How to Get In Shape When You’re Over 40 and Injured

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In part 1 of this series, I revealed what I called my Freedom Framework, a 7-phase approach to reclaiming your body, health and mindset. Every Monday, in the weeks that unfold, I’ll be detailing the 6 key elements that need to be integrated into the 7 phases:

  • Exercise,
  • Nutrition,
  • Mindset,
  • Sleep,
  • Workflow, and
  • Lifeflow

And, once a month, I’ll be adding in my own personal progress updates.

Please note, too, that while I laid out the Freedom Framework as 7 discrete phases, as a few people noted in the comments last week, the reality is that certain of these phases will co-mingle/crossover and certain others will require tight integration between critical elements as well (like exercise and nutrition). Don’t worry, it’ll all get clear as this adventure unfolds over the next few weeks.

This week, I’m sharing how to work the first key element—exercise—into the Freedom Framework.

So, why am I starting with exercise?

Because exercise is life’s magic bullet!

A mountain of research over the last 3 decades reveals that exercise is, in fact, the master key, the catalyst to forward movement in nearly all the critical areas of life. It improves:

And, here’s the critical thing, I have a confession to make…I was wrong about something!

A while back I published what went on to become a huge post on exercise that argued for adopting an approach to movement that was driven by the need to find activities that engaged your mind and, in doing so, make exercise fun. After working with thousands of clients, I still believe that with all my heart.

But, when you’re over 40, out of shape and coming back from a largely sedentary existence/injuries, you can’t approach it the same way you did when you were 20. Trust me, I know. I did. Many times. And I’ve paid the price…many times.

So, when integrating mind-engaging movement into the Freedom Framework, I’ve slotted it into the middle phases to allow for adequate time and attention to building a foundation and beginning to fix what’s broken, before diving into more mind-engaging, yet often more “freestyle” movement that requires a real base.

Say Bye-bye to the cookie cutter…

Also, you won’t find any formulaic 8, 12 or 16 week programs here or the classic 3-pronged—Strength, Flexibility and Cardiovascular—approach. Those work great as cookie cutter systems, especially when you’re younger, but once you’re into your 30s or beyond and grappling with injuries or chronic pain, simply addressing these three elements in a standardized protocol just isn’t enough (or intelligent) for most people.

Which is why what I am sharing in this series of posts is not a standardized “system,” but rather a dynamic big picture “framework” that could take anywhere from a few months to a few years to move through. It’s not so much about providing all the answers as it is about telling you what you think about and when, then pointing you to resources that’ll let you find the most intelligent answers for your own body, mind and health at each step along the journey.

I’m guessing my adventure will take around a year just to get to a pain-free, lean, relatively fit state. And, I’m good with that, if it sets me up to wildly more capable, alive, healthy and pain-free for the remaining 200 years of my life.

With that in mind, let’s dive into what’s important for each phase as it pertains to exercise.

Exercise Phase 1 | Foundation: The purpose of this phase is to clear the decks, remove obstacles, do a bit of research, set up your physical setting, see doctors or other health care professionals to both rule out causes of pain and discomfort that need medical intervention and diagnose what needs diagnosing if needed and set daily actions in motion for each of the 6 critical elements. This is also a time to do a bit of research on the different types of offerings available to you in your local area.

  • For me: I’ve also begun to integrate basic cardiovascular and range of movement exercises. At this point, they are more about beginning to establish the regular habit of movement, prepare my joints and connective and benefit from the mindset, brain-power and other broader wellness benefits of moderate, gentle cardiovascular exercise. Strengthening and calorie-burning on a level that makes a real difference will come later.

Exercise Phase 2 | Repattern, Rebalance & Rebuild: Over the years, I’ve studied a wide array of approaches to movement, exercise, conditioning, postural assessment and rebalancing and pain reduction. And, I’ve become trained in certified in a bunch of them, from being an Egoscue Method Postural Alignment Specialist to an American College of Sports Medicine Health/Fitness Instructor and even a Yoga Instructor.

Throughout all of this, one common theme keeps emerging, especially when you’re dealing with a “grown up” (translation “pained in some way”) body. When at all possible, rebalance your body’s posture and repattern the connective tissue (tendon, ligaments and fascia) to remove the dysfunctional posture BEFORE moving into a more intense strengthening phase.

Effective approaches to “self-treating” in this phase may include:

For more intensive solutions guided by qualified therapists, check out (Note: the quality of any of these approaches will be heavily dependent upon the skill, training and ability of the individual rendering services, so take the time to investigate who’s really good):

For me: I know enough to know (a) what I don’t know, and (b) that I need help. So, prefer a combination of outside and self-treatment. My body’s been through the ringer over the last 5 years with major shoulder surgery, two broken feet and a huge shift to being sedentary. And, even though I am unusually well versed in modalities to correct what’s happened, I know that I need help to do it right.

So, I am exploring a mix of self-treatment, neuromuscular therapy, yoga, tai chi and possibly osteopathy into my adventure with the goal of settling on a small number of activities that’ll work in a complimentary manner, along with my daily gentle base-building, brain-power and mood boosting cardio.

Executive decision time – Splitting this post.

Okay, so I’m realizing now that this post is getting really long and it’s only halfway through. Plus, if you’re like me, you need to take some time to explore the first two stages before you can even think about what’s coming next.

So, I’m gonna end this post here and share Part 2 with you guys next week. That part will layout my approach to movement and exercise for the final 5 phases of the Freedom Framework:

  • Exercise Phase 3 | Explore
  • Exercise Phase 4 | Expand
  • Exercise Phase 5 | Demand
  • Exercise Phase 6 | Overcome
  • Exercise Phase 7 |Manifest

Be sure you’re subscribed below so you don’t miss Part 2 or any of the upcoming parts of this series.

Oh, and one last thing, as always, please feel free to leave your thoughts and questions and recommendations in the comments. Especially if there’s something you want to make sure I address in next week’s post.

Don’t miss the other articles in this series:

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15 responses

15 responses to “How to Get In Shape When You’re Over 40 and Injured”

  1. Anthony says:

    Interesting post.

    I will definitely be checking out the rest of this series.

    I think the problem with humanity right now is we forget we are animals.

    If we had to work for our food and only ate natural stuff, a lot of problems would be solved.

    Also glad you are not advocating the formulaic approach.

    We just need to get more in tune with our bodies, and go with the flow.

  2. jaime kanter says:

    Let me know when you want the 411 on fifty plus and plenty broken.

  3. Lisa Guinn says:

    This is a great article. I am 50+ and a cancer survivor. It is just not possible for me to exercise as I did in my 20s and 30s.

    I have found a lot of relief by doing trigger point therapy (I love my Theracane) and by working with a massage therapist who uses the Hendrickson Method of orthopedic massage.

    I am gradually returning to a more active lifestyle, but it is a slow (and sometimes discouraging) process. I am looking forward to this series to build a more integrated and effective approach! Thanks!

  4. Awesome stuff Jonathan!

    You have a very smart and well laid out plan that you are tailoring to your own fitness goals.

    Looking forward to following your progress;-)

  5. Thanks for inspiring me and others.

  6. steve weaver says:

    I’m 48, soft and out of shape BAD. I know enough to realize I don’t really know squat. That being said, exercise details would be nice … diet is more about doing more of what I know I should do.

  7. cynthia says:

    This is not very specific. I sense that you are after something comprehensive here and I would like to suggest that you zero in more from the ‘overview” perspective to some more nitty-gritty, down to details information. Forgive me if I say too much, but you are starting way back from the subject rather than walking the reader through it. Theory comes out of experience. If you put theory first the reader has to — wait.

  8. cynthia says:

    This is not very specific. I sense that you are after something comprehensive here and I would like to suggest that you zero in more from the ‘overview” perspective to some more nitty-gritty, down to details information. Forgive me if I say too much, but you are starting way back from the subject rather than walking the reader through it. Theory comes out of experience. If you put theory first the reader has to — wait.
    BTW I love your blog!

  9. Rencsi says:

    I’m really looking forward to this series!

    Since getting laid off in December, I rediscovered the gym and have lost 25 pounds so far. I am now a certified Zumba instructor working on getting group & personal fitness certified while completing prerequisites for physical therapy school.

    Fitness is one of my passions and I’m excited to read your recommendations and follow your progress! Cheers!

  10. Mouli Cohen says:

    Inspiring post. Too bad many of us only have time for a few of these steps. Sometimes the world of investment, philanthropy, and innovation is a little too hectic to squeeze personal fitness in.

  11. Lon Fuentes says:

    Great topic. Very inspiring project. It’s always hard to balance work and self-care. For me it’s always been a struggle. Perhaps this “balancing” effort is really the meta-work that creates sustainability and longevity.

    BTW, I’m curious if you have come across the work of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who wrote what I think is *the* seminal book on nutrition and diet, Eat to Live.

    Really enjoy your blog…

  12. […] training for that triathlon you’ve been wanting to […]

  13. Jenny Ferry says:

    Jonathan, thank you so much for – what appears to me – broaching this topic comprehensively for us 40+ less-than-Olympians.

    Like you, I’ve been on a journey to reclaim my body and energy following childbirth (at 41) and then a serious car accident (at 43). It’s been a journey of experimenting with many healing/exercise modalities, so I’m very excited to read the series as you work through the Freedom Formula.

    Exercise is not my area of expertise, however, here’s a couple of modalities that I discovered through personal research & experience that are nice compliments, albeit woo-woo leaning, to those you’ve suggested for Phase 2 with qualified therapists:

    – Cranial-sacral therapy
    – Guided imagery for healing
    – Network Spinal Analysis (NSA), and it’s cousin:
    – Somato Respiratory Integration (SRI)

    As for self-treatment, I also found active-isolated stretching to be a very effective technique.

    Thanks again, and looking forward to learning more through this series.

  14. After watching your posts for a while, I started thinking about my need to work out more actively and have worked out 5 times in the past 10 days… I bought my protein and have been feeling great, it’s totally worth it. I already see my old self coming back after being and eating healthier… Actually I setup my “Physical Workout Setting” in my living room (lol). It is a lot easier to watch TV and lift weights and run on the treadmill, because I previously had my weights in the garage and it was hard to get dedicated – especially in the AZ heat.

  15. Ruri says:

    I believe after 40 our physical power already reduce. Therefor, exercise with tai-chi and will be must suitable. Since it is use the inner power.

    However, control our eating habit and do normal activities could be better.