench twice a week.

Mike: Exactly. That’s what I have and it’s just working that weekly volume to make sure that you’re not … just for the listeners in how Bigger Leaner Stronger is laid out, that weekly volume you should be fine with, but don’t get over zealous. I’ll get people that will write me like, “Hey, I’m doing two of these workouts a week. Do you think that’s a good idea?” No, that’s not a good idea to do 25 heavy sets, 80, 85% of one rep max per week. Not a good idea.

Mark: No. It’s hard to recover from that unless you’re taking a bunch of drugs.

Mike: Exactly.

Mark: If you’re going to take a bunch of drugs, everybody is going to respond a little bit differently to that. See what you can recover from. Just like if you’re not taking a bunch of drugs, there is a point in your training where you have to push the envelope to find out where the edges of it are.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: That is something that pretty much everybody that’s committed to their training does anyway. Just be aware of the reality of the fact that there is an edge to the envelope.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You know, if you mash on it too hard, you’re going to get hurt, and injuries set you back.   

Mike: Yeah, injuries suck. That’s the number 1. Avoid injuries. That’s key.

Mark: Avoid injuries. Go right up to the point where you’re going to make an injury, and then don’t do it.

Mike: Practically speaking, that means you’re going to go for that heavy pull and you’re creeping up, and then you feel your back starts rounding. You feel things are not where they need to be, put the weight down. Don’t try to show off and do something stupid.

Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. Getting injured is not how you get stronger. Not getting injured, but still pushing the envelope, helps you get stronger.

Mike: Yes. This is a good segway into my next question here, which relates to heavy lifting.  I’ve even had guys in their 30’s worry about this, but maybe more so in the 40’s and beyond, are kind of scared of certain exercises, especially when we’re talking about heavy weight like bench press, deadlift, squat, military press. The most important exercises, really, because they’re afraid that if they try to push any sort of weight, even if they work up to it, they’re going to get hurt. What’s your take on this?

Mark: What are your alternatives to the major exercises?

Mike: Well, machines and –

Mark: Which you can’t train.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You can’t train the non-major exercises. I think you and I talked about this in our original conversation. What’s the difference between training and exercise?

Mike: Right.

Mark: Training is a process by which you can affect change in the physical capacity of a system over time.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: It is the process that you design to produce changes in physical capacity over time, so marathon training is different from strength training. Right?

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Now, how do you make long-term progress on the leg extension machine?

Mike: You max out the …

Mark: You don’t.

Mike: And hurt your knees.

Mark: Right. The fact is you don’t.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Right? How do you make long-term progress on the pec deck? The answer is, “you don’t.” You cannot make long-term progress, in other words you cannot train isolated muscle groups because they won’t train. You can exercise them.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You can work them real hard, but you can’t train them. You can make progress on the main movements that you and I both advocate, the deadlift, the squat, the military press, the bench press. You can make progress on those movements for years. Years at a time; therefore, those are the ones that the program must be based on.

If you want to use some of the machines for assistance exercises –

Mike: Sure.

Mark: I don’t do it anymore, and I don’t even program it, but I understand that a lot of people do. I understand that a lot of people like doing that. A lot of people have gotten stuff out of it. I think that it’s probably, for the vast majority of people, a giant waste of time –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: But let’s assume that there’s a reason to do squats and then some other leg exercises, okay? The stuff you’re going to use for other legs is not going to be trainable in the absence of training the squat.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Now, what about safety, though, because that’s the concern that I run into. They think that squatting is unsafe because the guy’s 45 or something.

Mark: I don’t know what you do about that. I mean, if the guy doesn’t understand that squats are safe, then maybe his coach hasn’t shown him that squats are safe.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Squatting down and standing back up inherently is safe.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I mean, we use the toilet. The movement pattern itself, Mike, is perfectly safe, and all we’re doing is loading it.

Mike: And that’s where people have a misconception. They think that because they’re adding 200 pounds on their back, all of a sudden now their knees are going to blow out.

Mark: Right, which is hilarious because we don’t all of a sudden add 200 pounds, do we?

My take on it would be that any trainee that doesn’t understand that these movement patterns are perfectly safe has not been educated about it, and that’s the coach’s job.

Mike: Right.

Mark: The coach’s job is to make a new client understand, “No, I’m not going to hurt you. I do these movements myself. I do them with all my other clients. Nobody’s hurt. There’s nothing unsafe about it. Squats don’t hurt your knees because squats are a hips exercise. Squats don’t hurt your back because your back gets strong when you’re squatting. That’s why we squat.”

Mike: Yep.

Mark: No, it’s not an unsafe movement. Now, if you do something wrong and your form is incorrect, then yeah, you can get hurt, but my job as your coach is to keep that from happening.

Mike: Yes, and that’s the key there is that proper form –

Mark: Technique is the key to not getting hurt.

Mike: Yes. Even on the bench press.

Mark: A lot of people have squatted 800 without getting hurt, and we’re not going to take a personal training class … you know, these guys that are paying you by the month to train them, hell they’re happy with 405, 505 –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: And you don’t get hurt doing weights that are that light. You know, by the time you get to the point where the weight on the bar is more important than your ability to do the workout that day, you’re a competitive lifter.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: When you put yourself in a competitive frame of mind with any athletic endeavor, then winning becomes the primary concern, and safety becomes secondary.

Mike: Yes.

Mark: That’s what happens when you’re a competitor, you know?

If you’re a competitive tennis player, the same thing is true. You’re not concerned about getting hurt. You’re concerned about winning.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: This is what it means to compete. When we train people for fitness, we’re not doing it in a competitive –

Mike: Sense.

Mark: In a competitive way. Our emphasis always must be on technically-correct execution of these movements. If the movement is technically correct, then the potential for injury is very, very, very, very, very low.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: It’s not zero.

Mike: Yeah. It’s just that I talk about that in the book.

Mark: Obviously, it’s not ever zero –

Mike: No.

Mark: But it’s very, very, very, very, very low.

Mike: Yeah. Weight lifting is just not a very dangerous activity

Mark: No.

Mike: When done correctly.

Mark: Strength training is not a dangerous activity because the stress is distributed in these major exercises we advocate. The stress is distributed over a whole bunch of different joints.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: This is completely different than a leg extension, isn’t it? Where all of the stress is just on the knee –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: And not just the knee, but the anterior knee.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: You know, that is dangerous. Squatting is not, and if a guy doesn’t understand that, then he hasn’t had it explained to him correctly by his coach. That’s his coach’s job. Now, when the lifter, when the trainee, when your personal training client decides he wants to be a competitive lifter, then things are different –

Mike: Yes.

Mark: From that point on, when he enters the meet, then the emphasis is now different because he’s decided that he wants to do a total in front of the judges at the meet. He either wants to beat his personal record that he set himself under similar conditions or he wants to beat somebody else.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: When you want to beat somebody, the emphasis is now not on safety. It’s on winning. What we do for clients is we show them the correct way. We teach them why it’s correct. We explain to them that which they need to know.

Mike: And teach patience. That it takes time to build strength.

Mark: Certainly. You teach them about training. Training’s a process.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Yeah. We’re going to squat every day you train for a long time because that’s what works. If you’re not up for the boredom or if making progress bores you, then perhaps you’re not cut out for this. Not everybody needs to be training. Some people need to do CrossFit.

Mike: Yeah, or just exercise. Do a workout.

Mark: Or just exercise. P90X. Do something different every day.

Mike: Yeah. Move your body.

Mark: Burn some calories. Wiggle around, you know. Get hot, sweaty, and tired. Whatever you want to do, but when you’ve graduated to the idea that a process must be invested in in order to achieve a goal, then you’re training. You the coach direct that activity. If you don’t know how to do it, then you’re not a coach; you’re just a trainer.

Mike: Yeah. I totally agree. Just the last point on this safety thing is, for instance, so we talked about the squat, the bench press because the line out there is that bench pressing is bad for your shoulders or military pressing is bad for your shoulders and, again, just so the listener understands, this is regardless of age … it’s not that bench pressing is not only for 20-year olds. Even with proper form, all of a sudden, if you’re 40 and you’re starting working out, that you can’t bench press or you’re going to blow your shoulders out. Do you know what I mean? That’s an area that people are concerned about, at least that I hear about, that the shoulders, in particular, and if you keep your form in and you don’t flare your elbows out, you don’t roll them, you don’t do all the stupid things that people do, and you use the weight that you can handle, would you agree Mark that it’s just like any other movement? It’s a safe movement. It’s not –

Mark: Yeah, I mean, the way that we describe the bench press in Basic Barbell Training is a safe way to bench press.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I would add that if you are doing both the bench press, as a lift, and the press, as a lift –

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: And we recommend for our strength training emphasis people, not competitive powerlifters, obviously, we recommend that a one-to-one emphasis bench press to press be observed.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Under those circumstances, no, you’re not going to have any trouble with your shoulders. People that have trouble with their shoulders were competitive powerlifters with an anterior emphasis on the bench press –

Mike: That makes sense.

Mark: We don’t see shoulder problems with people that do one-to-one bench and press.

Mike: Yeah, and the pulling probably helps too, right, so you don’t get your posture all messed up and so your back muscles do what they’re supposed to do.

Mark: Right.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I mean, there’s a reason why we’ve carefully chosen the five basic exercises that we use.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: There’s a very good reason why we teach them precisely the way they’re taught. Believe it or not, we’ve thought about this really hard, and what we’ve arrived at is a way for people who are interested in general strength and conditioning to perform these exercises at their optimum efficiency for long-term progress. It works.

Mike: Yeah. It’s sustainable for your entire life. That’s –

Mark: Sustainable for decades. Decades.

Mike: The great thing about it. Do you think that any sort of special measures should be taken to preserve joint health as you get older? Like maybe things that reduce inflammation, fish oil, spirulina

Mark: Oh, I think you probably take fish oil and glucosamine chondroitin worked for probably half the people that take them.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I’ve seen different numbers on that.

Mike: That’s what the research shows. It’s kind of –

Mark: I think some people are able to absorb that molecule and transport it and other people are not. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s digestive environment, transport environment, receptor site environment. I don’t know.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Everything I’ve seen shows that glucosamine chondroitine worked for a percentage of the population, and they don’t work for me. MSM, I don’t know anybody that works for, but there may be somebody that claims they get an effect out of that. There’s all kinds of these supplements that –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: The vast majority of supplements –

Mike: Are a waste of money.

Mark: Are a waste of money, best I can tell. They’re a waste of money. I think everybody needs to be taking some fish oil. Not a bunch, but a little bit of fish oil. Everybody probably should take anywhere from a half gram to a gram of vitamin C every day.

Mike: Yep. Vitamin D.

Mark: I think, occasionally, a strong multivitamin is useful every three or four days. I think creatine is probably a good idea for most people.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: Our nutrition guy has recently convinced me that BCAAs are a real good idea, after you train. I think a lot of people spend a lot of unnecessary money on supplements.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I think training and enough calories to recover, quality of sleep, all of these things are very, very anabolic.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Any other things for joint health? For instance, I like when I’m squatting, not knee wraps, but I like knee sleeves.

Mark: Sleeves. Yeah. That’s what I was going to recommend. A lot of people, especially if they’ve been training a long time, can benefit from either a knee sleeve or a light wrap that just provides a little compression around the joint.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I’m not talking about powerlifting type 5-meter knee wraps that acts as an exoskeleton. A little bit of compression –

Mike: It keeps the joint warm.

Mark: It keeps the joint warm. It just holds the tendons in place. It just makes it so you can squat without pain.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: If your knees are bothering you, the first step to do is a sleeve. If they continue to bother you, the second step would be to put on a light wrap. This, of course, assumes correct technique.

Mike: Right.

Mark: This assumes correct technique because the number one cause of knee pain when you squat is front squatting your squats.

Mike: Right.

Mark: The squat properly performed is a hips movement. It won’t bother the knees at all. Now, if you’ve been squatting for years and your knees are chronically inflamed, and that happens with a lot of people, then –

Mike: Or from like a bunch of running. I’ve run into that –

Mark: Yeah. God almighty. Running is a much worse problem for knees than squatting is. Oh, God almighty, yes. You know, once you start getting a tendonitis accumulated in your joint, it’s real difficult to control.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: It really, really is. You can take all the anti-inflammatories you want, but changes have started to take place in the connective tissue and it’s just real bad. The thing to pay attention to is technique. Stay out of your knees when you squat. Put it on your hips –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Where the stress belongs. Put it on your back, where the stress belongs.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: Stay out of your knees, and you won’t have any knee trouble.

Mike: I found that some mobility type work can help. I don’t know if you found that, but –

Mark: I haven’t found that, no, but I know it’s very, very popular. I know people are not going to pay any attention to me when I say that, but I think stretching is highly overrated and a giant waste of time. In fact, I just had an article appear at our friends at PJMedia.com about this. The three best ways to waste time in the gym. Way #1 is to do 30 minutes of stretching before you train –

Mike: Yeah, yeah. No, I’m not talking about that. I’m actually not a fan of stretching either. I mean more like … I’ve gotten help in my own, like my VMO is very, very tight in my right leg, and it would mess with my knee sometimes. Doing foam rolling, it doesn’t feel good, but –

Mark: Eh, I don’t know. I’ve got my problems with foam rolling.

Mike: Oh, yeah.

Mark: I can explain my problem with foam rolling here in just a second, but the second way to waste a bunch of time in the gym is with excessive warm up.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: If you’re doing 20 minutes on the rower before you –

Mike: Yeah, what’s the point?

Mark: You’re doing two minutes of warm up and eighteen minutes of conditioning, and we’re here to train. We’re not here to do conditioning.

Mike: Yeah. You’re wasting energy.

Mark: You’re wasting energy, and you’re wasting time.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: The third way to waste time is to come in and do the same weight every time you come in.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: You’re not making progress when you do that.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: Now, I am a big believer in the effectiveness of active-release therapy. I have had it done myself. I know too many people who have, in the hands of a competent therapist, released say an IT band.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: Knee mechanics were immediately improved, and pain went away.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: There are lots and lots of examples of this. Shoulder flexibility is much, much more quickly and positively affected by an active-release type massage than it is for all the stretching in the world.

Mike: Yes.

Mark: People are much more effectively increasing their flexibility in their shoulders in the hands of a good therapist.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Here’s the problem with foam rolling, as I see it. If you do not have an element of sheer force being applied to the tissues by the hands of the therapist, then you’re not going to break anything loose. In other words, active-release therapy is predicated on the idea of applying a sheer force with the hands through the skin into the connective tissue that actively stretches and breaks loose adhesions and that sort of thing.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Moves things in relation to the underlying tissues. You understand what I mean by that?

Mike: Sure.

Mark: I hope I’m expressing myself clearly.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Foam rolling is compressive only.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: It feels like the same thing, but it’s not. It feels like the same type of pain. Yeah, there’s the mashing component, but it completely eliminates the sheer component and, as a result, it just mechanically doesn’t do the same thing –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: As an active-release treatment does.

Mike: I’ve found that. I actually see a massage therapist. She worked on Olympic rowers for many years and then worked on cyclists, so she understands anatomy, understands also it’s not a feel-good massage.

Mark: Right. Right.

Mike: She kind of just beats the shit out of me, but I definitely get more out of that than anything I could do on myself. I have noticed using a Lacrosse ball or certain muscles that I was able to apply enough force to with a foam roller, especially on my quads and stuff. Maybe they were just so tight that was just the way it was.

Mark: Well, It could be. You know, a lot of people report a lot of positive stuff with foam rolling. I found it to be kind of a trendy deal, and my natural tendency is to not be trendy. I don’t see the reasoning there. By the same token, I’ve got theracanes laying all over the place. I get little spasms in my back, and direct compressive therapy on a muscle spasm does, in fact, break the thing up. When I think of foam rolling on the legs, I tend to think of people trying to do an active-release type of therapy on themselves and the mechanics are completely different. There are gray areas here. That’s just my impression of foam rolling. If you can’t figure out a way to –

Mike: Put enough force.

Mark: Stretch the tissues and sheer –

Mike: Yeah. I found even using a barbell in the gym on my quads even helped. Didn’t feel good, but I was able to put enough force on it where I could –

Mark: Well, you might have been able with a barbell to produce a little sheer. I don’t know.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I have a tendency to –

Mike: Yeah. I’m with you. It is kind of –

Mark: Think of all of that stuff as just kind of a trendy waste of time, you know.

Mike: It’s cool to bring in your bands in the gyms and look like you’re all professional.

Mark: Awe yeah. These flossing rubber bands and all this other shit. Yeah. That very, very fashionable tape everybody smears all over themselves.

Mike: The placebo tape.

Mark: The placebo tape. That is really neat because you get to shave. It gives you a reason to need to shave, and that’s very trendy as well. I, of course, don’t shave. It would take too long.

Mike: I’ve never tried the placebo tape. Never had a reason to.

Mark: Some things are distasteful. I don’t play the lottery, either. I’m just ideologically opposed to it, so –

Mike: All right. You talked a little bit about this already, but what are some of the strategies that middle-aged people can use to make sure they don’t over train or get hurt. We talked about reducing weekly volume or making sure that weekly volume isn’t too high, but have you come across any other tips like maybe some sort of periodization where they’re not going heavy, heavy every week necessarily or more frequent deloading or something like that?

Mark: Well, I think that people that have been training a long time have got to use some variation in their loading cycles.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: That’s just obvious. That’s, you know, an advanced trainee –

Mike: Yep.

Mark: No matter how old or young he is, will not respond to linear loading patterns. You can’t go up 5 pounds every time beyond a certain point. At that point, you have to start cycling your loading. That’s just … duh.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: So, yeah. If you’ve got a 68-year-old novice, no.

Mike: Yeah, or even let’s say a novice in his 40’s.

Mark: Novice in his 40’s, that’s not called for. Just do the novice loading until it doesn’t work anymore.

Mike: Right.

Mark: When it quits working, then we’ll worry about getting complicated, but until complex is necessary, simple is more logical.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: It’s more efficient.

Mike: Yep. If somebody is running into some issues, I guess those are two obvious things they could do. There could be a more frequent deload. I mean, I don’t see any reason why that would hurt. What are your thoughts on that?

Mark: Well, I don’t see any reason for anybody to deload unless there’s a reason to deload.

Mike: Oh, I find probably after 8 to 10 weeks … I also do some real heavy, powerlifting type –

I work in some really heavy and some middle and a little higher rep stuff, but I found in my body and working with a lot people … you’ve worked with a lot more people … it’s an interesting point because I find that a lot of people, somewhere around the 8 to 10 week mark if they’re every week hitting those heavy compound lifts, a lot of people start to feel … maybe not so much in the novice, but more in the intermediate after they have some experience under their belt, they start getting the overreaching, overtraining types of feelings. You know, kind of fatigued in the gym, everything feels really heavy, sleep gets a little bit messed up, then a week deload, come back fresh, ready to go.

Mark: Well, the first indications I have of that with people that I’m involved in training, the first things we examine before we start talking about altering training is “Are you sleeping enough?”

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: “Are you eating enough calories?”  Usually, they’re not doing enough of either one.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Usually, they’re undereating.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Either protein is being under supplied, they’re trying to operate at a calorie deficit. That’s the first thing you do. Rule that out.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Rule that out.

Mike: Sometimes that’s necessary though.

Mark: Here’s another thing about this. The most common novice mistake is not resting long enough between sets.

Mike: Yes.

Mark: Because if you’re only resting 2 minutes between your work sets of squats, guess what? You’re not going to make all of the reps of your last set.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: The first thing you have to do is rule out the most common novice mistakes; undersleeping, undereating, and under resting between sets. Once those things have been accounted for and we are still having problems, and it may be necessary to do a reset, but far more common are the three most-egregious novice mistakes.

Mike: Yes.

Mark: Now, once that’s all been sorted out, yeah, it may be necessary to reset. Do a deload, or move on to more complicated programming, like intermediate programming.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Go to a 4-day a week split, something like that, but until that’s absolutely necessary, and that involves a correct analysis of what’s taking place every day in the gym, then don’t monkey around with programming that we know works for a very long period of time under optimal circumstances. You have to make sure the circumstances are optimal.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: If it turns out that, yeah, it’s necessary to change things up, then change them up. Sure.

Mike: Sometimes, for instance, in a calorie deficit, if a person is starting out at a high body fat percentage and that’s what they need to do, then they just got to be aware that’s going to affect their ability to recover. That might mean that they might not be able to go as long before they have to dial it back, just give their system a rest.

Mark: I’m a big fan of eating more.

Mike: Yeah. We’ve talked about that.

Mark: I’m a big fan of eating more. Training builds muscle mass, you know?

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Fat can be dealt with later.

Mike: Yeah, for sure. At that point though, no matter how fit you are, it’s going to be different, as you know. When you’re in a deficit, it’s not the same.

Mark: No. If you’re in a calorie deficit for whatever reason, the first thing you have to dial back, once again –

Mike: Volume.

Mark: Is volume.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: First thing that must go. It’s like artificial age.

Mike: Yeah. It’s just your body’s ability –

Mark: It’s like artificial age.

Mike: Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it. What are your thoughts on upper ceilings of weight? We kind of talked about this a little in the last one, but how it relates to age. Are there any numbers … and I think I know your answers on this, but I’ve been asked, so I’m going to ask you it. Are there certain numbers where you would say, “Well, a guy in his 40’s or 50’s or whatever. Here’s something to shoot for, but if you start going beyond these numbers in your pulling, in your squatting, in your pressing, it might not be a good idea. It might increase risk of injury.”

Mark: No. There’s not any way to give specific quantitative numbers for that. It’s so thoroughly varies on the individual.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Some people are freaks.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You know, some people are freaks. Stan Effry ; he’s a freak. The guy’s an amazing physical specimen. He’s a older guy, big, strong. Even he watches his volume.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Every once in a while, some untrained 50-year old guy walks in the gym, becomes a freak.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: You know, he’s just got that type of physical potential. He’s got the genetics. He’s got the ability to display those genetics effectively because of his ability to manage his lifestyle and his training, and he turns into a freak.  Most commonly, if you’ve waited past the age of 30 to start your training, you’re not going to be anywhere close to the potential that you would have shown had you started when you were 19.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: I guess this is obvious to me to the point where I don’t even know why we have to talk about it, but it’s a popular topic.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark:How strong can I get?” I don’t know.

Mike: I know.

Mark: Let’s see.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: You know, how much time and resources and attention are you willing to devote to it?

Mike: Yeah, and what’s are your genetics? Like you said –

Mark: What are your genetics?

Mike: I see some of these guys in the gym, I’ve seen where skinny little guys … I’ve seen it a couple of times where it was actually just confusing. This skinny dude was bench pressing 315 for reps like it was nothing, and he probably weighed 160 pounds. I was just like, “What am I even witnessing?”  How is that –

Mark: Yeah. Well, any time you start to wander about the amazing nature of human potential and the “you can’t tell by looking” phenomena –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Just remember Mike MacDonald from back in the late 70’s.

Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mark: Mike McDonald benched 600 at 198 –

Mike: That’s insane.

Mark: With a 15-inch arm.

Mike: Yeah, that’s –

Mark: You just, you know, you can’t tell by looking.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: I’ve had my ass completely handed to me on several occasions by guys that didn’t look like they could do it. You can’t tell by looking. I don’t know how strong you can get. Let’s find out.

Mike: That’s the point.

Mark: That’s all there is to it. Find out.

Mike: And that age, you don’t have to worry so much, right?

Mark: “How do you make it possible to get as close as you can to your physical potential?” Well, you completely rearrange your life to facilitate adaptation. To the extent you’re able to do that, you will express the greatest percentage of your genotypic potential, but there are so many other variables. We don’t call it genetic potential anymore because that’s just one aspect of the –

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: One aspect of the ability to express that. It’s far more than genetic potential. There are so many other factors at play. We just call it physical potential.

Mike: Right.

Mark: What would constitute the perfect example of the ability to express an individual’s physical potential? Well, you’d have to get him when he was 9, and you’d have to teach him the things you needed him to know. You’d have to carefully watch what he was doing, and by the time he gets to about Tanner stage 4, when he’s 13, 14, then you start loading it. You take advantage of the fact that every month his testosterone levels are a little bit higher level than they were the previous month. His loading goes up.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You offer him absolute perfect nutrition. Absolute perfect rest environment.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: No other physical distractions other than the thing that you’re trying to train him to do. Under those circumstances, you would probably approach a high percentage of his “genetic” potential because you managed all of the environmental effects that govern the phenotypic expression of the genotype.

Mike: Right.

Mark: Now, take a guy that’s 50. Think about that. Compare the two circumstances, and you’ll see the problem.

Mike: Yeah. I guess the takeaway on that though for the guy that’s 50 is don’t despair. You can still –

Mark: Don’t despair. I mean –

Mike: Push yourself. You know –

Mark: The takeaway is what are you going to do, nothing?

Mike: Yeah. You can train hard, and as long as you’re smart and you keep your form in and you don’t do anything stupid –

Mark: Absolutely.

Mike: You don’t have to limit … basically what you come across sometimes is some guys think that even if they’re building up strength, they shouldn’t go “My so and so … My doctor told me that I shouldn’t ever bench press more than 185 pounds or I’m going to hurt my shoulder.”

Mark: That’s a rather arbitrary distinction.

Mike: Exactly. No that’s not true. Build up the strength –

Mark: It’s absolute stupidity.

Mike: Yes.

Mark: It’s absolutely silly. I’ve been doing this for 37 years, and I can’t tell you how much you can safely bench. Your doctor, who doesn’t know anything about either you or the bench press, decided on 185? What the hell?

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You know?

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: God, I don’t know. Pretty strange.

Mike: Yeah, exactly. It is strange. I just wanted listeners to know the point is you can train. The training experience isn’t so much different, but the weight that you’re going to be able to eventually push, pull, and press is not going to be in squat. It’s not the same if you’re starting later, than when you’re starting younger, but you can still go in the gym and put in work. You don’t have to be afraid –

Mark: Right.

Mike: “I’d better not squat more than this number because I’m going to hurt myself.” You know what I mean?

Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike: Yeah. Great. Awesome. Well those were the main points that I wanted to cover.

Mark: Cool.

Mike: Is there anything else you think the listeners should know about what we’ve talked about?

Mark: I think, probably, the thing to remember about the general topic of older people training is that: A) you have to train. Your option is not training and then there you are.

Mike: Yeah. Then your body – Yeah.

Mark: You don’t get strong. You don’t get anything accomplished. B) if you hurt when you’re training and you’re old, you’re going to hurt anyway. What would you rather do? Hurt and be strong or hurt and be weak? You know, pain is just part of getting old. It’s just, “grow up” that’s just all there is to it.

Mike: Right.

Mark: And C) the variable you have to manage and you have to take the most trouble with is volume. Don’t try to do too much. Don’t for a minute think that you’re 20 again.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You’re not. One of the biggest problems we see with older guys that were former athletes that start back training is the last experience they had with training was training in an 18-year-old body.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You can’t do that anymore.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: You have to listen to your coach. Your coach knows more about this than you do. He’s had more recent experience training people in your demographic –

Mike: Right.

Mark: And since you’re older and you can afford it … point 4, get a coach. Ask somebody that knows more about this than you do to help you with it. It’ll pay enormous dividends.

Mike: Yep.

Mark: May seem expensive at first, but it’s not as expensive as surgery.

Mike: Right.

Mark: So, find a competent coach. Starting Strength coaches can be found at startingstrength.org.

Mike: Yeah.

Mark: We are a growing network of competent coaches. I assure you that anyone holding the certification, Starting Strength Coach, is competent to help you.

Mike: Yeah, and that’s also a segway. That’s where people can find you and find your work.

Mark: Find me at startingstrength.com. Find a coach at startingstrength.org.

Mike: Okay. Cool. Perfect.

Mark: Starting Strength Association website is startingstrength.org.

Mike: Great, and then of course people are going to know I recommend Starting Strength among some of your other works, as well, but the book, Starting Strength, of course, you can just buy wherever you buy books.

Mark: Amazon or on startingstrength.com.

Mike: Yep. Okay. Awesome. Well, thanks a lot for taking the time, Mark. I’m really glad –

Mark: Sure Mike, any time.

Mike: We were able to do this, and I look forward to the next one.

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What’s your take on making gains past age 40? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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