There is a famous scene in the movie Fight Club where the male leads discuss which historical figure they'd most like to meet, mano a mano. I have no interest in fighting anyone, but what about training? If I could take on anyone, historical or fictional, as a personal-training client, who would I choose?
The answer is easy – Santa Claus.
In Santa, you have an active senior with a high-stress, seasonal job, one that demands a ton of travel and the occasional all-nighter. And given the size of his renowned belly, not to mention his legendary penchant for cookies and sweets, Santa probably needs some help with his diet, too.
My training protocols for seniors don't differ much from those for the younger population. The central focus remains on developing the fundamental movement patterns (i.e., squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling) with compound, multijoint lifts such as lunges, push-ups and deadlifts. We also need to enhance core stability and low-back health. Where things get tricky is with recovery and programming.
There's a saying in the industry that overtraining isn't a problem, it's under-recovery we need to watch out for. This adage is even more applicable for seniors. Our hormones play a significant role in how quickly we bounce back from hard training sessions. As we age, hormonal production begins to decline. This is most clearly evident with women and menopause, however, men experience a significant drop in testosterone with each decade after 40.
Programming, or how we structure each training session, also looks different for seniors. You can beat the hell out of young kids with heavy, low-repetition lifting three or four days a week and they'll keep coming back for more. Do that with a senior – or the majority of adults older than 40, for that matter – and you'll end up facing a lawsuit. Maximal effort lifting places too much stress on the joints and the low back; combine that with the aforementioned lag in recovery owing to hormonal decline, and you're flirting with disaster.
For our friend Santa, or for anyone with a hectic schedule that doesn't leave a lot of time for exercise, I recommend two to four short total-body training sessions a week. Capping sessions at 40 minutes, warm-up included, ensures recovery doesn't get compromised while still providing plenty of stimulus for muscle growth. We'll hit all the major muscle groups and movement patterns every time we train, aiming for a high volume of repetitions each set (no less than 8 reps a set). Higher reps – what fitness pros call the hypertrophy, or muscle-building, range – demand lighter weights, and lighter weights mean less joint stress and quicker recovery.
Now, what about that fat belly? Fat comes in a couple of different forms. Those soft love handles you hate are a perfect example of what's called subcutaneous fat. This type of fat lies just below the surface of the skin and, while generally viewed as unattractive by societal standards, it doesn't necessarily pose a health risk. Visceral fat is a different story. This is the stuff sitting deep inside the abdominal cavity, surrounding internal organs. Visceral fat is often hard and too much of it can lead to serious health issues such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Regardless of which type we're dealing with, the best way to eliminate excess body fat is with a combination of resistance training, cardiovascular training and a calorie-restricted, plant-based diet. We've already covered the weight-training portion. For cardio, I love the rowing machine. You can easily scale the intensity of rowing to any goal or fitness level.
As for diet, for people who are always on the go, I'm all for supplementing with a protein-and-greens drink such as those offered by Vega or Progressive. These all-in-one whole foods supplements act like protein-packed multivitamins spiked with antioxidants, digestive enzymes and phytonutrients. Protein shakes can help to keep you feeling full between meals, meaning you'll be less likely to indulge in mindless snacking. Studies have shown seniors require more protein than the general population to mitigate the effects of muscle loss that naturally occur as we age. Aim for one gram of protein for every kilogram of bodyweight each day.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, here is my gift to all of you – a simple two-day training program to help you get a jump on 2018. Allow for 24-48 hours between sessions for maximum recovery and performance.
30-40 sec per arm