I love this little workout. It takes 20 minutes, works your tail off, and takes a minimum of setup and supplies.
Find a flat, open, space like a soccer, rugby, or football field (or just an open field at your local neighborhood park). Mark the field at each corner with a sports cone. Your field should be 50 meters wide by 100 meters long.
The TLDR is that you’ll set a timer for 20 minutes, then jog the 100 meter length, and sprint the 50 meter width. When the timer expires, you’re done.
There are a couple of ways you can add variety to this workout:
For the first two / three weeks, you may want to set the timer for 10 minutes, and then restart the timer for another 10 minutes. When I come out of my winter hibernation, I’m not in good enough shape to go 20 minutes straight. After the first 10 minute timer expires, I walk for 2 minutes to recover. Then I resume the workout for the final 8 minutes.
Once your body gets used to the workout, swap up and sprint the 100 meter length, and walk the 50 meter width (it’s brutal!)
And once you get acclimated to that workout, add 2 additional cones at the 50 meter mark of the long sides. With this version of the workout, you’ll now have cones marked at 50 meters along each side of the field. Alternate sprinting/jogging each 50 meters. Again, keep it up for 20 minutes.
I literally drive around with my gym bag and a stack of cones in my car so that whenever I want to grab a quick workout, I can stop at the nearest park or field and churn it out for 20 minutes. There are no weights required or special equipment or exercises to keep up with. But I promise this little routine will work you hard for 20 minutes, especially as you progress through the levels of difficulty. Give it a try and let me know how you like it!
Your workout routine should take into account recovery time. This is especially true as you age (since it takes more time to recover). Scroll to “Training for recovery” to see my current workout routine for maximizing recovery.
The Importance of Recovery
Some guys, myself included, go balls to the wall in their workouts. We go all out during the workout, and we try to cram in as many gains as possible during the week. When I was in college I was at the gym twice each day, six days a week (only because the gym was closed on Sunday). I made incredible gains during that time.
The problem with gains made through intense and frequent workouts, however, is that rarely can they be sustained. As muscle or endurance builds up, so does fatigue. Eventually physical and psychological burnout and / or injury show up, and your gains are actually reversed. Like the engine in your car, you can only rev at top speed for a while before the engine blows and you’re forced to pull over to the side of the road while everyone else passes you by. Slow and steady wins the race. Adequate recovery lets you make small incremental gains over time without burnout or injury. I’ve experienced it firsthand.
Three years ago I decided I wanted a starting position on my rugby team. Being 48 at the time, playing with guys less than half my age, this was a big goal. Throughout the summer off-season I trained as heavy as I could, as often as I could. On my off days I sprinted in the 100 degree Memphis heat. We began the fall season with fitness assessments and at the end of the beep test I was one of the last five guys (out of a field of about 25 guys). During the other fitness drills, I killed it. At the bar after practice the young guys were giving me high-fives for my performance.
Unknown to them, I had been experiencing a nagging pain in my crotch. During the fireman carry at practice that night, it had become almost unbearable but I pushed through anyway. Over the next couple of weeks, I started losing speed because the effort of pulling my knee to my pelvis was excruciatingly painful. The day of our first scrimmage I awoke in terrible pain. I finally got up, stretched a bit, took some ibuprofen, and headed to the field. I actually got a starting position (first time ever) and…declined. I didn’t feel I would be effective on the field and thought someone should take my place. My coach pushed me to take the position anyway, and I ended up playing about 60 minutes of the match.
The next morning, I literally could not get out of bed; I had no strength in my abdomen to pick my legs up. The diagnosis was a sports hernia. In my case, it was due to overuse. After several weeks of dry needling, chiropractic work, a stretching regimen, I wasn’t getting better. All the while, I was still going to the gym, still attempting to jog, trying to keep from getting out of starting shape.
It took a full year of recovery to get me back on the field. No gym work for two months. No running for close to six months. When I finally made it back to the gym, I had to start from scratch; nothing but bar. Also nothing targeting the core until close to eight months, and even then it was touch and go because of pain. All the gains I had made in the 3 summer months of training had been wiped out – and more – because I had over trained.
Training for Recovery
There’s a lot more to recovery besides your workout routine; sleep and nutrition play a huge role. But here’s how I’ve arranged my weekly workouts so that I get as much training time in as possible, but also as much recovery time as well. Notice that I try to alternate activities each day, along with alternating body parts and goals (gym vs. aerobic vs. HIIT, legs vs. upper body vs. total body lifts vs. complimentary lifts, etc.):
Monday – Gym day with an emphasis on legs (mainly deadlift and squat) along with a small amount of chest work (to increase weekly volume).
Tuesday – Aerobic running. Easy jog of 30-40 minutes.
Wednesday – Gym day focusing on upper body (mainly chest/shoulders).
Thursday – 20 minute sprint session. Notice that I’ve had two full days of recovery since my heavy leg day on Monday.
Friday – Gym day focusing on back, with light legs as well (stiff-legged deadlifts or lunges).
Saturday – Game day (during season) or general “fun day” staying active.
Sunday – Rest. Full stop.
Notice that everything gets covered; lots of full-body lifts, aerobic work, also HIIT training. But everything gets adequately rested in between sessions.
Also, during gym sessions each set gets 2.5-3 minutes rest between sets. This is so that each muscle group gets adequate recovery to attack each set with maximum intensity. Most guys will rest a minute or so in between, but this causes you to lose form, increase your risk of injury, and keeps the muscle group from being able to express itself to its fullness.
Diet includes extra zinc and magnesium for recovery, along with extra protein intake, over and above what most non-athletic folks would generally take in. Then sleep. As much sleep as possible (for a glance at my nightly routine, check out this blog post)
Your workout needs will be different from mine. But let me encourage you to step back and examine your workout for built-in recovery. Think about how you feel from Monday to Friday. I’ve had routines where I’d start on Monday full of piss and vinegar, but by Friday dreaded going to the gym. That’s burnout. Or maybe you keep experiencing small injuries: a pulled groin, a painful shoulder, a tight calf-muscle. Often these are signs that your muscles are fatigued. Restructure your workouts so that recovery is built-in. It’ll help you make far more gains over the long-haul.
This morning I stumbled on this article by Paul Flannery titled “Extreme Athleticism Is the New Midlife Crisis” (https://medium.com/s/greatescape/extreme-athleticism-is-the-new-midlife-crisis-d87199a18bed). I love a good midlife crisis, and I agreed with most of what the article had to say. It was a shame that the title had a negative sound to it. Rather than a midlife “crisis”, extreme athleticism here is described as a way to protect us from the ravages of old age.
When I turned 46 I decided to play rugby for the first time. My kids had played for years, and at 46, although I wasn’t “in shape”, I wasn’t overweight, I felt pretty good, and had kept pretty active while raising my five teenaged sons. The first day I stepped on the field to play a pickup game of touch rugby, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I discovered just how out of shape I was on a hot, 98 degree suffocatingly humid summer day in Memphis. But I had a blast and couldn’t wait to get back out on the field. More than that, I started looking for a team I could join.
That day six years ago I wasn’t thinking about my midlife crisis, trying to go back to the “glory days” of my youth (I was never an athlete), or trying to prove something. I wanted to have fun. And as my kids were growing up and becoming more independent, I suddenly had more time to explore hobbies that had interested me but didn’t have time to engage with because – kids.
This is something Paul misses in his article. At 46, or now at 52, I want to have fun. I want to take advantage of the season I’ve found myself in. For the first time in over 20 years of raising kids, I have leisure time. Yes, my body isn’t what it used to be, but I wake up every day with the realization that I’ll never be as young as I am today. I’m going to take advantage of what my body can do today. This goes for play, work, sex; tomorrow I’ll be older, and more than likely my performance won’t match what it is today. Carpe diem.
I won’t pretend that it isn’t fun to step on a rugby field with guys half my age and amaze, not because I’m a great player, but because I can still sprint, I can still tackle, I can still hold my own physically. I won’t pretend that there are days when I feel like I have something to prove because of my age, that I’m not in the midst of a midlife crisis (which, in proving the former, confirms the latter). And yes, everyday I lift, I run, I sprint to protect and prepare for the years to come.
I alternate between different types of workouts during the year. Some of the year is about building strength (how much I can lift). Some of the year is dedicated to power (how much I can lift as quickly as possible). This winter I’ve chosen to concentrate on hypertrophy (muscle size).
There are at least 3 components to building muscle in the gym:
Volume. Specifically, the number of sets per muscle group per week creates a more dramatic result. However, there seems to be a relationship to more sets/reps throughout the week, rather than blowing your wad all in one day. Repeatedly hitting a muscle group through the week, without exceeding the minimum effective dose, seems to be better.
Muscle fiber recruitment. The more muscle fibers you recruit, the better. This is especially true for building muscle (rather than strength training). Done right, increased volume and training to failure or near failure recruits more muscle fibers. Rest and good form are the keys to muscle fiber recruitment.
Rest. This is hugely important. Often you’ll see guys rep to failure to get that “pump” in the gym, then quickly turn around and do it again. You’ll also see their volume decreases as each set is attempted (remember: increased volume recruits more muscle fibers). What they fail to realize is that the “pump” is actually their body’s response to the trash that’s built up in their muscles during a set. The body floods the area with blood to flush the lactic acid build up. If you don’t give your body enough time to flush the waste products from the muscle, it can’t perform to its maximal potential. To get the biggest bang for your buck, take as much rest time as you need so that you can perform each set to the full rep target. For me, it’s almost always 3 minutes.
My workout achieves four goals for me:
It’s fairly balanced across muscle groups.
It places a high value on leg work. Hip and leg strength are important for me; you may want to place emphasis on a different priority.
It includes aerobic as well as high intensity work.
Even though it’s a five day workout, it’s structured so that recovery is built-in.
Personally, I’m loving this. Since I started in November 2018 (It’s January 2019 as I write this) I’ve added 7 pounds of non-Christmas weight to my frame. I’m not experiencing burn out. And although I’m pretty sore after most workout days, the recovery period allows me to hit it hard each time I enter the gym. I’m a fan of this one!
You can download the workout here: Winter 2018 Hypertrophy Workout. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments, below.
Zinc is a micronutrient that is essential for your health. Zinc has been linked to a host of conditions (1) but for us middle-aged guys there are some specific reasons to supplement, like age-related vision loss, colon and rectal tumors, depression, muscle cramps, protein synthesis, and testosterone production(2).
As an athlete and middle-aged man with steadily decreasing testosterone and sarcopenia (age-related muscle shrinkage), the protein synthesis and testosterone production benefits are enough for me.
Sources of Zinc
Zinc is not something that is made in, or stored by, your body, so you’ve got to get it from an external source, either from food or by supplements. Food sources of zinc include oysters (super high in zinc) and beef, then in lower amounts in legumes, chicken and pork.(3)
When it comes to supplements, there are (at least) two things to take into consideration:
Zinc as a gluconate has a couple of advantages over other zinc supplements. First, apparently many zinc supplements frequently contain cadmium as well because they two are “chemically similar and found together in nature”. When zinc is processed as zinc gluconate it contains lower levels of cadmium(1). Second, gluconates are often absorbed by the body easier than other methods, like zinc oxide.(4) (That’s why I also take magnesium as a gluconate as well).
ZMA (zinc, magnesium aspartate, and B6) is a combination that has a controversial past. In 2000 the Journal of Exercise Physiology published a study(5) that showed that when a group of NCAA football players took a formulation of ZMA their free testosterone increased 30% (wow!) along with increases in growth hormone. However, the company who made the ZMA supplement also sponsored the study (conflict of interest), and subsequent studies haven’t been able to replicate the findings.
Final Thoughts on Zinc
It’s important to note that while doing the research on zinc supplementation I found several studies and statements across sites that said that most Americans and Europeans weren’t deficient in zinc. You can (and probably should) be tested for zinc levels during your annual checkup.
With that said, here is how and why I supplement: Since zinc is not produced or stored by the body, it’s essential that we get it from outside sources. Our bodies also use more zinc or flush zinc depending on our activity level. For instance, zinc loss happens as we sweat and our need for zinc increases if our body is under certain stresses. As an athlete I beat my body up five days a week. I sweat buckets and damage my body through heavy resistance and interval training, and occasional rugby games and practices. With that in mind, I supplement primarily on days when I’ve had a physically grueling workout. It’s typical for me to supplement with 50mg before bed on Monday/Wednesday/Friday because they’re heavy lifting days, or after a rugby match. Otherwise, on running or interval training days or weekend recovery days, I won’t supplement.
Finally, I’ve been waiting for my magnesium and zinc supplements to run low so that I can do a round of ZMA supplementation. If I’m already taking these two minerals, then I don’t see the harm in replacing my current regimen with ZMA to see if I notice a difference. (Of course, it will be subjective since I won’t be getting blood work done during the trial).
Do you take a zinc supplement? If so, what kind and why? Share in the comments below.
Creatine is a chemical that is found in your body, in both muscle and brain tissue. It’s one of the most studied performance-enhancing supplements on the market. Creatine is used during energy production for activities that are short, explosive, powerful movements like short sprints and powerlifting that last 10-15 seconds. When plenty of creatine exists in your body, you’re able to refuel that energy system quicker and more often after those explosive bouts of exercise.
Why Take A Creatine Supplement?
I’ve already hinted at the answer to this question, but it lies in your body’s ability to refuel after exercise. Your body’s natural store of creatine will only last so long: adding creatine to your diet will allow you to repeat those sprints or lifts more often, and with shorter recovery times between reps.
In contrast to the other supplements in the “Supplements After 50” series, I would categorize this supplement as an option for athletes, especially power athletes. Creatine supplementation won’t do much for a distance athlete, since long-term aerobic exercise system doesn’t rely on the ATP-PC (adenosine triphosphate – phosphocreatine) energy system.
You can supplement your creatine naturally through high protein foods like red meat, wild game, and fish such as salmon and tuna.
Creatine supplements are available as Creatine Monohydrate or “micronized” Creatine Monohydrate, with a smaller particle size for quicker uptake. Most supplement suppliers have some form of creatine supplement available, either as a powder or capsule. Personally, I buy mine from BulkSupplements on Amazon (Affiliate link). Several creatine supplement powders I’ve purchased in the past recommend a “loading” phase. Personally, I skip the loading phase and use a straight dose. I add it to my morning shake daily, and will cycle off for a couple of weeks after I finish a bag.
Again, this is an optional supplement for athletes. As a lifter and a rugby player, I’m engaging in some kind of explosive exercise almost every day. Maximizing every edge, especially at my age, is important. That’s why I add creatine to my diet. You may skip this altogether, depending on your exercise needs.
I use this blog to track all the funky food, nutrition and workout experiments I’m trying. I’m a firm believer in both consistency and variation in my workouts; consistency meaning it’s hard to get a feel for the success of a given method unless it’s been tried over a long-enough period of time. Variation in that muscle adapts to a given stimulus and so variation must be introduced to keep the muscle growing. So my usual workout routines last from 6-8 weeks, and then I change depending on what I think my strengths/weaknesses are in a given area, or what is going on during a given season (if I’m playing rugby).
Summer 2018 Workout
I’ve integrated the 5×5 workout into my yearly cycles for a couple of years now. Last year I tried the 1×20 workout for a cycle (you can get a copy of that here). At different times I’ve added a small amount of running or treadmill time into my workouts, but only 10-15 minutes at a time. During my 1×20 cycle I also integrated some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) on days I wasn’t in the gym.
I’m planning on playing rugby in the fall, so over the summer I’ve been training to be prepared for the physical demands of the game. It’s a huge target: increased strength, explosive power, size (hypertrophy) and aerobic capacity.
All over the place, right?
To that end, I’ve combined the best of everything, my “Greatest Hits” so to speak. They’re available in this spreadsheet, “Current_Workout_2018-07-15.xlsx“.
The spreadsheet contains 3 tabs:
Weights – A daily chart of what happens each day. Monday and Friday are “strength” days, using 5×5 as the skeleton for the workouts. Once the big lifts are out of the way, select a few accessory lifts from the “1×20” worksheet to supplement your lifts.
1×20 – Wednesday is a “light” day. Choose a broad spectrum of lifts from the 1×20 sheet for a thorough full-body workout.
Aerobic – HIIT – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are for aerobic and anaerobic systems. As an athlete in a sport with a heavy demand on my aerobic system, my goal this summer is to build my aerobic capacity. To that end, I’m running or biking two days / week, increasing my time by 5 minutes each week. I’m at almost an hour. It’s incredibly boring, but Amazon Prime and my Kindle Fire makes it doable. Thursdays are for explosive anaerobic work. Sprints are an easy way to get this work in, but often I use a combination of assault bike+weights for interval training. I’ll do 1 minute assault bike, straight into hang-cleans x 10 with as much weight as I can handle, then 1 minute of rest in between sets. Usually 6 or 7 sets kills me. Google “hiit options” or “bodyweight metcons” for more creative stuff you can do easily, at home.
Notes – The first sheet contains some basic notes to get you started.
Finally, make sure you take a day of full recovery. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to over-train. In my schedule, recovery day is Sunday, but you can adjust the schedule however you want. But you must take a day off.
Give this a try. I’m super-pleased with my improvement over the summer. I haven’t gained any weight, which was a goal, but my other numbers have improved, and I don’t have a lot of fatigue, a problem I seem to run into when training heavy (like pure 5×5).
I’ve never been a heavy drinker (well, other than my freshman year in college) but over the last couple of years, drinking a couple of glasses of wine or a couple of beers at night has become a more regular occurrence. I don’t drink to get drunk but there are times that I certainly drink past the point of simple relaxation.
For a variety of reasons, some practical, some for the cause of science, I’ve decided to climb on the wagon for the month of July.
File this under both practical and science. Practically (and the primary driver for this), something has been causing me stomach discomfort over the past few months: bloating, gas, etc. I’ve been trimming gluten and dairy from my diet, and although I feel better overall, it is still occurring. However, in times when I’ve taken a week or two without a drink, my digestive issues have been relieved. So I’m conducting a science experiment to decide whether alcohol is the culprit.
Essentially everything you read on the Internet (which, of course, is true) points to alcohol’s ability to disrupt sleep patterns. More specifically, a 2013 review of scientific studies on alcohol and its effect on sleep concluded “At all dosages, alcohol causes a reduction in sleep onset latency, a more consolidated first half sleep, and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep”. My own experience is that I have no problem falling asleep, but have an incredibly hard time staying asleep. By 3 or 4 am, I’m awake, wishing I wasn’t.
Sleep is huge to me (and should be, to you). It affects testosterone levels, fat buildup, and repair and recovery after strenuous exercise. I want as much quality sleep as I can get. If avoiding alcohol helps, then I’m on board.
Frankly, I’m cranky when I drink. It’s probably related to the loss of quality sleep. But on more than one occasion I’ve found myself low on patience with my wife and kids and I feel like it’s attributable to drinking the night before. Nothing is more valuable than those relationships. If anything is impairing my relationships with those I love most, then it should go!
This is less of a factor, but there are indications that high alcohol use impairs testosterone production. Again, I don’t drink excessively, but if there’s any chance that drinking a few beers is cutting into my T-levels, then count me out. Add to this the effect on sleep mentioned above, which also affects T-levels, and I’d rather do without the booze.
I’ve written before (here) about the importance of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) and the importance of adequate protein intake as we age because of sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting). There is research showing that drinking inhibits muscle protein synthesis after exercise (at least in rats).
If there is anywhere my life is out of control, it’s my finances. Raising five boys (three of whom are in college) takes a toll on your budget. Cutting expenses is one way to help bring things back into line. Eliminating booze is easy money. Sure, a $10 six-pack or bottle of Cabernet doesn’t seem huge. But when it’s a six-pack per week, across 52 weeks a year, that’s a couple of utility bills, a few new tires, or a handful of college textbooks. Much better uses of funds.
I’m writing this on July 2, day two of my experiment. I’ll keep you posted.
Anyone want to join me? Chime in in the comments, below. I’m sure this would be easier with some company.
 “Alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTOR signaling in a time-dependent manner following electrically stimulated muscle contraction.” Journal of Applied Physiology, November 15, 2014.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25257868
Leucine is an essential amino acid that directly influences, among other things, muscle protein synthesis (MPS). If you’ve been following this series and read the post on protein supplementation, you’ll remember that MPS is a big deal for guys as they get older. As we age, we begin losing muscle (a process known as sarcopenia). But if we’re physically active and keep our protein intake up, we can slow the process. Some studies have shown that increasing our protein intake is even more beneficial as we age. 
Because leucine assists in MPS, increasing your plasma leucine level assists in metabolizing protein and therefore building – and maintaining – muscle tissue.
Sources of Leucine
Lean meat like beef, pork or chicken is high in leucine. Dairy products, especially cheese and Greek yogurt, are generally high in leucine as well. In fact, a serving of Greek yogurt has about as much leucine as four eggs. Finally, legumes, which are also high in protein, also contain a significant amount of leucine.
You can purchase(affiliate link) a leucine supplement by itself or as a part of a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplement. Or, many protein powders contain some sort of added leucine / BCAA cocktail as well.
When To Take Leucine
Research has shown that leucine can have an affect both pre and post-workout. Because leucine seems to impede muscle breakdown during workouts, many folks take some kind of supplement either before or during workouts. And because leucine helps kick protein synthesis into high gear, often it can be taken with a protein supplement post-workout to make the most out of the anabolic response to your workout. (If you’re sucking down a protein shake post-workout, you may already be getting the leucine you need, because many protein powders contain added leucine.)
There has been some speculation that taking leucine before bedtime is helpful as well. But even though protein ingestion before bed has been proven to boost MPS, research seems to indicate that adding a leucine supplement at bedtime has no effect.  Why waste it?
If you’re looking to build and/or maintain muscle mass and strength after 50, you have to make the most of every opportunity to increase muscle protein synthesis. Resistance exercise kicks MPS into gear, added protein provides the raw materials, and leucine seems to provide the pathway. Add a leucine supplement to your pre or post-workout shake to build even more muscle.
 Matthew Stark, Judith Lukaszuk, Aimee Prawitz, and Amanda Salacinski, “Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training”. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529694/
I post a lot about workout routines I’m doing, supplements I take, routines I establish to try to stay strong, healthy and active.
This is why.
Last weekend we made a 10 hour trek to Savannah, GA to watch my 18 year old son play on a select-side college rugby team in a two-day tournament. However, when we arrived, he got sick and was essentially bed ridden for the entire time. So when you’ve driven 10 hours, and you’re stranded at a rugby tournament, what do you do?
You play rugby, of course!
I had a pair of shorts and cleats with me, so I searched around and found a couple of teams who needed players. One was an “old boys” team, the other was a combined college / men’s team. So while my son slept off his sickness, I had a great weekend playing rugby in Savannah.
When you’re healthy, when you’re strong, even at 51, you can do what you want to do, even walk-on to a rugby team.