“What the hell?” I had asked checking my client’s pulse as she sat slumped against a gym wall.
Panting, the overweight sixty-year-old explained that after our intense workout she had decided to practice some fat-burning HIIT she had read about. She was trying hard to lose weight.
“No,” I had said, in a worried tone. “Working out like that AFTER our workout is counter-productive. You will only hurt yourself!”
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has produced great results in many people. It has also injured my knee and canceled a half-marathon I had trained for.
The same might be said for exercise systems like Cross Fit, plyometrics, Power Yoga, running and some martial arts like Tai Chi. They can hurt you when you are over 50 years old, even if you consider yourself physically fit. Do not get me wrong. I have the highest regard for these fitness systems, and they are great, if (and a really big if here) the older trainee has been trained properly and gradually.
If you’re over 50, take care and watch out for what I call The Faulty Five. These exercises are wonderful but as we age, it’s important to be more cautious when trying them. And it’s a good idea to work with a certified trainer at first and be sure to tell them about any prior injuries or sensitive areas.
1) Cross Fit
Cross Fit is an awesome system. It produces great results for sustained strength and endurance. But problems arise when people try too much, too soon, and use improper form. Even experts can blow it sometimes. For example, not long ago I had been getting good progress with a 12-week program until I was performing a combination of barbell cleans, overhead presses, back squats, press, front squats, and repeats. Like many, I became tired. My form got sloppy on my front squat, I started hurting, and, well no half-marathon that summer. As older people, we tire more easily. Don’t think like you’re twenty, even if you feel it. Rest between sets.
This type of training combines speed and force (and often jumps) to get results. It’s popular with athletes, special military forces, and some specific sports training where agility is needed. However, it’s very jarring. One false move and you’ll need days or even weeks to recover.
3) Skipping and running on hard surfaces
I’ve lost many good, middle-aged cardio kick-boxing students because they trained on cement floors, as well as runners to ran for years on pavement. When working out, stay on top of rubber surfaces to keep from wearing out joints. If you’re in your sixties, stick to grass, sand, and trails for runs. Have your vision checked regularly and be mindful of uneven surfaces. Another good reminder for me was meeting a former Olympics doctor who used to run over 90 miles a week. He now walks with the aid of canes.
4) Martial arts
Martial arts are usually well-rounded health and exercise systems. Again, don’t expect to drop into a full split like the kid’s class or the older instructor who has been training most of their lives. The over-stretching can form scar tissue and take a long time to heal. There are some very good and hard-as-nails older martial artists (like Ron Van Clief). Some in their 70’s and 80’s who have trained intensely all of their lives. Taking classes with older trainers who understand the aging body is a sensible option to avoid injury. Tai chi and other internal martial arts are very beneficial health-wise and I have seen them work in actual sparring. But do not be fooled by the gentle movements. It can be very hard work and the low stances are not for the weak. (While in Taiwan, I saw a guy in his sixties perform a form with low stances with a wine glass full of water balanced on his head.) In fact, I needed months of physiotherapy after dropping into a low stance without warming up properly.
5) Yoga. With yoga, it’s important not to attempt advanced postures without coaching or preliminary work. You can pull muscles just as easily as any sport as with yoga. Trust me on this as I have injured myself by being over-enthusiastic with yoga even in my younger years.
In summary, the over 50-year old’s body will generally not adapt or recover as quickly as a younger person’s body when undergoing intense, jarring, or body-shocking movements. Older muscles, tendons, and joints take longer to recover than their young counterparts. Train with lower weights, easier poses when beginning, and the progress will come.
About the Author
Doug Setter holds an Education Certificate (University of British Columbia) and Bachelor of Human Ecology (Food and Nutrition) from the University of Manitoba. He’s a certified trainer, kick-boxing welterweight titleholder and the author of seven books on fitness. Doug served in the Canadian Armed Forces as an infantry soldier and paratrooper as well as with the U.N. Peacekeeper forces. He’s climbed Mount Rainier and completed five full marathons. He’s the author of the book Fit Femme After 50 a portable guidebook to fitness with illustrations that demonstrate postures and poses to ensure accuracy of training. Each chapter of the book concludes with the real story of a woman’s exercise or family-life struggle and how they were helped by Doug’s program.
Learn more about Doug and his books and personalized training programs at www.2ndwindbodyscience.com or contact him at dougsetter(AT)gmail.com – Instagram @doug_setter, 778-837-3528 (Canada) for virtual training.