Training past your youth! Elliot Upton talks us through fitness over forty

Age! Coasting through our youth we feel invincible, time holds no bearing on us and we remember even wishing the time away. As they say we spend our younger years looking forward and our older years looking back. 

So how does that translate into our attitude and outlook as we grow older? We surely all recognize that as each decade pasts our views, opinions, even beliefs change drastically.  So what about our bodies and more importantly our general health?

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Vaughn Cohen 

When I was younger I recall training heavy, hard and relentlessly. My training partner at the time would be with me every step but the consequences he would face the following days would be catastrophic. I would often laugh at the bandaged knee or sore elbow and put it down to a faint heart! But those words ring true to me today as my training partner would say ‘ u wait till your my age and all your joints ache ‘. 

That brings us to this time last year, training for hours at a time at least three times a day, including Cross fit for my conditioning. This it turned out became a lethal combination. 

Although my condition was impressive I was flat, somewhat out of proportion and constantly tired. Years of excessive training took its toll on my body, continuous niggling injuries in my shoulder lower back and Achilles. Having a herniated disc to train around also added to the constant pain and restriction not only in the gym but in day to day life. 

Fortunately I train at one of Nick Mitchell’s gyms in Marbella. Known globally for their world-class coaches, one of them being Elliot Upton. Seeing that my training, health results were far from optimal, physical well being in question and work schedule growing outside of the gym he suggested that he took control and changes things up to suit my lifestyle and make the results come faster with far less work.

Elliott taught me to train a lot less, yet more intelligently, focusing on the muscle working, form, tension and structural balance rather than blindly hitting the iron day after day.  My instincts told me that I wasn’t going hard enough but none the less I stuck with it and showed faith in his knowledge, even to the point where I had to cut back on the cardio because my condition had come in too quickly for another shoot we had arranged as a goal later that year.


The training was one thing but the real revelation was my food. The previous year I would be completing 3 workouts a day on only 50g of carbs. My bright idea of carb cycling would be 50g one day 0 the next. Elliot pounced on this immediately, again having to trust in him and ignore the voice in my head screaming ‘ your going to be fat’. Intelligent meal plans my food believe it or not is more interesting and varied than ever before. My shoot weight was up 7kg, my condition considerably better, injuries all but disappeared and the whole thing felt like I cruised in without effort.  My performance in the gym went through the roof, all major lifts up by 15-20% on and previous personal bests. 

Elliott – 

A certainty in life is that things change… We change; we grow older, grumpier and often out of shape. Our lives take over with work stress, children, partners and families. You name it. it steps in with an attempt to fuck things up for us. 

The fact is that’s life; we either fight it or find a way to work with it. When it comes to your training and nutrition as you get older you need to understand that you just cant do the same shit you did at 25. If you fall into that bracket, you’re probably sitting there thinking about your lower back issues, or that niggle in your shoulder. Allowances need to be made, balance needs to be restored and outright grit and work ethic alone wont cut it anymore if longevity is the aim. 

So what do you need to do when your youth begins to get away from you? What factors are the most important to consider to get the best out of your training, prevent injuries and still live your life the way you need to? 

Lifestyle factors – 

Look at your life, your work, time constraints, and family commitments. For most of you reading this, that should be your priority. Understanding that time with your children is one of the most important parts of your life and is vital not only to you but to your kids, the gym shouldn’t get in the way of maintaining a healthy bond with the people you love the most.

Looking after your spouse or partner and giving them the attention they deserve is going to keep you both happy (assuming there’s only two of you) and stress levels low, home life sweet, sex life banging and sleep solid. DO NOT underestimate how important this is to getting results from your training. 

Whether you run your own business or are employed, that money puts food on your table, pays for your gym membership, and probably funds the purchase of excessive quantities of supplements. And most importantly your subscription to muscle and fitness, don’t compromise on it just to make your gym dates. 

Take a look at your life, decide on exactly how much time you should be dedicating to living it well, what’s left for the gym you can make it work. For most people this will be a comfortable 3/5 hours per week, with that in mind design your programs to fit that schedule. Often training multiple body parts per session with a lower session volume on a higher frequency basis. Don’t try to squeeze a shit ton of training into a schedule that really shouldn’t allow it. 

Structural balance – 

Sitting there right now you probably know where you’re going wrong? Be a man about it and admit it, train accordingly. 

We all love chest day, biceps, shoulders. We love training the muscles we can see. In reality you’re promoting injury and wasting that valuable gym time training muscles that you probably need to lay off. Take a look at your physique and hit the right places with a little more frequency. For most of you, a little less chest and a little more rear delt and upper back. With regards to your lower body, less time in a leg press or even squatting and mix in a little more single leg stuff. Things like split squats allow you to open the hips back up while working the quads and glutes hard. Some of you with the bigger egos may think these exercises are a little “girly” but when done right they’re insanely effective and will improve your mobility no end. This leads me into the next point.. 

Flexibility and mobility – 

This is the one that we all fall down on, partially because we think its boring and usually because we don’t have time. In your 20s you could get away with it but as you get on a bit, joints dry out, wear and tear sets in and those nights of adding a few extra plates because there a bit of skirt watching you deadlift from the treadmill behind you begin to take their toll. 

A lot can be said for taking a little bit of your training time to add some yoga, whether alone or in a class it can be the difference between you training for another five years or thirty. If you cant/wont do that, at the very least spend 5 mins running through a dynamic warm up and a little release work before you train. It primes your system for heavy lifts, frees up joints, preps connective tissues and prevents injuries. A solid warm up will make you stronger during your session, which alone should nudge you towards paying it a little more attention. 

Exercise selection – 

Leading on from my point above, mobility and ability should dictate exercise selection. You can improve flexibility and mobility adequately without ever spending specific time static stretching, simple things such as grip position, foot stance and minor tweaks can target specific areas of tightness and weakness when full range of active motion is used. Drop the weight a little and pull into the stretches, don’t go too far too soon but slowly slowly catchy monkey. You’ll be amazed after a few weeks just how much better your joints move. Not to mention the improved stimulation of the muscle. It’s easy to get into bad habits after years of training, but its also damn easy to break them if you choose to. 

Training volume vs Training frequency –

Yes the more experienced you are, the greater volume you need but after a decade of coaching clients of all sizes and levels of experience I’ve found that frequency of stimulation far outweighs session volume no matter the goal. 

Smashing a muscle beyond a point of fatigue is not only going to limit your results, but is also a key factor in chronic joint pain and damaging connective tissue. Reduce your session volume per muscle, but train it more frequently to increase overall training cycle volume. Less stress on the joints and connective tissue, more controlled stress on the muscle fibers over a longer period. Sustainable and pain free gains right there. 

Load vs Tension – 

Its neither one nor the other, its about finding the perfect relationship between the two. In your teens and 20s it was simply about the numbers, how much for how many. Right now as you sit there with a dead arm and a dull ache in your back you realize that this egotistical approach goes some way to explaining your niggles. 

Sure the load needs to be adequate and progressive, but not to the degree that you lose form and can’t keep tension in the target muscle. Leave your ego at the door and lift with intent, not idiocy. I find the best way to do this is simply to slow things down. Using a 4010 tempo on your lifts tends to dictate an accurate weight selection and allows time to really target the working muscle with maximum tension. 

There’s a whole bunch of tricks you can use to improve each lift, tweet me at @upton_fit if you want to know more. 

Manipulating training variables – 

Its not all about weight, there are so many variables that you can use to progressively overload on a movement. Or vary your programs to ensure no stagnation. Don’t limit yourself to constantly chasing weights because eventually those digits just aren’t going to safely go any higher. 

Try using:

  • Tempo
  • Volume
  • Exercise selection
  • Frequency
  • Grip position
  • Rest periods
  • Overload methods

Instead of linear weight progression. Not only is it going to keep you moving forward, hopefully free of injuries but it also keeps your training interesting. 

Nutritional input –

Proper nutrition is about thriving, not surviving. There’s no need to suffer for your sport, fuel your workouts with adequate amounts of food. Understand the demands that life puts on you, training requirements and feed appropriately. Using Vaughn as an example, when we met for fear of getting fat he was eating 50g of carbs per day, training 3x per day and living basically off dust and an unbreakable work ethic, toss that in with a spoon full of genetics and you have a decent athlete in good shape that’s flat, exhausted, injured and not living up to his potential.

Based on his size at the time (approx. 106kg at about 6-8%) I had him on 700g of carbs daily at one point. We watched his max lifts increase by 30-50kg over the year training no more than 5 sessions a week. He cruised in with ease coming out at the other side at 116kg at around 6-8% and with a whole load more time spent running his multiple businesses and spending time with his beautiful little daughter. 

Don’t deny yourself food, satisfaction and a life. Eat according to your body and make sure your nutrition flows with your training. Like a log in a stream, they should run in the same direction following the same path. Sure you’ll get wedged on a rock every now and then but with persistence you’ll always get moving again. 

Hormonal health – 

Bye bye morning boners! Testosterone, cortisol, insulin and many more. Hormonal health is vital to maximum results in the gym and the best quality of life outside it. Look after them, past 30 something’s take a dive and others become chronically out of control. Regular blood tests and the awareness of how to look after yourself will make a huge difference to your life. 

Nutritional interventions based on good blood work will be far more effective for you than blindly buying supplements because they have a cool box. 

To summarise – 

Train to suit your life, train to suit your body, eat to suit both. Sometimes less is more an allowing your 20 year old ego to take a back seat can be the difference between a great physique well past your fifties or being fat and totally fucked in your forties. Be smart, enjoy your life and love your training. 

Your wife, kids, shareholders and joints will thank you for it.

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