Old dogs

I just want to say first off how grateful I am that there’s so many who are clearly reading my blog. The number of messages and emails I’ve received since writing the SEAL article recently has been great – it’s not always apparent on the internet if people are actually reading your work. If you write a blog and no one reads it, does it still make sense?

The most common question I had was people asking for the exact plan that my SEAL friend uses. Sorry, not going to happen. The main reason for this is simple – it doesn’t apply to the vast majority of people. I mean, with entry requirements like a 100kg squat for ten reps, and his own pull up ability of being able to hit fifty-five strict pull-ups, as well as nail twelve minute planks, do you really think that you’re in that kind of league? And so it’s not what he’s doing now you should be concerned about, but what kind of plan may allow you to build to that in the future.

The main thing I heard from readers though was how older guys should try to plan their training so they can get the most amount of work in. Obviously as you get older things change. And according to all the magazines there’s no way you can keep a high volume of training in your week. Well, that’s not completely true. I;ve found over the last year that I’ve been able to absorb a surprisingly high quantity of training. From twenty plus hour weeks getting ready for Ironman to my current weeks where I often train twice a day, I’ve found that if I pay attention to a few small things that I can still get in some pretty big sessions, and that I am still improving week by week.

One of the main things, that I think often goes unsaid unfortunately, is that I’ve been training regularly since i was ten. That’s over thirty years now with the vast majority of weeks having more than three sessions in them, and with most weeks having at least a session per day, and some with up to three per day. The large volume of base fitness I have allows me to cope with that. There’s no way another forty-year old with no history of training could jump into my training plan. So, if you’re about forty, or even thirty, and looking to start getting in shape then the following isn’t for you. One of the biggest benefits I’ve received from Ironman was a dramatic increase in my aerobic fitness.

One of the biggest mistakes of the modern fitness industry is to tell you that aerobic work is not needed. Nothing could be further from the truth! While sleep and nutrition are the foundations of the performance pyramid, the aerobic system is the thing that underpins all other physical effort. It helps you recover between sets, between sessions and the better your aerobic system is the harder and longer you can work before you begin working anaerobically. For those who don’t understand physiology so well – your anaerobic system is short duration so once you start that process you better hope that you’re finishing soon because you won’t be able to go for long. A year spent predominantly on strengthening my aerobic system has carried over into many benefits for the rest of training.

A quick distinction here about aerobic work – while it is true that after a period of two or more minutes you’ll be starting to work aerobically and sessions that take an hour or more such as running or cycling are largely aerobic in nature, I don’t believe that real endurance work starts until you get out to the ninety minute mark. At that point you’ll start to see all kinds of benefits from better fat utilization and other physical benefits but you’ll also start to develop some great mental benefits too. Need to develop some toughness and discipline? Go on a six-hour ride every weekend for a few weeks. All of a sudden you’ll magically be tougher and those shorter sessions will feel exactly like what they are – exercise snacks that you chew through without any problem. Getting mentally fired up for a five minute snatch test is easy once you’ve put the hammer down and destroyed yourself for hours at a  time.

One of the things about getting older is that you do need to be a little smarter about what you do to your body. Some exercises just won’t make you feel good, no matter how light you take it. By the time you reach forty-plus, if you’ve had an active life you’ve probably got some wear and tear on your body and some exercises will just set them off. For me that includes full lifts from the floor – either clean or snatch – as well as things like heavy front squats or overhead squats. I still do versions of the lifts, like power clean or power snatch but I also tend to just work off blocks. The key point is to find a way to make exercise fit you, not try to cram your issues into an exercise you are ill-suited for. Likewise for me is any type of squatting other than back squats with my lifting shoes on. Every other type of bilateral squat you can name will hurt me in some way other than back squat. Oh, I know front squats are sexy, but they hurt my knees and hips. Back squats in shoes don’t and so most of my big leg work is back squats. I also tend to do all my major lower body work on a single day rather than on two days, or spread on each training day. The reasons are simple. Firstly, it gives my lower body the greatest chance to recover between sessions. Secondly, I run a lot and doing multiple heavy leg sessions per week tires them out too much to run hard. To compensate I push the sled a fair bit and also do a lot of body weight movements like squats and lunges.

The following is my current training plan, as performed last week:

Monday –

Crawl x 1
Brettzel x 5 breaths each side
Side crawl x 1
Armbar x 5 breaths each side
Crab crawl x 1
Plank x 60s
Lateral ape x 1
Cossack x 10 each side
Shrimp walk x 1
Bridge x 5

Crawl x 1
Plank x 60s
Side crawl x 1
Push ups 3 x max (and if possible do a variety of push ups like archer, pseudo planche and regular is a good mix).
Crab crawl x 1
2H swings 3 x 20
Lateral Ape x 1
Get up 5 x 1/1
Handstand holds 3 x 60s

Sled + farmers walks x 3

Tuesday –

Warm up

  • Overhead Face the Wall Squat 2 x 5
  • Brettzel x 5
  • Body weight squats 2 x 10
  • Dislocates 2 x 10
  • Bridges x 5

Then :

  • SLDL 2 x 5/5 + Goblet squat 2 x 5
  • Handstand push ups 5/3/2 + pull ups 3 x max

DB KB complex (with 2x24kgs) –

  • Snatch 5
  • Press 5
  • Push press 5
  • Jerks 5

Five rounds.


10mins Airdyne 30:30

Second session, run only:

1.2km easy warm up, 3 x 200m hard/ 200m jog easy, 3 x 400m hard/ 400m jog easy, 1.2km cool down.

Wednesday –

Same warm up as Tuesday, includes everything up to HSPU and pull ups.

Back squat 3 x 5 increasing weight each set.

Leg circuit –

  • Step ups using double 16s x 10 each leg
  • Sled
  • Leg curls with ball x 5 each leg
  • Row 250m

Four rounds

Row 2000m at 80%. I did this in 7.51 and my PR is 7.16.4 so ~8mins is “easy” for me.

Second session, run only:

Easy 5km run.

Thursday –

Ride 90mins (10min warm up, then 4 x 15min big gear with 5min recovery, 10min cool down).

Swim – 2km as 20 x 100m.

Friday –

Mostly the same as Tuesday, but with some assistance work on pressing and pull ups – did 3 sets of 10 for both after the heavier sets in the “warm up”.

Then did five rounds of deadlift x 10 + row 250m with an elevation mask on set at 6000ft.

Second session, run only:

5km easy run.

Saturday –

Stretch for thirty minutes, then thirty minutes on handstand practice and core holds.

Sunday –

Trail run, 18km. With 9km done with elevation mask set at 6000ft.

Second session, Bikram yoga. (Only the second time I’ve ever been to Bikram, with the previous time about fifteen years ago. I’ll now be going four times per week, so add another four sessions into the plan above).

And that’s a regular week for me. I still have time to work and I still get everything done. eating and sleeping right are of paramount importance when faced with that kind of load and I listen to my body closely. If something isn’t working for me I replace it immediately with an option that doesn’t hurt me. As my key race gets closer I’ll be adding in body weight circuits after a main strength exercise. The strength format will basically be 5/3/1 with a few small changes (like I don’t believe in single reps for training non-strength athletes). The only assistance work I’ll be doing each day is some body weight strength exercises to help keep my weight down and protect my joints (but no dips on rings because they upset my shoulders).

People need to realise they won’t break if they train more, as long as they are smart and pick exercises and loads they can manage. One of the biggest things about training frequently is that you need to be very smart about listening to your body. It’s no good to hang onto some fabled version of what you think you used to be capable of when your body clearly shows you that it’s not even close to that standard now. We used to have a client who thought he was special. Well, maybe fifteen years ago he was. But when he came to use he couldn’t squat, couldn’t swing, couldn’t do just about anything. And while he had the strength to use heavy weights he didn’t have the form to use them safely. Not only that but his lifestyle was not conducive to working hard consistently and this showed up with him frequently being sick or injured. But as is the case so often in training his ego wouldn’t allow him to reduce the load and pay attention to his body – the result was absolute stagnation of his fitness. As with all things in life this is a delicate balancing act – too little and your body won’t respond. Too much and you’ll get hurt. But if you apply some objective thought to your training about which exercises make you feel better and which just hurt you, as well as what you can realistically fit in, I think you’ll be very surprised with what you can accomplish. Even at forty.