30 Over 30

Posted on: November 28th, 2017 by Karl Gellert No Comments

Barbell - Propel Performance Institute - EdmontonI never thought it would happen to me. Getting old, I mean.

In the eyes of many of you, at the ripe old of age of 30 rotations around the sun, I may not be actually that old. However, as my body frequently likes to remind me, the days of my thought to be invincible 20’s are long gone.

They’ve been replaced by: joint pain, complaining about young people’s music, and the thrill of chasing big weights followed by the next day’s regret of chasing big weights.

You see, for most of my “fitness life” I’ve chased bigger numbers. I want to squat, bench and deadlift more, do more chinups, have bigger arms etc. and for the most part, I still do. Because if I don’t have a goal, I really have nothing to train for, and then I get bored.

However, I’ve had somewhat of a paradigm shift over the last 2 years. During my brain’s infrequent breaks between thinking about Star Wars (18 days wooooooooo!) and new ways to torture my friend/editor Erin with increasing frequency, I’ve been thinking about what I really want from my training in the next decade (and beyond). Why am I doing this and for what?

This thought process started years ago, when one of my my clients (Hi Wendy!) brought up an interesting observation to me. She asked me how many men over forty don’t have large beer guts, let alone are actually in shape? Maybe because I don’t spend that much time looking at 40 year old men it was something of a revelation to me, because the more I looked around, the more I realized she was right.

Granted, this was about 6 years ago, so times have changed a little but not that much. What happens at middle age that causes this? One could guess many factors: busy work life, kids, social obligations etc. which leads to the aforementioned beer gut having 40 year old telling me about how he “used to bench 315lb for reps when he was my age”.

Cue Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen.


I don’t want to be that guy and I don’t want you to be either. Age will slow you down but it’s hardly the excuse people make it out to be. I get the lack of time but this too can be worked around, you just have to realize you can’t do everything you want to.

I kicked this around in my brain, figured out exactly what I want in the new phase of my life and came up with these four rules:

1.Strong enough to move a couch (or two)

I’ve never claimed to be the strongest guy in the world but I have my dignity. My “strength at any cost” mindset has faded as the injuries from this unbalanced way of thinking took hold, it’s still a major priority.

Nobody lifts weights to get weaker – Jay Feruggia

I want you to read this quote, and if it doesn’t sink in, read it again because I’m very confused by the fitness industry these days. I love conditioning (well no I don’t, but the idea is great), see point 3 but if you don’t have the strength behind it why are you even working out?

We moved in the summer and we hired a moving company. During my split shift on a morning when I had woken up at 5am and had to go back to work in the evening I went to “assist”, a.k.a make it go faster so we pay less money.

I won’t mention the name of the company but let’s just say I was disappointed by our movers. I’m fairly sure I alone did double the work they did and my wife (who also lifts and is pretty strong by my standards) did as well.

Neither of us do a program for “functional” strength but we were both stronger than them and lasted a lot longer too. I’d be a pretty kick ass mover, if I do say so myself.

If you want “functional” strength, your workouts HAVE to based around some kind of squats, deadlifts, presses and rows with the intention of getting better at them on a weekly basis.

Otherwise you end up as a 35 year old man who has trouble moving a couch. Which if you ask me, is…. Not good.

2. Athletic enough to run a few routes

Look, I get it – you’re probably not going to be in “game shape” again. Remember when you were a kid and you could play pickup basketball all afternoon no issue? Pretty sure if I played basketball for five hours today you’d need to put me in cryostasis for five days to recover.

You’re probably not ever going to be at that point again, but what I want is for you to be in good enough shape to at least play a couple games of 21 without having to take the next day off work.

Cardio, or conditioning, needs to be done at least 3 times a week. This doesn’t mean a 40 minute slog through the neighbourhood but a 5 – 10 minute “dessert” at the end of your workout.

I vastly prefer HIIT (high intensity interval training) to steady state (the aforementioned 40 minute slog) but both have their place. HIIT should be done at the end of your training and should be something that is easy on your joints and won’t leave you a corpse the next day.

Here’s a couple examples:

Battle ropes: 5 rounds, 20 seconds on/40 seconds off

Sled Pushes (or drags) 5 x 40 yds /w your bodyweight in plates on the sled

Rower: 1000m as fast as possible

No one’s saying you have to run a marathon or suit up for the Eskimos tomorrow but you should be able to run a few routes without coughing up a lung, if only to show your punk kids that you still can.

3. Look like you work out

I, like many of you my age or older, grew up idolizing Arnold (if you read that and said “Arnold who?” you may promptly leave now). Whether you like him or not, there’s no denying the effect he had upon fitness and pop culture. I read his Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding about 100 times cover to cover and chose the “advanced contest prep routine” because, as a 16 year old who couldn’t bench 90lb, that was obviously the best choice.

Anyway, my dreams of looking like Arnold died a long, long time ago but that doesn’t mean I’m going to jump on the new “functional fitness” fad that’s going around these days. The one where people “practice their technique” every workout, don’t work their arms because it’s not “functional” and spend 35 minutes doing mobility and activation drills.

Look. I’m not entering a bodybuilding show anytime soon (and that’s cool if you want to), but why would you want to workout if you don’t actually visually see any results? I mean, you do you, but personally I’d like to see some muscle at least sometimes.

That means while we’re not going for any world records you have to meet a couple of guidelines:

Do at least 10 reps of your bodyweight on a bench press variation

10 unbroken chinups

Squat or deadlift variation for at least 2x your bodyweight

These are a little bit more “strength” – ish than hypertrophy-based, but if you can do these pretty simple things you’ll have a decent enough base.

When you do more isolation exercises like curls, shoulder raises, tricep pushdowns etc. they should be for balance and just to get a pump. There’s no need to beat up the joints if we don’t have to.

4. Be healthy (injury free)

I should have put this at number one because I honestly believe it’s the most important. Your recovery and being injury free need to be a much higher priority the older you get. It’s not so much the years, it’s the miles, or more specifically, what you’ve done in those miles. Sitting at a desk, sitting in the car, sitting while watching tv etc.

As you age your ability to recover takes a nose dive as well. When I was 19 I could go out until 3 in the morning and head to work for 7am and be relatively ok. I definitely can not do this anymore.

We’re talking about training here, not drinking (though I have this great idea for a gym/bar combo. It’d be classy, gentlemanly and most of all, badass. Bench press and whiskey? Smashing! Line up angel investors.) My point is that your capacity for recovery is not what it used to be and it needs to be a higher priority the older you get.

You need to do some sort of dynamic warmup for 5 – 10 minutes before you train, 5 minutes of mobility/tissue work after as well as at least 4 – 8 minutes of it daily. Non-negotiable.

During the warmup we want to get the body temperature up, move the joints we’re going to be using and priming the central nervous system. Unless you’re super stiff (which isn’t that uncommon actually) save the more aggressive tissue work for the post workout.

I won’t leave you hanging so here’s some examples of each.

Warm Up (upper body focus) (5 – 10 min tops)

Jump rope 1 – 2 min (to raise body temp)

Kneeling side to side pec stretch 10 reps

Band “shoulder dislocates” 10 reps

Band Pullaparts 15 reps

Thoracic “windmill” stretch 10 reps each way

Pushups + Scap Retraction 10 reps

Arm Circles 10 each way

Med Ball Chest Slams 8 reps

Cooldown (5 – 6 minutes)

Pec smash with lacrosse ball 1:30 per side

Band traction lat/pec stretch (flip between the 2) 1 min each

Daily Mobility

Day 1

Couch Stretch 2 min/side

Glute SMR 1 min/side

Day 2

Lat stretch w/ band 2 min side

T-spine smash 2 min total

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s more than enough to make a massive change in your quality of life.

Those are sample mobility work. Our general outline is along the lines of 3 days of workouts per week, 3 extra 6 minute mobility sessions plus any other bonus activity we can sneak in there.

Age is not an excuse. Will you be as successful as if you started in your 20’s? Hell no. But that doesn’t mean you should just pack it in and head for middle age mediocrity. There’s enough of that in the world already.

We want more Captain America and less Al Bundy (Captain America is old! Bear with me here). No one expects you to look like Chris Evans, but you can at least beat your 12 year old in an arm wrestling competition, if not in Mario Kart (I will dominate my children in both. Losing builds character).

So put that “old man strength” to good use and get in the gym!

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