The Ultimate Anti-Aging Workout!

A lot of thought. A considerable volume of study. Extensive experimentation. Many conversations. That’s what went into today’s topic. We are of course going to be discussing the Ultimate Anti-Aging Workout!

The Lifetime Athlete
The Lifetime Athlete
Ep308 – The Ultimate Anti-Aging Workout!

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that the title is a bit sensational. We are all aging. No doubt about it. Can’t deny it. But are there things we can do to make the physical and cognitive decline associated with aging more incremental and less pronounced. Yes. I’m going to explain why this workout might be the single most powerful influencer on function and performance through the lifespan.

Honestly, workouts don’t work to their full potential until we have great health in place first. That’s why I created The Lifetime Athlete 5-3-1 System. Build a solid foundation with the 5 Components of Lifelong Health. Those are food, movement, sleep, ergonomics, and awareness. Eat an Earth-Based Diet which supports ideal metabolic function. Move a lot in general activity throughout the day (10k steps not including your workout). Get the optimal amount and quality of sleep. Set up your work and personal environment to contribute to, not detract from, your health. Get stress, relationships, and self-knowledge right. 

Once the aforementioned components are in place and humming along, we can then apply the 3 Essential Elements of Peak Performance which are training, recovery, and mindset. This allows you to become the 1 Athlete for Life that you so richly deserve to be and for which your genes are programmed.

Knocking it out of the park with the 5-3-1 System allows you to become Hard to Kill – on the playing field – and in the game of LIFE! I know you’ve heard me say all those things before, but when you lay it out so clear and simple…it just makes sense. The state of being Hard to Kill (HTK) has a dual definition. You’re fit and athletic and good at sports and life tasks. A highly proficient, durable, and versatile BEAST. You’re also robust and resilient to the highest degree and this means that The Reaper (he gets us all in the end) will have more difficulty taking you out overall, and especially too early. Those are hard facts.

When you dive deeply into the literature, and you start to look at the analytics and weighting of lifestyle interventions…it’s TRAINING that has the statistically greatest impact on the quality, and to a lesser extent, the length of your life. Again, all the health stuff has to be in place, but training makes an exponential contribution to your ability to enjoy what you define as a successful life with a long healthspan. And as you know, I don’t just say “exercise” to describe overly general and sometimes random, misdirected movement habits. Training takes your exercise to the next level and gives it purpose, direction, and meaning. Train for fitness. Train for sport. Train for frigging LIFE.

So what does aging do to us that takes away vitality and brings us closer to the old meetup with The Reaper? Cognitive degradation. Losses in muscle mass, bone mineral density, movement quality and variability, aerobic capacity, and functional independence. Things which are to some extent inevitable but that also are capable of being both delayed and made more incremental. I didn’t say diminishment in emotional health because that is quite variable across the population, with many older individuals achieving their highest levels in their later years. Stiff, slow, weak, and fragile is what we don’t want to become. We need a workout that makes us agile, fast, powerful, and durable…of body, mind, and spirit.

In thinking of a workout that is a Reaper-Retarder, you’ll wonder from an objective standpoint what it is that we are going after. That’s baseline (or better) levels of the 5 Capacities of Athleticism. Those are strength, speed, power, agility, and endurance. Again, these are items commonly discussed here at TLA, and for good reason. 

Strength equates with force production ability, muscle development, and tissue density. Speed, in its purest form, is maximum velocity and you can certainly appreciate its contribution to sport. But many life skills, particularly in emergency situations, demand speed. Power is really sustainable output, whether for a second or a few minutes. It can be very anaerobic (an Olympic Lift or lawn mower start) or it can be quite aerobic (run a mile or bike up a hill). Agility is a very unique attribute. It’s more than just mobility, or having the flexibility to access range of motion. Agility also includes stability, fluidity, and reactivity. It’s the defining characteristic of a MOVEMENTSMITH…someone who owns every position and who has mastery of motion in every direction. It’s a skill and an art form which requires practice. And finally endurance, both in a cardiorespiratory sense and with regard to muscular fatigue resistance, is important.

In designing the ultimate anti-aging workout, I’m mainly going to go after strength, speed, power, and agility in a gym-based (home or commercial) setting. In the context of a somewhat comprehensive training program, I’ll put the endurance element into a different session. For example, a very generic yet highly effective model would be to perform this soon to be described anti-aging workout twice per week and then to hit some good old “Zone 2 cardio” for 30-60 minutes three other days per week. 
All this would probably come in pretty close (but with some uniqueness due to our TLA model, which is to this day overlooked by most longevity and medical experts) to the recommendations available in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

As we develop our Ultimate Anti-Aging Workout (UAW), there are a number of considerations. It can’t be too long, expensive, or complicated. Everyone needs to be able to access, from a standpoint of exercise competency and equipment, the content. It has to be scalable so that people at any conditioning level can participate. It’s got to be modifiable so we can work around injuries and other conditions with which many of us may struggle. It actually needs to be fun, in the sense of celebrating the joy of animalistic movement in the human beast and conquering the challenge of doing hard things. I’ll be discussing some of these potential adjustments as we go along but a lot of the modifications are what personalized programming and online coaching is all about so I won’t be able to cover every single possibility here. 

We should talk about the concept of “minimum effective dosage” (MED). Two 45-minute gym workouts and three aerobic sessions per week is probably just above that minimum level. You can’t do much less than this and get stellar results. In fact, I’m not even all that interested in MED for myself and my clients (and this audience). I’m all about the IDEAL dosage, and this of course fluctuates between individuals and within a person throughout the year. I want the dose, or recipe, for KICKING ASS, and much less than that just doesn’t excite me. Peak performance is what I seek and it’s what I sell. Go elsewhere if what you want to hear is more like the AARP suggestion that your training looks like driving to the shopping center, looking for a close parking space, then walking into the pharmacy to pick up new meds before driving back to your rocking chair. F**k that!

All right, enough ranting. Let’s describe how the ultimate anti-aging workout will be sectioned. First up is an agility flow. This will look like a mobility sequence with a few movement-smithy things thrown in. This is preparatory and it will activate the body for the resistance training segment. From there we’ll progress to a brief (and safe) speed component. And we finish out with some low-impact but high-intensity interval training (HIT).

The agility flow is absolutely the most variable portion of the workout. I really encourage you to put your signature on this one. There are myriad options of sequences you can use to keep your body agile. The one I’ll provide is just an example of the many, many “agi-flows” I personally use and that which my clients enjoy.

By flow series I simply mean that you go through the list in seamless fashion, transitioning from one movement or position to another. Let’s say for this version, you’ll do about 30 seconds of each component, this way you don’t have to (or even need to) count reps, etc. You can take breaks as needed but probably a lot of rest won’t be required because the demand level is not too high. A dozen or so items is about right and 1 circuit through should be adequate, although occasionally you can do 2 rounds if you feel you need it.

We can start with some old-school low-tech calisthenics, cruise into a few things that look like developmental sequence positions and yoga or martial arts moves, and raise our level of readiness for the rest of the workout. Preparatory work is both physical warmup and activation. It gives us a chance to do a “body-check” in which you can assess any stiff or sore areas. It also provides the opportunity to transition mental focus away from work or other mind-occupying thoughts and to “get into the task at hand,” which is making your body more Reaper-resistant. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll list out the movements in the workout table, but I won’t go into any detailed descriptions. As long as whatever you do feels relatively safe and effective, it’s all good. Again, there are so many options for an agility flow. You should change this up from time to time, such as every month or season. I do that with all the clients I coach.

For resistance training, we are going to use The Top 5 Resistance Exercises for Lifetime Athletes. This is definitely an area where you could potentially select different, and more, exercises…but these are high return on investment practices which I reviewed in detail in that article which you can find by searching for the title on the website. You’ll also find pictures and video demonstrations of the movements.

Those exercises are the trap bar deadlift, landmine press, unilateral pulldown, walking lunge, and suitcase carry. We are going to use different criteria for each exercise in order to make this workout most efficient and effective. 

The trap bar deadlift will use a 5 x 5 protocol that progresses through an RIR of 5-4-3-2-1. This means you do 5 sets of 5 repetitions, taking as much rest as you need between sets, at a Repetitions in Reserve of 5 for the first set and only 1 for the final set. You’ll increase weight each set and explore how much you need to make the exercise progressively more challenging. By loading in this manner, we can get a great anabolic stimulus into the body without risking going to a 1-rep max or using higher reps that can possibly lead to fatigue-related form failures. As I mentioned in the previous article, you can also do this exercise with dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, or even buckets of gravel. So there’s no reason to miss out on this very important movement.

For the landmine press and unilateral row, we’re going to borrow from Dr. Michael Yessis and use the 1 x 20 protocol, with a slight adjustment. 1 x 20 is doing one set of 20 reps for each exercise, and for these that’s on both sides so you end up having done 2 sets for each movement. We’re going to select a weight that is in your self-perceived “moderate” range, such that you have to use rest-pause technique once or twice to get the last 10 reps of the 20 finished. All this means is that you pause or take a few seconds of rest to re-gather yourself and get the final few reps done with good technique. This provides a high stimulus in a very compressed package. The point here is that going to full or near failure promotes strength and muscle-building, but in this rep range it’s highly unlikely you’ll end up hurting yourself.

Keep in mind that resistance training is always more than just building strength and muscle. You’re getting movement pattern competency, and actually an active form of stretching with each exercise.

Walking lunges will be done for a step count of 20 reps, for 2 sets. You can load up any way you like but dumbbells at your sides is a good place to start. Each time a foot touches the ground counts as a rep, so you end up descending and ascending under load 10 times on each leg per set. Use about 20-30% of bodyweight (10-15% in each hand). This isn’t super heavy but it will challenge you to use very good form and full range of motion. If your space is limited or you can’t get outside, just go back and forth to get your steps.

The suitcase carry will be performed using a heavy KB, DB, bucket, or a suitcase full of books. You can even use a gym bag full of dogshit for that matter. Go for 40-50% of bodyweight (in 1 arm only) and do a minute on each side.

Speed is sometimes a scary topic for many folks. As soon as I mention it they cringe or begin to push back. I usually need to do 2 things. First it’s to provide reassurance that speed training can indeed be safe and enjoyable. Second I explain why it’s absolutely necessary for Lifetime Athletes because it is the only form of training that exclusively trains the Type II (fast-twitch) muscle fibers and alpha motor neurons.

As much as I love sprinting, I’m not putting it into this workout, because it is a very advanced skill…especially as we get older. That’s for my coaching clients. We’re going to keep this workout safe and approachable by using a box jump progression. Jumping, in the way we are going to perform it, is an extensive plyometric. It helps us to develop elasticity and to quickly contract and relax muscles. How the progression works is you select the level, based on your own assessment, that seems right for you and then over time you can work up. I’ll describe the levels briefly next.

  • Simple Snapdown (quickly descend and stop in mid-squat position)
  • Uptempo Bodyweight Squat (come out of the hole fast but don’t jump)
  • Countermovement Paper Jump (squat jump just high enough to get piece paper under feet)
  • Box Jump (any height from board or book to about 18 inches, jump up and on but step down slowly)

The jumps are done as singles, doing only 1 rep with max intent and then waiting about 30 seconds before doing the next one. We are doing 7 total because not only is that a lucky number, it’s plenty of reps if you do them intensely. Plus, we need to get away from the thinking that everything has to be done in multiples of 5. There are no counters inside your muscles. The man is trying to keep you in the box of 10. Be a rebel. Stick it to the man.

As we approach the finale of the workout, and get into some HIT, it’s a great place to discuss the Zones of Training. In recent decades, aerobic training has somewhat classically been described using zones of output, or effort. There are a number of different models out there, with as many as 8 zones or subclassifications, but most common and popular is a relatively basic 5-zone model. Training goes from easiest to hardest with Zones 1-5 respectively. These zones have historically been determined based upon percentages of such metrics as maximum heart rate, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), functional threshold power (FTP), and lactate or second ventilatory threshold (LT). Monitoring some of these measures can be equal parts precise and complicated. Fortunately, we can use simpler terms that are still accurate and valid to describe the zones. I’m sure you’re already familiar with this nomenclature, but I’ll provide a table to clarify.

1550-59recoverycontinuousFull sentence
3770-79tempo10-30 min.2-3 words
4880-89stamina3-8 min.1 word
59-1090-100all-out10-60 sec.Can’t talk
Zones of Training Simplified

There are some generalizations in the table that I can explain. RPE is rate of perceived exertion, and it’s based on a 1-10 scale where exercise starts at 5. The percentage of maximum output is literally “how much of what you got…right here, right now” as opposed to looking at a portion of one of those specific metrics, such as FTP, that I mentioned earlier. Those targets are generally the adaptations which occur at the specific zone, although there is some overlap. The rep durations are research-based, again with a bit of crossover from zone to zone. Finally, and perhaps most important, is the talk test. It’s easy and it works. The degree to which you can respond or carry on a conversation is strongly correlated to your zone of output. 

In our TLA model, Zone 1 is usually used to describe casual walking or very easy cycling, etc. Zone 2 is that standard “cardio” or endurance mode and it’s relatively comfortable and sustainable for at least an hour for most people. Z3 is a place we don’t go nearly as often but it has some unique applications for metabolic efficiency. Z4 is your VO2max and that is aerobic power. Z5, in an effort sense, is the redline and even though I used the term “all-out” I usually like to encourage clients to give a 90-95% effort. 100% max has very little extra benefit, often results in straining or declines in movement quality, and can increase injury risk.

I also should talk about the disconnect between heart rate and speed. When we are truly working on max speed, or close to it, we don’t really care about heart rate. We care about the velocity, and effort. This is because true speed training (not relative speed such as pace over longer distance) only happens at 7 seconds or less (you can’t sustain max speed longer than this…it’s scientifically proven). Heart rate usually won’t reach its peak until after the rep is over (during the rest interval) and it may not go to max anyway. Zone 5 training is actually looking more at the cardio and power output elements than pure speed. So if I’m programming aerobic exercise for a client, and I want a near-max effort, I’ll use the term Zone 5. But if I’m working with one of my sprinters, I specifically express the desired output as a percentage of maximum velocity. Might seem like I’m splitting hairs here, but that’s actually the convention in sports training.

One of the common traps many trainees fall into is what some people call the gray zone or “chronic cardio level” in which they do all their training at Zone 2.9 or so. They don’t go easy enough on easy days to truly facilitate recovery or even optimal endurance building and when it’s time to go hard, they either won’t or can’t (due to chronic fatigue) step on the gas fully. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in health and performance when folks addressed this issue. Go easy most of the time. Maybe 80%. But when it’s time to go hard, go like hell. This shit works, and you can get a T-shirt on the Shop page which states exactly that.

In our HIT section of the UAW, we are only going to use Z5, Z4, and Z1. We’ll save that Z2 endurance cardio for the other sessions as I mentioned earlier. The trick in putting this together is to get a decent stimulus without exhausting The Lifetime Athlete. 

We use an air bike or rower to get a low (virtually “no”) impact exposure that is full-body and extremely effective. You can also use an elliptical machine if it has arms (although I find most of these to feel “wonky”) or deep-water pool running (if available). First up is 4 reps of 10 seconds at Z5 with 50 seconds at Z1 effort (again, don’t really worry about heart rate here, just go really hard then really easy). That’s a 1:5 work to rest ratio because you gas it for 10 seconds and go super slow with active rest (keep doing the movement at the lowest possible intensity) for 50 seconds. This is known as alactic exercise because, even though we go really strong, because it’s only for 10 seconds we don’t produce much lactic acid (uses mainly the CP system). But you really have to get after it. You’ll find it only takes about half a second to ramp up into max gear and your challenge is to hold it all the way through the 10th second. Not as easy as it sounds if you don’t wusspuss your effort. 

At the end of the 4th minute (after 50 seconds of partial recovery), you launch into 1 x 4 minutes at Zone 4. Here’s where you’ll have to experiment. Your output might be something like 87.3% (just being facetious) of maximum but going by feel is my recommendation. Instead of calculating what your 87.3% (or something close to that) might be and then watching your heart rate monitor or power readout, just shoot for a fairly steady effort. Then, you can look at what HR or wattage that produced and use it as a reference. You drive the tech…don’t let it control you. Another way to approach this rep is to finish the 4 minutes being able to go about another 30 seconds at that effort if you absolutely had to call on your total reserve. If you poop out after the first 2 minutes and finish very slowly, you started too hard and will need to begin more conservatively next time. Likewise, if you finish and feel like you could have kept going at that rate for several minutes, you didn’t push yourself hard enough. It’s important to nail this Zone in order to get the maximal oxygen uptake benefits we are seeking. We only do 1 rep of this ass-kickery because it’s enough of a stimulus without wrecking you for days. 

I recommend the 4 minute interval because not only is it research-proven it is also experience-based. 3 minutes isn’t quite as good as 4 as far as a training stimulus goes (as long as you get the intensity correct). But 5-8 is only marginally better than 4 and it is extremely difficult for all but the most elite endurance athletes to sustain the focus and output past 4 minutes. Do it one time. Do it right.

Once that 4th minute is complete, shift into super-easy Z1 gear and keep actively recovering for another 4 minutes. Your HR won’t be back to normal, but you’ll be down at least below 70% max and ready for a little extra cooldown (which can just be some ambling around, sipping a beverage, and doing a random stretch or two if you like). You’re done. It’s over. You did it! 

We should talk about post-workout stretching just a little bit. I don’t put a ton of that into my individual workout programming these days because its value is so variable. If a person really has flexibility deficits, adding a little extra stretching here can be good. This can be a mix of dynamic and static stretches and personal faves. Whatever floats your boat. However, I routinely use a brief “circle up and stretch” component to most group fitness and athletic team sessions. The reasons are several fold. First, many people expect this and it doesn’t hurt me one bit to give them what they want. Next, that communal session allows for review and discussion, team-building and hormonal upregulation (oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin), and a rapid return to the parasympathetic baseline (when recovery and adaptation occur).

The UAW is provided in easy access table format. Once you’ve done it a time or two, you won’t need the table or the text, but they are decent references to get going.

:30 each
1-2 circuits

Trunk Twist
Side Bend/Reach
Toe To Sky Touch
Jumping Jack
Air Squat
Skater Bound
Oblique Sit Rockers
Iso Lunge
Sidelying T-Rotations
Trap Bar Deadlift
5 x 5
RIR 5-4-3-2-1

Landmine Press
2-handed in Standing
1 x 20 each side
Rest-Pause Technique

Unilateral Pulldown
1 x 20 each side
Rest-Pause Technique

Walking Lunge
20-30% Bodyweight
2 x 20 steps 

Suitcase Carry
40-50% BW
1:00 each side
Box Jumps
7 x 1
:30 rests

Uptempo Squat

4 x :10/:50

1 x 4:00
Zone 4

1 x 4:00
Zone 1
Prescription: Take 2 times per week for better results at LIFE!

As I alluded to at the beginning of this diatribe, there are many, many ways to put together a session like this one. I offered up my rationale for why this particular version is very safe, effective, and applicable to almost any trainee. Advanced athletes and fitness enthusiasts may consider upping the volume, such as doing twice as many sets in the resistance section, or three times as many reps in the aerobic power portion. My advice, if you’re going to consider that, is to not sacrifice intensity or load and to work up gradually. 

I hope you try this workout. I bet you’ll like it. I’d be thrilled if you used it as written or even if it just provided you with some food for thought in designing your own session. I’d love your feedback. And if you like this type of content but want a little more, like getting this kind of stuff every day, join the Training Tribe or Fit for the Field. If you really want to dial this stuff into a personalized, customized training program, sign up for a coaching subscription or package. 

Use training to Kick Ass at life…for LIFE. Become and remain Hard to Kill. Tell the Reaper to suck it!

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