Almost all training programs or workout routines are focused on the very short term, e.g. 90 days, 12 weeks and similar.

My questions is about the "kernel" (key elements in a wide sense) for a training program that can work throughout at least half of an expected life time for most people in the developed world. A long term training program that manages the changes in care taking situations (children, ageing parents), injuries (permanent, temporary, ..), physical capability, income, moving to different countries/regions and work situations.

On Google Scholar, it seems like the topic "lifelong physical training" generates interesting results, see "life long physical training". Habits seems to be important for people to maintain long training programs. See for example, "Physical activity and muscle training in the elderly." a 20 year study on male "orienterare". However, I know many in that sport that have changed to other sports or - in most cases - stopped training.

On the commercial side, there are a number of gyms in the US that promises "life long fitness" but their methods seem to be the same as other gyms

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    Hi @Fredob, questions that are so broad generally have no one real answer. Is there any specific problem your facing? Like picking a type of sports you can remain active in for decades? The whole point there are dozens of different types of sports is because everybody has different needs and preferences. So I'd advise you to change the focus of your question, else we'll probably has to close it for being too broad.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Jul 13, 2012 at 12:16
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    The problem with your question is that goals change over the course of time. When goals are reached, we replace them with new goals--or get bored and quit. Most programs are centered around achieving a specific goal. So the question is this: what do you see yourself doing over 40 years? If you can answer that, we can give some advice on what should remain a core component of your training. As it is, your answers would be equally as broad as your question. Jul 13, 2012 at 12:41
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    On a 40-year time frame, I don't think we're going to be able to get any more specific than "stay active". Maybe "keep strength, mobility, and conditioning in mind"? Jul 13, 2012 at 12:55
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    I've been in sports for 41 years (First swim meet when I was 4), so I could give you n=1 experience, but as it is, your question is way to wide spanning.
    – JohnP
    Jul 13, 2012 at 13:51
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    What is the problem you are facing that answering this question would help you with?
    – user3085
    Jul 13, 2012 at 16:57

3 Answers 3


Ok, as fredob requested, this is an n=1 style of writeup, for my experiences and what I consider to be the core kernels of a lifetime fitness program. Note, this is not a design for specific competition, this is fitness in general. Obviously if you compete, you would need to tweak the physical component and nutrition components to support that.


This is the first component, and arguably the most important. You can be running 75 miles a week, throwing around heavy weights, whatever your activity might be, but shoveling big macs and fries down 4 days a week with pizza and ice cream chasers. If you don't supply your body in a healthy way, you can't expect it to perform consistently. Note I say nutrition, and not diet. In my mind, diet implies a process. The problem with a process is that it has a beginning, and an end. There is no end. You either have good nutrition planning or you don't. Doesn't mean that you can't have cheat days, fall of the wagon a bit, etc., but overall your nutrition plan is sound and based in your needs for daily existence plus your activity.


This is the second component. Protect your mind. Play games, play an instrument, read a book, do puzzles, whatever floats your boat. Keeping your mind active and well rounded will enable you to still be sharp and on top of things well into your twilight years. The more active you can be, the better.


Get out. Do SOMETHING. Walk, ride a bike, swim, play horseshoes, move around, anything. Get your heart rate up, sweat a little, make your body work. Find something you truly enjoy doing, because like a diet, "getting in shape" or doing something you don't like for the sake of activity is a dead end process. Ok, so you got in shape. Now what? But, if you truly enjoy what you're doing, you'll keep on doing it.


More and more, studies are showing that resistance training can help preserve muscle as we age. Take a look at what you do in your physical activity, and plan your resistance training to supplement that, and keep your muscles in balance. A lot of back problems, for instance, could be alleviated if people trained their spinal muscles as much as their trophy abs. You don't necessarily have to heave around small cars, but especially as you age, resistance training can help preserve muscle.


Keep your life in balance. Make time for your sports, family, work, personal time, etc. When you start sacrificing one for the other, your life eventually starts spinning out of control. There will be times when you HAVE to sacrifice for a bit, but let those be as short as possible.

Now, I have been in sports for 41 years. This includes 17 years swimming, 9 years cross country (HS/College), 2 years wrestling, 4 years competitive cycling, almost 20 years in martial arts. I've competed at every level from local clubs to a handful of Nationals and a couple of Worlds. As soon as something stops being fun, I find something else. (I walked out on two years of scholarship in swimming because I was burned out. Still hate swimming.) I play D&D, board games, poker, chess. I have an outstanding wife and wonderful family. I recognize my capabilities, and I'm still not sure if I've found my limits or not.

In those 41 years, I've had one injury (Ruptured achilles 6 weeks ago) that kept me sidelined for more than a week. I attribute this to a lifetime of athletics, lucky genetics, and enough sense to monitor myself and sensibly push my limits, and staying within the above categories.

Hope this is what you were looking for.

  • How important is a "training log"? I found one question about this, see fitness.stackexchange.com/q/3300/3778
    – FredrikD
    Jul 17, 2012 at 8:04
  • @fredob - Training logs are self dependent. Some people like them, others (like myself) struggle to maintain it on a consistent basis. I have found that when I managed to keep a consistent log, I could look at it and figure out why I wasn't feeling good in a workout, or that I was getting stale, etc. It also helps you to keep track, instead of thinking "Ok, so I did lats Wed...or Thu...wait..." In short, I am FOR training logs, I just personally have a really hard time maintaining them day to day.
    – JohnP
    Jul 18, 2012 at 21:09

Check out the book "Practical Programming for Strength Training" by Rippetoe and Kilgore. It is aimed at the college educated professional strength coach and covers every aspect of developing training programs. While overly detailed for the likes of us, it is the basis for lifetime learning. BTW I'm over 60 and started lifting in my teens. I've always put my education, career, and personal relationships first so I've taken many lay-offs - some of them long. The key attitude is wanting to lift when you have time/energy as opposed to feeling you had better start lifting now.

  • Will check out the work by Rippletoe (have looked at the vidoes). Your own practical experiences are interesting, especially the prioritization and the motivational part. Over the decades, how have you tracked your training?
    – FredrikD
    Jul 14, 2012 at 7:14
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    "Back in the day" we just kept fairly free form notebooks and then over time lost the books and/or just stopped keeping them having become know-it-alls. Now I'm a beginner again in that I'm in a new world of aches, strains, and injuries so I'm back to notebooks. New for me is a food diary with protein and calorie counts. I'm non-digital only because I've been a computer scientist forever. I found a notebook page from 1987 - I'm back to my best trained weight (joy!). I wish I had kept more.
    – medmal
    Jul 15, 2012 at 20:41

Lifting heavy weights. Everything else you might do depends on strength, so if you don't have that, you'll be limited. If you do have it, everything will improve for you. You'll be more flexible, have better endurance, will be less injury prone and will recover from injuries faster.

It's also very sustainable. You can do one short, high intensity lifting routine per week, not have any significant (or any at all) soreness the following days and make gains (or, once you start hitting the peak of your potential, sustain them). 5 minutes, to do one set of squats or deadlifts, one set of presses and one set of pull ups with sufficient weight to keep you under 10 reps will keep you going, and it's something you'll be able to fit in, even with a changing schedule. Not included in the one set is doing 1-2 warmup sets of 5 reps with lower weights. The best thing is, within a half an hour cooldown after the set you'll still be in shape to do any physical activity that's necessary for your life, and you won't have worn out your muscles that you couldn't move furniture for the next two days.

Obviously there will be some scenarios in which a weight room just isn't available, but there really isn't anything else that could make up the core of your program that can adjust to the changes in life. There's bodyweight routines and rope skipping, but those end up taking a lot more time, which makes them a lot harder to sustain over weeks or months (unless you're doing handstand pushups).

The other answer is walking. 30 minutes per day (or at least 3x/week). That has been shown repeatedly to significantly reduce the risk of most illnesses, compared to being completely sedentary. I have a hard time calling that a fitness routine though, it's really more of a bare minimum. I can't really think of a scenario in which 30 minutes of walking isn't possible.

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    So a key element would be lifting heavy weight in a "maintenance state" as you described about once a week. Another would be to be "every day active". I know I have read that you also should be active at least every 40-45 minutes, will check up that reference
    – FredrikD
    Jul 14, 2012 at 7:20
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    I'm sorry--5 minutes to do squats or deadlifts, a set of presses, and a set of pull-ups, once per week, and this will create gains to the peak of your potential? I think this needs a rewording or clarification. Most people need 5 minutes just to get warm to prevent injury, and one set each, once a week (while probably not so bad for health purposes) can't be said to get you anywhere close to your potential. Jul 15, 2012 at 0:24
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    Mike Mentzer has made exactly that claim, and he's certainly someone who got to the peak of his potential. So unless he's practicing something entirely different from what he preaches, it's not an unreasonable position. Note though, that I made no claims myself about it being sufficient to reach your peak potential, so I'm not sure what rewording or clarification is necessary.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 15, 2012 at 0:52
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    Mike Mentzer, Bill Pearl, Vince Gironda,... I've read them all - of course the publisher's blurbs stress the differences, not what they agree on. They write for an audience that spends too much time in the gym talking and then doing too many exercises for too few muscles using ineffective form with pointless weight. Training to true failure requires experienced spotters. Training to technical failure requires experience and humility. Stopping just before that last possible good rep might be best, but...Then of course there is the issue of the perfect warm up. Oh, and of course steroids.
    – medmal
    Jul 15, 2012 at 21:19
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    @J.WinchesterI think that if you are in a "maintenance state" the the idea of doing one set fits the overall picture better (less time etc) My own experience is that the negative thoughts of not being able to do the best workout stops you from working out at all.
    – FredrikD
    Jul 17, 2012 at 8:24

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