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August 3, 2020

Strength over 40 with Alana Collins

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We can still get stronger when we're over 40, but we have to train smart. With her book, Strength Training Over 40, Alana Collins shows us how.


This episode of 40+ Fitness Podcast is sponsored by Swanson Health.
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[00:02:49.220] – Allan
Alana, welcome to 40+ Fitness.

[00:02:51.930] – Alana
Thank you for having me.

[00:02:53.970] – Allan
So, you know, I did a little survey asking listeners, what do you want on the show? What do you want me spend more time doing? And I put in a weight loss and, you know, fitness and some other topics in there. And there are a few people wrote a couple of things. And overwhelmingly though, I was pleasantly surprised that they wanted to talk about strength training. They wanted to talk about training a lot more.

[00:03:18.480] – Allan
And as a personal trainer, most of the time when we see someone walk in the door and the first thing in their head is that they want to lose weight. So it's kind of surprising. But it's also why I reached out. I want to make sure I had had you on the show. Your book is called, Strength Training Over 40: A 6-Week Program to Build Muscle and Agility. And as I went through it, I was like, you know, this is this is very well done because it's simple.

[00:03:42.570] – Allan
You've got complete body workouts whether you want to do at home or in the gym. You explain every exercise very, very well. And I work with some blind clients and so when I'm working with a blind client you have to be very specific about how a movement looks and feels. And you really captured that in the book with your description. So great job.

[00:04:05.070] – Alana
Well, great. Thank you so much for that. And you know, it's when I see clients, one of the first things that I, when we first sit down, I talk to them about the fact that we're not going to get bogged down with numbers. I don't want to even know what they weigh. I'm not going to pull out the measuring tape. We focus on getting strong. And that's kind of my mantra. And I say, you know, if we focus on getting strong, everything else kind of falls into place and it does. And so they're thrilled to hear that.

[00:04:37.710] – Allan
Yeah. You know, one of the core reasons I think people over the age of 40 feel like there's this uphill battle when they start trying to maintain their muscle mass or get stronger is it just seems a lot harder than it was when they were in their 20s. And it is harder. I won't belittle that at all. A big reason, though, is our hormones. But the good news is that resistance training has a lot of benefits for us, including helping us improve our hormones. Could you talk about that a little bit?

[00:05:09.150] – Alana
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, hormones are really complicated and can't be discussed in isolation. They all work together. But basically hormones are chemical messengers in the body that regulate things like metabolism and growth and our mood and our physical response to stress. And interestingly, the body perceives strength training at first as a stressor which can elevate cortisol levels which we don't want to have elevated for long periods of time because they can wreak havoc on the body. It cortisol, the hormone that's responsible for that fight or flight response, and also the accumulation of retention of body fat, belly fat primarily.

[00:05:59.340] – Alana
So one might ask why strength train of it stimulates cortisol. And in my research, I've learned that strength training also stimulates human growth hormone, which helps the body to adapt to strength training and human growth hormone helps to reduce cortisol levels as well as helps us with insulin sensitivity. And so we know the other side of insulin sensitivity is insulin resistance, which we don't want because that can lead to Type two diabetes. So we know there's a close relationship between cortisol and insulin that's positively affected by the elevation of human growth hormone, which is stimulated by lifting weights and not just going through the motions of lifting weights either, we want to really challenge ourselves with those weights.

[00:06:59.700] – Alana
And so basically, we're training the body to deal with stress in a healthy way by putting that added demand on our muscle. And also, there is strong evidence that strength training not only increases human growth hormone in both men and women, but it also increases testosterone in men, which helps to build muscle and bone mass. And and and it increases estrogen in women, which helps stave off heart disease and osteoporosis. So that's just a very small snapshot into the hormonal response to strength training.

[00:07:40.740] – Allan
Yeah, you know when we're getting to this age, I'm in my mid 50s now and our hormones are not our friends and at least they don't feel like they're our friends, but they actually are our friends if we take the time to understand that balancing the resistance work is going to signal and it's the hormones that are going to do that signaling for you. So the release of growth hormone, this temporary increase in cortisol, which is catabolic, is then going to stimulate that muscle to change and insulin is going to play its part by replacing some of the glycogen that's come out of the muscle.

[00:08:18.390] – Allan
So whole training aspects of it gets those things working a lot better together, which is really where the key is. And then with regards to insulin and estrogen, if we don't have those right you don't feel energetic. You don't feel strong. You don't feel all the good things we felt when we were younger. So in many ways, your sex hormones are your stay young hormones and the better you do at balancing those out, keeping those where they need to be, the longer you're going to feel young.

[00:08:48.090] – Alana
Absolutely. And I think when insulin and cortisol are out of whack, it can create estrogen dominance, which I think for women in menopause is really the guilty party. And so many of the complaints that women have with menopause. And regarding menopause as well, I get a little bit fatigued by hearing women blaming everything that's going on with them on menopause and when the fact is that it's and I believe an accumulation of sort of not so wise choices.

[00:09:38.980] – Allan
And thats a really nice way to say it.

[00:09:42.790] – Alana
And then we hit sort of because we do we start to lose muscle mass at about the age of 35, called Sarcopenia. It's a fact. And but we don't really notice it until we hit about 50 and we've lost so much muscle by that point that our metabolism has slowed down because our muscle mass is directly tied to our metabolism. We lose enough muscle, our metabolism becomes sluggish. And so I find that many women, and men as well, hitting middle age, they've just lost so much muscle that their metabolism has slowed way down. So yet another another reason to get on strength training and the earlier the better. But it's never too late.

[00:10:35.860] – Allan
You know, a lot of times I'll have someone and they'll tell me, look, I know I need to work out. I know I need to, but then they don't. And in the book, you talked about the difference between inspiration and motivation. Could you take just a minute to go over this? Because I think it's I think people have it backwards sometimes when they're thinking, I need somebody, you know, to motivate me. Get me going. And so they kind of want a trainer or they want to work out body or something, someone to walk with them even when they're going to do their walks or something. But I think we're looking at that wrong. If we get those two words mixed up.

[00:11:15.580] – Alana
I think so. I did a little video the other day on this very topic and it was really well received. And one of the things that I discuss with my clients, again, when I first sit down with them is about finding their why, what's going to get through them through the door. And it's going to be different for all of us. And I see inspiration as looking outward, such as Instagram and magazines or Facebook groups or whatever. Inspiration and motivation truly comes from finding your why.

[00:11:57.490] – Alana
What is important to you? For me, I had a baby a week away from my forty fifth birthday, so my why is wanting to be really active for him and when he he's 17 now, so when he has children I want to be active for them. And so again and I say to people whatever it is that gets you through that door. That's your why and you have to deeply internalize it, but not every day that motivation is going to be there.

[00:12:30.950] – Alana
And when that motivation sort of goes on vacation, that's when we need to tap into discipline. But motivation itself will help carry us through for the most part. Yeah. So in some people, I'll ask them what to think about their why. And to them it's just wanting to look good in a bathing suit on the on the beach. I said, that's great. If that's your motivation right now, that means you don't have a lot of aches and pains in your body and you're wanting to look good if your reasons are purely aesthetic, whatever it takes to get you through the door and keep yourself strong.

[00:13:09.320] – Allan
You know, I think as we get to this age that we're at that point where we really need to start thinking about what our lives are going to be like for the next 20, 30, 40, maybe 50 years or so. And and if we're losing muscle, we're not doing this and we don't do this. We can't get ourselves motivated and can't get ourselves doing this work. We're going to lose more muscle. Eventually you're not going to be able to open up jars and you're going to lose your independence eventually.

[00:13:36.050] – Allan
You're not going be able to get up from the seated position. You're going to lose your independence. And so one of the core ways I like to look at it is I want to be able to wipe my own butt when I'm 105.

[00:13:45.470] – Alana
Yes, absolutely.

[00:13:46.850] – Allan
You know, that gets me up in the morning. You know that that gets me thinking. If I don't do this, then I'm you know, I'm setting myself up for that. When I first got into this, it was it was also my daughter. My daughter was starting to get into CrossFit and she was starting to do this obstacle course races and just that kind of fun stuff. And I was thinking, and I want to go see her do this, but I don't want to just sit there and watch her do it.

[00:14:14.750] – Allan
I want to be on the obstacle course with her. I want to be doing across the work out with her. But at the time, I was in no physical shape to make that happen. I needed to be a lot stronger to carry my body through a Tough Mudder or any kind of thing like that. So that's that was my motivation, is wanting to finish those races and spend that time that way with my daughter doing the things she loved. So many times we have our kids around us doing the things we want to do. I wanted her to be doing the things she loves and I wanted to be a part of it. So, you know, finding those ways to have that internal motivation to show up every day to do the work that's necessary to be that person that can open your own jars, that can wipe your butt at 105 or finish a Tough Mudder at 47 years old.

[00:14:57.980] – Alana
Yeah, absolutely. And I give a little example in my book. About one day I came home with groceries and it was dark in the middle of the winter and my boys had inadvertently locked me out of the gate and I didn't have my phone with me to call them and I didn't want to start shouting and bothering the neighbors. And so I thought, well, I'll just climb up over this fence and it's a really high fence. And then I was on top of the shed and then I had to lower myself down.

[00:15:27.950] – Alana
And that's, as you know, where the real strength comes in. And I got to the top and I thought, OK, it's like, you know, the down portion of a pull up. And I could do it. And I felt like a young girl scrambling up that fence and over the shed and down and opened the gate and grabbed my groceries and I was in the house and I remember thinking I couldn't do this if if I hadn't kept myself strong.

[00:15:56.900] – Alana
Not that it's a huge deal. I could have eventually gotten through the gate. But just the fact that I was able to do that, I was so proud of myself. And, yeah, losing muscle you know, for as far as aging goes is the the fastest way to lose our independence. And I'm like you. I want I want to be able to take care of myself for a really long time. I want to be able to do the things that I love to do for a really long time and not have to just look at pictures from other people that walk to the top of the hill and and looked down. I want to be able to do that myself. So those are also my whys, you know, to stay independent. I don't think any of us relishes the fact of, you know, going to a home and sort of deteriorating there.

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This episode of 40+ Fitness Podcast is sponsored by Let's Get Checked. Use code Allan20 and get 20% Off! [00:19:07.830] – Allan
My grandfather lived into his 90s, and that's where he spent the ending of his life, because he couldn't get himself up and down, he couldn't do the things he needed to be able to do. He lost big parts of his life. I remember sitting there at the golf course with him when he was 80 and he said he was going to quit playing golf because he just couldn't do it anymore. His balance wasn't there, his strength just wasn't there. And I just felt that you lived your whole life playing golf. You love the sport, you live on a golf course and now you're not going to play golf.

[00:19:37.210] – Alana
Right. And that that brings up a good point, too, because the one thing that people say to me is, well, I walk a lot, so my legs will be strong forever, but it just doesn't work that way. Eventually it'll slide backwards if we're not doing purposeful strength training to strengthen those muscles. And so that's, to train for our sport, whether it be golf or anything, hiking, you know, train the sport of life and we have to do it.

[00:20:13.540] – Alana
And just quickly, I was a competitive figure skater growing up and I had these skinny little legs. But soon I wasn't able to compete with the girls that had the genetically strong legs. And in those days back then, we didn't train for our sport. And I remember thinking, oh, if there was only a way, if there was only a way to be strong. And I had to eventually in my late teens give up skating. But I discovered the gym soon after that.

[00:20:43.870] – Alana
And I was just so happy because there is a way there is a way to keep ourselves strong. And and I've done that ever since. And I can honestly say at age 62, I'm in better shape, I just I keep getting better and stronger and people that boggles people's mind. They don't understand it. And also they say it must be such hard work. You must have to be doing this constantly and no, I might spend three hours a week in strength training because I've done it for so long. I'm now just maintaining so it's never I like to say it's never too late to start because as the saying goes, muscle knows no age. But the sooner you start, the longer you will have to reap those benefits of a strong body.

[00:21:47.530] – Allan
One of the things I was really glad to see in the book was that you spent a good bit of time talking about stretching and showing some stretches that we would do. And you included both the dynamic and the static stretching. Could you take some time to talk about both and then when one is appropriate, when the other isn't?

[00:22:07.810] – Alana
Yeah, sure, dynamic stretching is not stretching as we know it, per say, they're sort of more dynamic movements such as leg swings and arm rotations and high knees and marching in place, jumping jacks even, mountain climbers. And so if we're at home and we don't have access or jumping rope is good, but that's also cardio. If we don't have access to cardio equipment, doing these dynamic movements is a great way to not only warm up our joints, but get our heart rate up as well.

[00:22:47.150] – Alana
So those are to be done prior to strength training and then static stretching, which is the kind of stretching that most of us are familiar with are the longer holds the well where the hamstring stretches and the quad stretches and those sorts of stretches. But one thing, most of us don't hold those stretches for long enough. You know, people will hold them for three or four seconds. That's it. And go to the other side. But we really should be holding those stretches for 15 to 30 seconds.

[00:23:25.700] – Alana
But, and those should be done after strength training, it shouldn't be painful either. And I'm I'm believer in that we really shouldn't be stretching beyond our natural range of motion. And I think it's really, really important to maintain our our natural range of motion. But I think the studies are showing if we have very flexible joints without strength, that creates unstable joints and unstable joints are joints that are prone to injury. So that's been interesting to me because I grew up in through the 80s, 70s and 80s where it was all about stretching, and we really pushed ourselves way beyond our natural range of motion.

[00:24:13.100] – Alana
And we don't do that so much anymore. So just maintaining our natural range of motion, I like to say I'm as flexible as I need to be, meaning my joints, every joint in my body can do what it was meant to do.

[00:24:26.630] – Allan
Now, sometimes you're talking to a potential client or talking to someone and they hear the word gym. And immediately there's the palms get sweaty and they're thinking about going into a building that they're not going to recognize 90 percent of the stuff in there. And there's people in there. In many cases, they're in the corner over there with the heavy weights, grunting and carrying on, maybe even yelling at each other just to seem to get motivated or sitting around on the phone, sitting on the equipment that you want.

[00:24:55.510] – Allan
And so there's you know, there's this this environment that for a lot of people, they're just not quite comfortable. Can you talk a little bit about some of the benefits, why we might want to go to the gym, but also if we really can't or don't want to go to the gym, there's ways we can do this at home so we can go through that.

[00:25:14.700] – Alana
For sure. The gym is is a motivating place or because you see other people doing what what you're doing, they're interested in the same thing, which is keeping their body strong. One thing that I will do sometimes if I have a say, a sixty five year old lady who has never been in the gym before, I'll take her over to the buffest guy in the gym and introduce her. And then she sees that these guys are just so sweet and and they say, yeah, if you need any help, just, you know, I'm here.

[00:25:52.160] – Alana
And so I think that has has always helped. But being around your your tribe, you know, the people who are interested in doing the same things that that you're doing is very helpful. And I sometimes will start older clients out on the machines, which are great. We can't have those machines at home, most of us. And it's a great way to start some people who have never done strength training before. And so there's that aspect, the machines and the being around other people who are interested in the same things you are no matter the age.

[00:26:37.070] – Alana
And I think people will really be surprised at how helpful the fit buff guy, you know, is when asked a question. People are always surprised by that. And and they they say to me, I'm so intimidated. You know, they're not looking at you and they're certainly not judging you. The only thing that they're thinking is good for you, good for you, for walking through that door. So that helps too.

[00:27:05.140] – Allan
Well, the core of is this, the more members the gym has than the gyms making money, it's going to stay there. So we want our gym to stay and we want our gym memberships to be reasonably priced. If it's just us in the gym, suddenly it's not that reasonable priced because we want all that equipment in there. And so they're happy to see a new person walk in the gym. That's a net positive for the whole environment.

[00:27:30.870] – Allan
And I had a client. His name's Trent. And he told me he said he he doesn't really know the names of anybody, but he goes to the gym at the same time every day and the same people. So not at each other, they'll see each other. He doesn't know their names, doesn't really talk to him, know him that well from that perspective. But he said any day that he's thinking he might not want to go to the gym. He's imagining those guys in there working out, and it's like even if they're not really holding him accountable, accountable, he's holding himself accountable because he knows they're in there and he's not.

[00:28:05.890] – Alana
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's a great point. And I have a very competitive nature, as many people do. And if, you know, you're sitting at home on the couch there, those other people that you see every day are in the gym, you know, getting ahead of where you are. So you know that that's a good point as well. The gym is a very I don't know. I have been to so many gyms during the course of my life, and I have never, ever, as a small little female, ever had a negative experience in the gym. So I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage for some people to take that first step through the door. But it gets easier and easier. And so I tell them that the first time we sit down together.

[00:28:50.080] – Allan
And I know some people say, well, let me lose a little bit more weight, let me get a little bit more comfortable with this, and then I'll consider going to the gym. And so there are ways that we can get this done at home as long as, again, we got that we got that whole motivation, inspiration thing working for us. Many of us can have a home gym and get the same results.Can you talk a little bit? If I'm going to set up a home gym, particularly do your six week program, what are some of the equipment that I would want to have?

[00:29:18.730] – Alana
Yeah, well, I think we've proven this during this covid time for sure that we can work out at home. And so I suggest resistant bands of various strengths and you can get the bands with handles or that are continuous loop. Any kind of many bands are also great. Maybe two or three sets of dumbbells to have at home are great. And if you could get a bench, that's great, but you can use your coffee table or even the floor for some exercises if you don't have a bench, a stability ball is awesome to have. You can do all kinds of exercises with a stability ball. Those are some people call them swiss balls or exercise balls and a mat and maybe a pull up bar, which I have.

[00:30:16.720] – Alana
And and if you can't do pull ups, you know, you can attach a resistant band to it and put your foot in there. And it's like an assisted pull up and maybe a medicine ball and certainly don't have to do all of that. You can get away with just the resistant bands at first and then just kind of add to it as you go. But you can get a really good workout in with those pieces of equipment.

[00:30:45.670] – Allan
And you can often find these used their resale shops in some towns and then can going on something like Craigslist almost always are. Some of the markets, like on Facebook, you'll find used fitness equipment at a cheap, cheap price so you can get these things without breaking the bank if you take your time and shop wisely.

[00:31:07.600] – Alana
Oh, absolutely. Although I will say right now people are hard to find because people have snapped a lot of this up right now, but you just keep looking and and you'll find it. In the mean time we shouldn't forget about bodyweight exercises as well. There's a lot we can do with just our body weight, although that's not going to carry us through forever because we do need to continuously you know, we want that progressive resistance. But body weight is a great way to start out.

[00:31:43.510] – Alana
Also, I should add, TRX straps, you can buy and hook to the top of your door and those come in really, really handy.

[00:31:54.850] – Allan
Alana, I define wellness as being the healthiest, fittest and happiest you can be. What are three strategies or tactics to get and stay well?

[00:32:03.940] – Alana
OK, well, these might not be your typical responses, but first of all, I would say our state of mind is really important. So be mindful of the words that we say to ourselves, like, for example, I'm sick and tired, or I hate or I'm having a seniors moment or I'm old, or I'm X age therefore I'm supposed to be in pain and lacking energy or be carrying extra fat and growing old sucks. You know, so I never say those words to myself.

[00:32:36.970] – Alana
I'm really, really conscious of of how I speak to myself. And so be kind and gentle to yourself and treat yourself how you want others to treat you and also to stay. This is part of of this of the first one is staying connected with others and don't isolate during this this time that we're in right now, be kind to others and be of service, you know, it's all about that state of mind. And second, keeping our brain stimulated by learning new things and getting outside of our comfort zone, which might be going to the gym or taking up something new.

[00:33:18.770] – Alana
And outside of our comfort zone is where the best things happen. And stay informed. But don't get bogged down by the negative news today and find solace in knowing that we're all in this together. And third, exercise your body because you love yourself not as punishment for something that you ate. And strength train and maintain your your natural range of motion, as we talked about, challenge your heart in some way, you know, at least three times a week.

[00:33:54.170] – Alana
And, you know, just just stay strong and agile so that you can do the things you love for a long, long time. So that's kind of a long answer. But those things, I don't think we can stay well without addressing the state of mind and our brain as well as our physical bodies.

[00:34:16.610] – Allan
I completely agree. So Alana if someone wanted to learn more about you, learn more about the book Strength Training Over 40, what would you like for me to send them?

[00:34:27.470] – Alana
Well, Strength Training Over 40 is available now on Amazon.com and I'm in Canada, so it's available here in Canada on Amazon.CA and through my website as well, which is AlanaCollinsfitnesscoach.com. And I have a pretty large following on Instagram. There's my two handles are Aging Fearless and Aging Strong. And so you can check me out there.

[00:34:58.610] – Allan
All right. You can go to 40plusfitnesspodcast.com forward/445 and I'll be sure to have the links there. Alana, thank you for being a part of 40+ Fitness.

[00:35:08.610] – Alana
Thank you so much for having me. It was it was really fun.


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