How Hard Should I Push Myself When I Workout After 50?
A question I get asked a lot is: “Mark, I’m over 50 years old. How hard should I push myself during my workouts?”
I’m going to answer this question based on what I’ve seen inside our Live Anabolic Facebook group. Because a lot of guys in that group post their workouts using my Fit After 50 program.
And there are a few mistakes I see all the time when it comes to how hard these guys are pushing themselves. But even if you haven’t tried Fit After 50 yet, the same rules apply to any workout program you use.
How Hard Should I Push Myself After 50?
The answer: IT DEPENDS.
It depends on where you’re at in your fitness journey.
It also depends on how your program is set-up.
So let’s take my Fit After 50 program for example.
Phase 1 is for beginners. I don’t want you killing yourself on phase 1. Because if you’re pushing yourself to the point where you’re so sore you can hardly roll out of bed the next day, then you’ll get discouraged and you may decide to quit.
That’s why in phase 1 of the Fit After 50 program, I tell you to select a lower amount of weight or resistance band for your workouts.
During phase 1, the amount of effort you should put into each exercise is something in the low to moderate intensity range. So you’ll select a weight or resistance band that makes it only moderately difficult to perform 15 reps with good form.
That means when you’re getting close to that 15th rep, I don’t want you to be totally gassed. I don’t want you even straining on that 15th rep. That’s way too much intensity for beginners or guys just hopping back into an exercise program.
This doesn’t just apply to Fit After 50...
// If you’re a guy who’s 50 years and up, I recommend you start any workout program this way. But don’t stop there. //
You’ll train 4 weeks with that moderately difficult intensity and then you’ll “up” it in the next phase.
In phase 2, you’ll put more effort into each set by increasing the weight of your dumbbells or resistance bands, and lowering the number of reps per set. So in phase 2, you’ll select a weight or resistance band where it’s difficult, but not impossible, to perform 12 reps with good form.
In this phase, it should be HARD for you to get that 12th rep. Not impossible. But hard. Meaning if I were to give you $100 for every rep you did after that 12th one, you should still be able to get 3 or 4 more (though it would be challenging).
Basically, you’ll feel the burn, but you won’t be killing yourself to finish your sets. And you MUST maintain good form. If you start cheating to move the weight, it doesn’t count.
Phase 3 is different. With Fit After 50, you’ll start phase 3 two months into the workout program.
In this phase, you’ll want your intensity level to be in the difficult to maximum range. You’ll increase the intensity by increasing the weight of your dumbbells or resistance bands and lowering the number of reps.
During the first two weeks of this phase, you’ll shoot for 10 reps with good form at a very difficult intensity, meaning it should be VERY challenging to hit that 10th rep.
Then in the third and fourth week of this phase, you’ll go even heavier on the weights so that you can only do 8 reps with good form before you’re completely gassed.
The reason you can increase the intensity of your workout so high in phase 3 is because you’ve already spent 8 weeks working out. Your body and muscles have dramatically changed at this point, even if you aren’t ripped. They’ve gotten used to getting beat up and repairing before the next workout.
What If I Don’t Have Heavy Enough Dumbbells To Push Myself?
In the last section, I talked about how important it is for guys 50+ to not train TOO hard right off the bat, but instead, to gradually increase the intensity of your workouts over time.
But speaking of training intensity, here’s another question I get: “Mark, what if the weights or resistance bands I own aren’t heavy enough for me to really push myself?”
I love that question because it means you want to push yourself. You don’t want to go through the motions and just put a check next to your workout for the day. So I’ll give you a trick that I use when I train from home that’ll help you get the results you want.
I don’t have a big ole home gym like a lot of other fitness guys.
// My heaviest dumbbells only get up to 50 lbs. But there are some exercises in my program where I can go up to 70, 80, maybe even 100 lbs if I were at the gym. //
So what do I do, and what should you do, when you don’t have a “heavy enough” weight?
The answer: Adjust the time under tension.
In other words, SLOW DOWN YOUR REPS.
How do you do that?
Well let’s say I only have 15 lb dumbbells and I’m doing bicep curls. That’s not nearly enough weight to make it difficult for me to hit 10 reps.
So instead of doing regular curls, where I curl the weight up for one second and then lower the weight back down for one second, I’m going to slow down the reps.
When I slow down the reps, I’ll curl the dumbbells for three seconds up and then three seconds down. I may even pause at the top of the rep and really squeeze my biceps during the contraction.
// Slowing the reps down makes the weight feel a lot heavier. It can “transform” a pair of 15 lb dumbbells into 35 lb dumbbells. //
You can apply the same principle for every exercise. If doing 10 pushups is easy for you, then slow down the reps, pause at the bottom, and I guarantee you’ll feel a massive difference.
The same goes for squats, lunges, and any other exercise. So really, if you use this trick, you’ll never be able to use the excuse that you don’t have heavy enough weight to push yourself on certain exercises.
By slowing down your reps, it doesn’t matter how little weight or resistance bands you have, I promise, you’ll stretch past your comfort zone and reach the intensity level that really transforms your physique.
What If I Can’t Keep Up The Intensity Every Day?
Keeping up the intensity level day in and day out can be hard. I get emails all the time from guys who say: “Mark, it feels like it’s going to be impossible to push myself that hard day after day, week after week, month after month.”
So how do you keep up with Fit After 50 (or any other program) for the long haul?
The answer: Make hay while the sun’s shining. (That’s a little phrase my daddy taught me on our farm when I was a kid).
So what does that mean exactly?
Well, you’re going to have days or weeks when you’re feeling really energetic. You’re sleeping better. You’re eating lots of healthy, testosterone-boosting foods. Your stress levels have gone down. And you just feel great.
Those are the times to kick some butt during your workouts and push yourself. Push it as hard as you can go, because at some point, you’re going to hit a “lull.”
A “lull” is when you’re feeling less motivated. Less excited. You’re busier than normal. Maybe you’ve gotten less sleep. Your days are more stressful.
// Every guy hits low points. But the guys who see the best results are the guys who don’t quit during a low point. //
I’ve been training for decades. So I’ve hit hundreds of lulls in my own fitness journey. But during those low points, I don’t quit. Now, I don’t kill myself during my workouts. I don’t even go 100% like I do when I’m feeling great and everything is clicking.
During a low point, I put in 80% effort. At 80% you can still get a great pump and see good results. And at the same time, you aren’t taxing your body or doing anything too exhausting.
The most important thing is you’re keeping up with your workouts while you’re down in the trough, and it’s just a matter of time before you’re up at your peak again.
How Do I Keep From Hurting Myself?
Injuries are no fun. They can train wreck something really good in a matter of seconds. So a question I get all the time is: “Mark, how do I keep from hurting myself?”
The answer: Safety first.
Not all programs are created equally. In fact, there are very few training programs designed specifically for men over 50.
That’s why I went ahead and created Fit After 50. Because the honest truth is that as we get older, we’re more prone to injuries. That’s just a fact of life. So guys like us need a program that protects us from injury.
When I created Fit After 50, I chose specific exercises that would be easy on the joints but would shred fat and build muscle at the same time. So it’s really hard to hurt yourself doing my Fit After 50 program.
You could potentially get injured if you’re a total beginner and you ignore my directions inside the program that tell you to start at a moderate intensity level. But that’s so rare it’s like spotting a unicorn.
However, there’s been a handful of times when guys tell me they’re so sore they can barely get out of bed. I typically tell them to take it easy for a day or two, and when they hop back into the program, they should take more rest time in between circuits and that should help. But remember...
// Feeling sore doesn’t mean you’re injured. It just means you need to lower the intensity for now and work your way up. //
Most guys get hurt when they do “explosive” movements. And there are a lot of programs that force you to do those kinds of exercises, like P90X.
Or CrossFit, where you’re taking heavy weights and yanking and pushing the weight with maximum power, which puts a lot of stress on the tendons, ligaments, and joints.
That’s the kind of thing that causes injuries.
What’s The Difference Between Muscle Soreness And An Injury?
This is one of the most important questions I get asked: “Mark, how do I know if I’ve got an injury or if I’m just pushing myself?”
The answer: Identify where the pain is.
If you feel soreness or discomfort inside the MUSCLE you’ve trained, whether it’s during or after your workout, then that is a good thing. It’s totally normal. And it means that you’re pushing those muscle groups.
// But if you feel a sharp pain or discomfort in your JOINTS, then we’re leaning more towards an injury. //
Let’s take a squat for example.
If you do a few sets of squats and you feel localized soreness inside your glutes, quads, or hamstrings while you train or after your workout, that is NOT an injury. That just means you’re pushing yourself and working those muscle groups.
But if you do a few sets of squats and you feel a sharp pain in your hip, or soreness in your knees later on, that is likely an injury that you should get checked out.
Or let’s say, you do a squat and on the first rep, you feel a sharp pain in your hamstring, and after two minutes of rest and stretching it out, the pain is still lingering. That’s another clue that you may have an injury.
Being able to tell the difference between muscle soreness and an injury is key for keeping you going for the long haul. So keep those tips in mind to stay healthy.
That’s everything you need to know about how hard you should push yourself when you workout after 50.
And remember, the goal IS to push yourself. But you want to do it in a safe way.
If you want to try a program that takes age and experience into consideration, and is created specifically for guys like us to see amazing results, then give Fit After 50 a shot.
Most of all, stick with it, push yourself, and never give up.
The Highlight Reel
- How hard you push yourself varies depending on where you’re at in your fitness journey. When you first start out, you want to progressively increase the intensity of your workouts.
- If you want to push yourself harder (even when you only have access to light dumbbells or resistance bands) then increase the “time under tension” by slowing down your reps.
- When you feel great, take advantage of it. Go all out during your workouts. When you feel more tired than normal, go 80% during your workouts.
- Stay safe during your workouts by focusing on form. Slowing down movements to make sure you’re doing them correctly can actually help to boost your results because of the time under tension.
- Muscle soreness is when you feel discomfort within the muscle group you’re working. An injury is a sharp pain you feel in a muscle that doesn’t go away, or discomfort in your joints.
- I designed Fit After 50 to be the perfect program for guys 50+. It hits on everything I’ve mentioned in this article. It’s a safe and fast way for guys our age to get the best results.