Deadlifts And Squats After 40?

Should you stop squatting and deadlifting after forty?

Shortly after my fortieth birthday I decided to return to the gym again for a bunch of reasons. Mainly, I didn’t want to look or feel my age. I began like most, easing myself in with the bro-split I used in my twenties (each body part once a week but arms twice a week). I included bench press, shoulder press, rows, squats and deadlifts. Around the time I began lifting I had also started taking salsa and bachata dancing classes.

I noticed several times I trained deadlifts I would tweak my back the next day. This happened twice before I had decided to give them a break. After a few more weeks I decided to hit them again. Same thing! To make matters worse, I would show up to dance class and had to avoid bending side to side. My back muscles hurt. In salsa and bachata you need to be limber to execute the moves like dips, bends and turns. Dance class was a lot of fun but painful during the sessions where I had tweaked my back from deadlift training.

I decided to look for a trainer. Something wasn’t right. Was I too old to be loading my spine like this? Would I be destined to use light weights and high rep, aerobic style Richard Simmons workouts?

I browsed youtube for videos on form-I figured my back pains were likely due to improper form. I discovered the Colossus Fitness youtube channel and enquired into their personal training service. I was assigned Kyle Grondin, a fitness influencer and trainer with a background in powerlifting, body transformation and a former cross country runner in his high school days. Kyle assessed my form and didn’t believe we needed to avoid squat and deadlifts but rather make them the foundation of our training regimen.

Nearly two years of training, I can say that I am stronger in my forties than I was when I was consistently training in my twenties.

At a mock powerlifting meet of March 2020, my following lifts were;

Squat - 430 lbs

Bench Press - 330 lbs

Deadlift - 502 lbs

What I've learned

Your chronological age isn’t the same as your biological age. We may think of ourselves as old for reaching a milestone birthday but our aging has more to do with the genetic hand we are dealt and the lagging consequences of our lifestyle choices.

Squats & Deadlifts Offer You The Most Metabolic Bang For Your Buck

No exercises hit your lower body like weighted back squats and deadlifts in terms of the number of muscles recruited in the lift, energy expended as well as the metabolic and hormonal response. Whether you are looking to lose weight, build muscle, improve performance, squats, deadlifts and their variations should be your foundational exercises.

Mobility & Stretching Are More Important Than Ever

Most of the stretching I learned in high school gym class, recreational Tae Kwon Do and Karate were static stretches. Static stretches are those in which you stand, sit or lie still while you hold a single position for time. Dynamic stretching is the more useful variety for strength training. Dynamic stretching are movements that prepare your muscles, ligaments and soft tissue for performance and safety.

Before any lower body lifting session I always begin with hip mobility exercises to loosen up the hips, lower back, glutes and hamstrings. Many lifters feel stiffness and tightness in the hip joints, lower back, thighs and glutes. As an added bonus to including mobility drills in your training, your recovery between lifting sessions will improve.

A fantastic resource for anyone looking for a great dynamic stretching mobility routine is Joe DeFranco’s Limber 11-

Have An Experienced Lifter Critique Your Form

You may be tempted to ask one of the strongest or most jacked dudes in your gym for feedback on your form. Big muscles =/= understanding proper lifting form and injury avoidance. Many trainers at commercial gyms have weekend certification courses under their belt which might be deficient in proper squat or deadlift mechanics. Youtube videos maybe helpful but attending a seminar or hiring a knowledgeable coach to initially offer you form guidance is invaluable for a long lifting career. Look for a coach or seminar instructor who has studied kinesiology or participated in powerlifting or weightlifting meets if possible.

Limiting Beliefs

Perhaps because you are forty you may be tempted to believe that your best days are behind you when you think of physical performance but this isn’t necessarily true. Don’t let the athletic abilities of your social group dictate what expectations you set for yourself. Most people when they get older give up and settle. I had limiting beliefs when I started my heavy lifting program. I couldn’t have imagined myself bench pressing over 300 lbs (my best in my twenties was 295 lbs) or deadlifting over 500 lbs at any point in my life.

Getting stronger, fitter, transforming your body is a single player game. It makes no sense to compare yourself to others, only compare yourself to who you were yesterday.

Habits Are The Backbone Of Successful Changes

Accountability is huge when striving for a goal. It helps to share your journey with others to keep you on track when you feel like skipping a workout or don’t feel like putting much effort into your workout. Social pressure will help ensure your stay the course. There will be days when you won’t be able to perform as well as on others for a variety of reasons. Consistency is the most important tip in reaching your fitness goals.

Programming Matters

Your goal determines how you should train. If you want to increase your squat and deadlift, lose weight or improve running performance, most fitness goals require some sort of periodization program with periodic testing built in. Feedback from testing determines whether inputs (poundages, running distances or calories) should be maintained, increased or decreased. Some fitness goals are counterproductive to others. Having a well designed program based on your fitness goals improves your odds of success.

Sports Supplements

Sports supplements don’t produce the results they advertise or imply. Despite what supplement company advertisements would lead you to believe, these are not anything close to being legalized steroids.

There are a few supplements I would recommend upon discussing with your doctor first.

1. Creatine Monohydrate- There are several forms of creatine being sold but the most studied and widely used version is creatine monohydrate. Creatine works by improving energy available to muscles during high intensity, strenuous exercise and hydrates muscles. Creatine offers potential benefits such as improved cognition, glucose metabolism and bone mineral density. A kilogram will last approximately six months and costs $30.

2. Protein Powder- Sometimes it can be difficult to hit your daily dietary protein goals unless you make it convenient. Protein powder is designed for quick preparation and comes in many flavour options. Consuming high levels of protein will help with recovery from strenuous workouts.

3. Fish Oil- Fish oil is more of a health supplement than a sport supplement but should be included on this list. Fish oil may improve heart health, promote healthy skin, may improve certain mental disorders, may support eye health and may reduce inflammation. Check with your doctor before using this supplement especially if you take blood thinners.

Common Misconceptions

You Will Get Injured

Minor injuries are a likely possibility along the way in your training. Most sports that anyone plays involve risk of injury; spraining your ankle during tennis, wipeout from skiing, hip flexor injuries from running. Every physical activity comes with an inherent risk of injury. Ironically, the people who seem to be injured most are the most sedentary people.

Deadlifts & Squats Will Mess Up My Lower Back

Unless you have pre-existing low back pain or a bone related disease, most people will see their backs strengthened from including deadlifts and squats. Deadlifts and squats will activate and strengthen the muscles along the spin like nothing else. Throughout the day you will notice improved posture from these two lifts. Deadlifts and squats as an added bonus work well to strengthen abdominal muscles as well as they provide stability throughout the heavy lifts. Replace those high rep crunches with some heavy squats and deadlifts and reap the rewards.

Knee Injuries From Squatting

Proper form is critical in avoiding injuries. Improper form could lead to knee sprains. Many pains felt during squats are often pre-existing conditions such as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner’s Knee or Jumper’s Knee), Tendonitis, Arthritis of the knee, tendon or cartilage tear (could be squat induced), Illotibial Band Syndrome (usually affects runners but can usually be avoided with proper stretching).

How I’ve Changed Since Squatting & Deadlifting

Deadlift and squat personal records are short lived victories. The more important victory is becoming the person who returns to the gym on days he or she feels tired, uninspired or sore from the previous workout.

I’ve learned from meditation as well as from heavy lifting that you are not your thoughts. Performing your second warmup set of squats you might be thinking to yourself that you are not feeling the workout. The weight feels heavier than it should. Your joints feel stiff and tight. That’s okay. Even though you think you are well on your way to a mediocre workout you often surprise yourself with you final sets outperforming your first sets of the same weight and reps. Some of my most productive workouts were when I realized midway through the workout that I am capable of turning this mediocre training session into one of the best sessions I’ve had.

Heavy lifting is therapeutic. Frustration, anger and stress provide delicious fuel for workouts. You may not feel like going to the gym to lift but you will always feel better leaving the gym after heavy lifting.

It’s great to challenge yourself. When you realize you are not really competing with anyone else except the previous version of yourself it becomes fun to track your progress. If you aren’t making progress? So what? Everybody plateaus occasionally. Time to spice the training up a bit.

As masochistic as it sounds, I cannot imagine going back to a life without squats and deadlifts. They’re too much fun!