Updated: Jul 21
“it’s a modern life, but its not what its ‘sposed to be”
Devo, Modern Life
Its 5:30pm and you’re putting the finishing touches the last email of the day, when your kids rush into the room. Filled with energy and big smiles they ask if you can come outside and play basketball with them before dinner. Although tired from a long day, you acquiesce – you can use a little exercise and fresh air.
You head outside and play a little two on one for about half hour. After a quick shoot around, you get started. They make the first shot but, you settle in on defence and deflect a ball, chase it down and turn it into an easy layup. Its winner’s ball, so you decide to flex a little by cutting in between them and dunking on the 6-foot net, shouting JOORDAAAAN! In the end, you let them win, but you had fun and got a little exercise in the process.
If this is the only dunk you feel safe doing . . . you should keep reading.
Modern life for a lot of people right now is pretty fucking sedentary. I've got a slew of clients complaining about how much time they're spending sitting at a desk and how stressful zoom call after zoom call can get. But if you have kids, grandkids or even a dog, you want to be able to play with them after work - and that could mean running, jumping, playing catch.
But how can you expect to go from 0-100 faster than Drake . . . without pulling a hammy or rolling an ankle? Just think about all the skills involved in just playing a simple a game of pick-up basketball: running, jumping, changing direction, side shuffle and backpedaling . . . that’s a lot of stress on your body - if you’re not prepared for it, that is.
Once you’ve hit your 30’s your workouts should shift towards helping you outside of the gym, more than just a bathroom mirror. I think that training like an athlete is the perfect way to achieve the body you want, that’s resilient enough to handle anything you ask of it – without hobbling around for days complaining about your knees or lower back.
So, what does that mean? Simple, train these 5 traits when you hit the gym: run, jump, lift, throw and carry. That’s where I would start. Dump that old body-part-split routine on that poster you’ve been following since high school in favour of total body workouts – I recommend doing at least two or three full body workouts per week, but you could do more.
Jump: If you do don’t use it, you lose it
We lose power faster than any other quality – roughly two times faster than strength. Every decade after you turn 40, your power declines by 17% compared to 10% in strength loss. That means by the time you’re 70, you’ve lost 30% of your strength and just over 50% of your power output (1). Despite that, I don’t see many people doing plyometrics inside of the gym.
Most people think power is simply jumping high or sprinting fast, but that’s only one aspect. Power is also your ability to land softly and stop or decelerate – think of it as your body’s braking system and just like driving a car or bike, you’re fucked if they don’t work properly.
So when you do a jumping exercise like box jumps, put your ego aside and focus on a nice quiet landing, not the box height. The louder you land, the more stress you’re putting on your muscles and joints. But you don’t have to just do jumping exercises, you can do short hurdles or agility ladder work to develop springy ankle muscles and tendons, too.
Throwing is also a neglected power movement. I love them and so do my clients, because they’re fun and can even be a great stress reliever. I had one client think of an annoying person at work when they threw the ball into wall - even shouted their name as they threw it. Mix up throwing angles from chest passes, overhead slams and side tosses against the wall, so you train power in different positions
There is one caveat, though – make sure you’re not choosing some bougee commercial gym that doesn’t want you making noise. If you want to train like an athlete, find a local gym that encourages that style of training.
Lift: Keep it simple
For strength exercises I like to stick to the basics: Squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses and row variations – focus on big movements using multiple joints and train different angles so you hit your muscles differently throughout the week. You don't have to ditch your curls and press downs, but finish your workouts with them - don't dedicate a whole day.
The focus should be on general strength and hypertrophy with repetition ranges at 3-5 for strength and 6-15 for hypertrophy. You don’t need to worry about 1 max reps, because as you age, you want to think more about the orthopaedic cost - something Mike Boyle has really got me thinking about lately - of what you’re doing and ask yourself if it’s worth the risk.
Variety is the spice of life, isn’t it? Keep that in mind at the gym too and use a variety of equipment like sleds, dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX and cables, in addition to the bars. And use variations where you’re only using one side at a time, like single arm press and rows as well as lunges, one-legged squats and deadlifts. Most people have a dominant arm and leg – it’s usually the opposite of each other – so training each side individually will create a more balanced body.
Don’t forget to add in body weight exercises, too! Push ups, body rows and chins ups should also be included because they’re great ways to train strength and incorporate more muscles when compared sitting or lying on a bench.
Carry: Ditch crunches and sit ups and carry heavy weights
It’s not the 90’s anymore, if you’re still doing a set of crunches to finish your workouts – it’s time to update how you train your core.
The best place to start is to focus on stability, because it will have a greatest crossover to exercises like squats, deadlifts and basically every bodyweight exercise like push ups and chin ups.
Planks are probably the most ubiquitous of all core stability exercises and also the most butchered. When you do a plank, you want to remain as stable as possible; pretend you’ve just been tagged in freeze tag and stay as still as possible – once you move, you’re done. When you can do them for forty-five seconds, it’s time to move on to a harder variation. 6 or 7 minute planks seem cool, but they're boring as hell and a waste of valuable time.
Farmers carries have gained some traction on the web lately, which is nice to see. I love them because they strengthen your grip – a huge biomarker for heart health – and abdominal muscles that surround your spine, like your obliques and lats. Plus, they’re pretty versatile, you can do them with dumbbells, kettlebells or even a trap bar. Start with even weight in both hands, then switch things up and carry two different weights or even one at a time. You want to think about challenging yourself to carry a variety of different loads, because life is anything but symmetrical.
Resisting rotation is also important. Our lower-spine craves stability, so you should also add in exercises that challenge your core to resist movement, which will actually help anyone who plays a rotational sport like golf, hockey or tennis. Your core is shit at producing power, its role is to transfer power from your legs – and hips – to your upper body. If your torso cant resist rotation effectively, you’ll lose power.
The perfect way to improve this connection is to challenge it to not rotate, first, then work on rotational exercises like medicine ball side tosses and wood chops. My first progression is to use cable press variations like the paloff press.
Run: You don’t have to be a marathoner, but you should be able to run without hurting yourself
I get it, not everyone wants to run. But being able to run is an important life skill, you never know when you may have to run after a bus, train or even your kid. This doesn’t mean spending hours a week on a treadmill but learning the basics of running and being able to do it for a short period of time is an important life skill that will build resiliency.
I would start with learning the basics of run technique and incorporate A, B skips into your warmup. This way you can build up the skill of learning good form, plus they’re a great way to warm up your lower body to do power work later on in the session.
If you have knee issues or really hate to run, I would use a sled or prowler. The sled will place you on a more favourable joint angle which places far less stress on your knees. You can start by doing marches to improve form and then progress runs or sprints the length of the turf. You can add weight to make it more challenging, too, I use it to improve my running!
If you want to run, add a run interval once or twice a week, but keep it simple. Start with a 1:1 interval where you run for a minute and walk for a minute and if you want to increase your run capacity, run longer, if not – just run faster so that you’re challenging yourself. This doesn’t need to be more than 20 minutes’ worth of work unless you want it to be.
Training for life, to me, means making everyday life easier and more enjoyable. Think of it as a way to improve resiliency, which will allow you to stay active as you age, so that you can keep doing the sports and activities you enjoy.
But what do you think?
Comment below if you have any questions, concerns or, if you think I'm full of shit.