How to Stay Fit at 60: Former Men’s Health Model Explains Why It's Never Too Late to Start Training

·8-min read
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When Eugene Charlesworth reflects on becoming a Men’s Health model back in 2007, he chokes up. He had only stepped into a gym for the first time five-years previously, aged 40 and in the middle of a mental health crisis. He credits the gym with saving his life and says his story is proof that it’s never too late to start training.

'It was a very low time in my life. I’d reached breaking point, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to carry on living. A friend of mine was very into the gym scene, he saw I was falling apart and he took me with him. I thought it was a load of nonsense. But I kept going.'

And he's been going ever since. Initially, Charlesworth says, he focused on compound training as a quick way to get in shape and burn body fat – via squats, deadlifts and clean and jerks. But, as he saw his body begin to change, he gained confidence and found a useful outlet for his problems.

'When you pick up that bar and hold it, you can give it all your aggression. It goes through the equipment like a charge – and then you don’t take it out on other people.'

Now, much happier and healthier, Charlesworth's training is still going strong and keeping him fit at 60. He says the secret to maintaining his physique is working out every day, which he does because training is akin to 'eating or breathing'. However, he's had to make some adjustments to his routine, so while the squats and clean and jerks that brought him to MH's attention are still part of his routine, deadlifts are now firmly off the agenda.

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'It’s just too dangerous as your body becomes more brittle and your muscles tear more easily as you get older,' he explains. 'Plus it takes much longer to recover from injuries.'

As Charlesworth's aged, he's also added more cardio into his routine and recommends other men do the same as they grow older. 'We all tend to become less active as we get older, so keeping your cardio going is really important,' he says.

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While he's adapted his training in the last 15 years, Charlesworth doesn't believe the fitness industry has done the same. He despairs of the lack of diversity in the gym and doesn't like the idea that he's the only (almost) pensioner in the weights room. An advocate for the impact exercise can have on mental health, he believes more must be done to make gyms welcoming for everyone.

'There’s just no vision for different types of people. It’s not changed in 15 years – and if anything, it’s got worse. I want to help people who are scared to walk into a gym. It upsets me so much that we have so many gyms but they’re so off-putting for so many people.'

To counter this, he asks gym regulars to be friendly to newcomers, say good morning to the person next to you and 'stop walking around like you have two carpets under your arms'.

For anyone intimidated by gyms full of people who – frankly – look like him, he has this message: 'Don’t let anybody fool you into thinking someone has the perfect life. Mental health is just as important. Do you want to function and be happy? Or have a six pack and be mentally unstable? The gym is not all about pumping iron – it gave me a good path when I was so close to going down a bad one.'

And how will Eugene be celebrating being fit at 60? With a cruise, of course. 'I’ve already got a smile on my face as I can see myself walking around the ship at 60 – and I will have a pair Speedos on,' he laughs.

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How Often Should a 60 Year Old Workout?

The answer to this question will depend highly on your experience, preferences and the intensity of your training. For example, if you're training to a high intensity but are new to strength training, you may need a few more rest days in your programme. It will also depend on your time constraints. No one wants to be waking up early for a workout they can't stand; what's important is that it fits your schedule and is enjoyable. Plus, evidence has shown that progress can be made with just two sessions a week.

According to an excerpt published by Human Kinetics, ‘Strength development is enhanced by training the same muscles again two or three days after the last workout. The actual amount of recovery time needed to achieve maximum muscle-building benefit will vary because of individual differences.’

This is further supported by a study published in the Physician and Sports Medicine Journal on adult and senior subjects showed no differences in muscle gain between the two and three-day-a-week exercise groups after 10 weeks of strength training. So when comparing two and three days a week, the differences in muscle gain are negligible, so two gym trips a week should do it when you training to be fit at 60.

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What Is the Best Workout for over 60?

An elite level coach who has a wealth of experience in training those who are over 60 is Ty Paul. He shared with us his six best exercises to keep gym goers fit at 60, which you can use in your training programme.

Paul recommends: 'Government guidelines suggest that we should perform some form of physical activity everyday. You should seek advice from a GP if you haven't exercised for a while. Recent studies have proven that weight bearing exercises are integral for people aged 60 and over to help improve their bone density and maintain muscle mass.'

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Squats x 8-12 reps and 3 sets

Paul recommends: 'The first exercise I would recommend is Squats. For beginners, I would start by sitting on chair and lifting yourself into a standing position. Work on completing a full range of movement so that you maintain your flexibility as you get older. Prevention is better than the cure and as we get older simple tasks such a getting up from a chair could prove difficult. Start by doing three sets of eight-12 reps and then gradually start to increase your weights once three sets of 12 become easy.'

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Arnold Press x 8-12 reps and 3 sets

Paul recommends: 'With modern day living we hardly ever find the need to lift our hands above our head. Using our mobile phone's, tablets, eating our dinner or reading the newspaper are all examples of this. The Arnold press will help us maintain a nice range of movement in our shoulders allowing us to keep good posture.'

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Lunges x 8-12 reps and 3 sets

Paul recommends: 'Static lunges will help work on your leg strength while giving you the opportunity to work on your balance. Perform the exercise slowly and controlled, remember our goal is to improve our strength not to bulk up.'

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Face Pulls x 8-12 reps and 3 sets

Paul recommends: 'This exercise is a great exercise to help retract the shoulders and improve posture. As we get older we lose flexibility, but by performing this exercise for eight-12 reps three times a week it will reduce the chance of kyphosis. This move is also fantastic for improving rotator cuff strength.'

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Plank x 45 second holds and 3 sets

Paul recommends: 'The Plank is incredibly important to work on your core when you are over 60 in order to help stabilise and improve balance throughout your whole body. A strong core will improve your posture but also help if you suffer from lower back pain. Perform three x 45 second holds with 45 seconds rest in-between sets. Work up to performing a full plank but lower yourself onto your knees if you are struggling to hold the exercise. Make sure that if you feel any pressure or pain in your lower back you either stop or reduce the intensity of the exercise by dropping to your knees.'

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Kettlebell Rack and Press

Paul recommends: 'The kettlebell rack and press will combine all the above exercises into one. The rack and press as an all over body exercise will elevate your heart rate, which will, in turn, help improve your cardiovascular fitness. It also has the added benefit of ticking the box of it being a weight bearing ring exercise, thus maintaining muscle mass and bone density. Try three sets of 8-12 reps each hand and increase your weights when this becomes too easy. I have seen astonishing improvements from fitting these simple exercises into a weekly routine. If you feel the need for group motivation or advise on techniques I recommend joining the community at our Over 60's Class.'

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