August 10, 2023

#113: Getting Fit Over 40, Dumbbells and the Toilet Trust Fall – Fitness Coach Steph Gaudreau (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Hosted by Fran Racioppi

What  happened to the “over the hill” parties of the 80’s and 90’s? Who says we can’t be an athlete at any age regardless of when we start our fitness journey? Fitness Coach for the over 40, Steph Gaudreau, joined  Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on the final day of the 2023 Sandlot Jax and GORUCK Games to explain how to get fit at any age.

Steph breaks down why 40 is a milestone we shouldn’t fear, exactly what happens to our bodies post 40 and how we can break the stigma that it’s too late to start. Steph’s process is simple…embrace the dumbbells, add plyometrics, and beware of the “toilet trust fall!”

Learn more about Steph Gaudreau on the web or follow him on social media. 

Read the full episode transcription here and learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast here


Getting Fit Over 40, Dumbbells and the Toilet Trust Fall – Fitness Coach Steph Gaudreau (Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games 2023 Series)

Steph, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thank you for having me. This is fun.

Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

It is day three of Sandlot JAX. We have been trying to do this since day one of Sandlot JAX, but I told you we weren’t doing anything until Jessie got here. We waited, and the torrential rain that blew through here in the afternoon decimated everything and pushed us now. I’m glad you could make the time.

It was like an act of God, but I feel it was meant to happen now for a reason.

They have switched up everything behind us. We got people competing. They have moved parts of the obstacle course. The GORUCK Games competition has been moved from the adjacent areas onto the center field. They are going to be starting up here in a little bit on the obstacle course. They are finishing up their competition. Many things are going on. We are going to have a conversation that is important to both of us because I’m over 40.

I’m almost 40, but a woman.

That is true because you have become focused on what it takes to train and still maintain a high level of performance in the post-40 life. I’m going to ask you all about why you are focused on women. I’m also going to ask you about what I can use because I need all the help I can get. Jessie put me through the obstacle course this morning.

Was there a fire element or something added for extra spice?

They do that sometimes on Ninja. I wasn’t aware that there was going to be a fireball next to me when I cleared an obstacle. I was like, “That is there.”

The only fireball was the blooper reel that was going to be put together for my performance.

I’m curious about it. Do you find that women over 40 who are getting started have some trepidation about getting into it?

You have to think about it. I have been an athlete my whole life. I’m sure you have been athletic for a long time. You went through PT in the military. When you are coming into something like strength training for the first time, I don’t care how old you are. A lot of people are intimidated. You add to it that your body isn’t the same as it was when you were twenty and things have changed, or you have been raising kids and not had much time to care for yourself. There is a lot with mindset, but you feel like you are on the back foot with everything.

When you are coming into something like strength training for the first time, no matter how old you are, you just get intimidated. Share on X

All of that stuff put together is enough of a barrier or friction for a lot of people to say, “I’m okay. I rather stay where I am.” I don’t think a lot of people consciously say that, but sometimes that barrier to entry can feel high. I was listening to a masterclass online. There was a quote that came up, and it was like, “The devil you know.” The devil you know is what is familiar. You might not love where you are, but it is still familiar. It is the unknown and the fear our brains don’t like. It keeps us from taking that next step, whatever it is.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

When you are 40 or older, there is a lot of misinformation and fear tactics. In a place like this, when you are with your people and in your bubble, everybody is like, “Getting strong. It is part of the culture.” When you go out of your bubble, the number of times I have heard, “You shouldn’t lift weights. You are going to get hurt.” That gets into people’s heads.

You should lift weights, or you might get hurt. I have felt the difference because I have had a lot of surgeries and had to rehab. I felt what it feels like to not have muscles around a joint, and it hurts. Your ligaments will hold your bones together. You need the muscle to support that and hold everything in alignment. You feel much better when you have that support. That is how a body is supposed to work. It also hurts to start, and it is a different kind of pain learning to recognize good pain of, “I’m getting sore. That is a burn,” versus like, “My shoulder pinches when I do this.” Understanding that pinching might be because your bones are not being supported.

There is no shortage of fitness programs. The access we have now is amazing. There was no internet when I was a kid. In the ‘80s, nobody was on the internet. That wasn’t a thing. You would have to hire a trainer. Maybe you went through school, you were an exercise physiologist, you knew how to work out, or you were a boy on a football team. You had a dad or an uncle who knew how to bench press and you are working out in the garage with him. You might have had some early exposure, but now we have the opposite, which is so much information.

I will hear stories from people, and they were like, “I started this program. I made it up.” They are people who want to start. They feel like a lower barrier to entry with cost or hiring someone. They were like, “I’ll do it on my own.” I love that spirit. That can get you into, not trouble, but can make you feel like, “I am deathly sore.” We call it the toilet trust fall. It is when you blow out your quads. You go to sit down, get to that point in the lowering or the eccentric, and you got nothing left. You are like, “I have to fall.”Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

I did that when we were at Wodapalooza. We did so much quad stuff. In the hotel bathroom in the dark, I leaned forward and fell backward, not realizing that the sink was in front of me. I bumped my nose on the sink.

People started, and they were like, “I will do body weight. It seems less intimidating. I don’t have to lift anything.” They are three sets of 50 of everything. I’m not even joking. I heard a story from a friend of a friend. She wanted to start strength training and was doing three sets of 50 of 5 different exercises. Not only was that workout taking two hours, but you have the volume and the novelty, which both on their own are going to contribute to that muscle soreness.

If you are excited, you are going to get started, you are going along with it, you don’t have a clear plan, you are not familiar with the stuff, and you are going to do high volume, high repetition stuff you have never done before, you are going to be sore for so long. That on its own is enough to turn people off. They’re like, “Is every day going to be like this?”

That is where getting some good guidance and properly progressed program. If you can work with someone in person, even in three sessions, hire a trainer to teach you and walk through the motions. If you are going to be going into a gym, they can show you around how to use the machines so you don’t feel as intimidated and you are not making yourself sore with dumbs that you give up and quit. It is all about the long game.

Science is important to the work you are doing. Everything is about being science-backed. Back it up for a minute and talk about what happens to your body, man or woman, as you progress. Why is 40 this pivotal point?

Culturally, the age of 40 sticks in our minds. When I was growing up, we were having over-the-hill parties for our relatives.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

I remember those. Do they do those?

I don’t think they do those anymore. You are turning 40, and everything is falling apart. There is this cultural narrative.

That happens. When I turned 40, COVID happened. We had a kid, I lost my job, and I bought a boat and a truck.

When we look at why 40 is a key age, especially for women, we could be already in perimenopause or having some perimenopause symptoms. That transition is coming up. We don’t recover as quickly as we used to. We need to give our soft tissue a little bit more TLC. We maybe need to be a little smarter with active recovery versus going out and doing 10 out of 10 workouts every day.

Sometimes people are like, “I don’t want to rest.” I’m like, “That is fine, but do you know how to moderate your intensities?” Men or women start to experience muscle loss starting at age 30. We have a slow decline starting at 30, decade upon decade of muscle loss. Once we get to our mid-60s or go through the menopause transition, a lot of stuff happens in the mid-60s, but also, for most women, the average onset of menopause is 52. There is a precipitous drop off in things like muscle mass and bone density because of the loss of estrogen.

Is that assuming you are not in a program to counteract that?

Yes, the good news is that there is a lot that we can influence. Midlife is this time when there is a lot of stuff going on around us. You mentioned a pandemic and losing your job. Sometimes there is stuff we can’t control, like life stress. That is about focusing on what we can influence. Yes, we can offset that natural loss of muscle mass. The testosterone on the male side is declining. We can start to offset that with strength training. We can improve our bone density through strength training.

It is not a foregone conclusion that we are going to end up with sarcopenia, which is the clinical loss of muscle mass, or osteoporosis, which is extremely low bone density. The prevalence of that in the male population does increase, but the female population is high. There are things we can do. That is the good news and the positive part of it all.

My mom was 61 when she got diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. That is when she started strength training. She did what you said. She got a strength training coach who is also a chiropractor. She worked with him. At first, it was two days a week. She is on three days a week now. She fully reversed her osteopenia and is like a die-hard athlete now.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

I liked how you called your mom an athlete. It is important because you and I, Steph, talked about this, and you brought up this concept of athletic identity. It doesn’t matter who you are. Can you talk more about the athletic identity and how it doesn’t have to be a professional athlete?

I will preface this by saying I’m not a sports psychologist, but I am an athlete. I have been working with women, in particular, who are athletically active but feel like they bristled. I’m not an athlete. Maybe they had a bad experience in high school with a coach who talked down to them. They felt like they weren’t good enough, or in gym class, they had to do that mile run, and they are like, “I’m last. I’m not good enough.”

They feel they are not professionals. They don’t get paid to train. They think that an athlete is somebody like you or Michael Phelps. You are on TV. You are at a high level. You are amazingly talented at what you do. It is almost like a superhuman. We see people that are talented like you, Serena Williams, or all these people that we think, “They are athletes. They are in the Olympics. They are elite and professional.” We feel like we are not that. It exists in this binary.

I would suspect that a lot of people believe they are not an athlete because they have this concept of who an athlete is. Either they look up to athletes, they find them inspirational, and they are like, “I’m not that. Therefore, if I’m not that, I’m not an athlete.” It does affect how people conceptualize a lot of important things in their lives.

A lot of people believe that they're not an athlete because they have this concept of who an athlete is. It really does affect how people conceptualize a lot of important things in their lives. Share on X

James Clear’s work in Atomic Habits, for me, this part was key because he has this model that most people start with their goals and outcomes. They work back to what habits they need to have and what systems they need to put into place. At the core of his model is identity. If we can figure out who is the person we are trying to become, that helps shape the habits we put into place in our lives and what we prioritize. That is going to get us to the goal and outcome.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

If we can help people who are training hard with the purpose, intensity, and goal in mind, and trying to be stronger, add some muscle mass, and improve their bone density. They want to compete in something like this or come to the event. I have run into somebody who was like, “I knew I was going to be coming to this.” She had never strength trained before. She was like, “I want to get strong so I could come here and do stuff.” That is a goal. You are an athlete.

You think about what else falls into place. Maybe you figured out, “I got to get a little more sleep. I’m going to try to eat in a way that supports my training. I know I need to increase my protein intake.” You are going to set that time aside and figure out, “What does my day need to look like? I need to get my training done in the morning. I know I’m going to get it done because the rest of the day gets away from me.”

That piece and leaning in when women are like, “I’m not good enough to be an athlete. I’m not strong, fit enough, and muscular enough.” I help them lean into that as a catalyst to say, “How can we use that to help inform the type of things you are going to do and what you are going to prioritize.” That is going to move you toward your goals. It is a powerful thing that comes up with a lot of my clients and people I talk to. They can work on a little and see, “Why am I resistant?” Ask questions, “Why am I resisting this idea? What is on the other side of it for me if I lean in a little bit more?”

That definition of self is huge. The reason there is a word for a pro athlete is because there are also athletes who are not pro.

We forget about that.

It is a good point. I’m going to bring that up because I like that.

How do you define an athlete? It was like a person who makes time in their day to do things that an athlete does. If you are changing your sleep patterns, eating healthier, exercising, and training in athletic things, those are the actions of an athlete.

It comes back to the perspective, and what are you trying to do? You talked about quantifying your goals. I can be an athlete, but as Jessie said, there is a difference between what athletics is going to be to me versus what it is going to be to her. I will beat myself up some days because I will text Jessie, or we will talk, and she will be like, “I’m working out.” I’m like, “I’m not working out. We were talking four hours ago. You are still working out. I haven’t worked out now.” I got to remember that is her job. My job is not to work out. I can still be athletic and train for my own personal health to feel good and longevity so I can play with my kids as I get older. We have different definitions of what it means to be an athlete.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

The important is everybody being able to define that for themselves and allowing it to evolve as we age and go through different seasons of life. What is a priority now? What are our most important values now? How can athleticism and strength be a catalyst to move toward that thing or include that in your life for that purpose? That is important.

Sometimes those of us who have been athletic our whole lives think that winning the high school state championships is the glory days. We think those days are behind us or because life has changed and we are not like that anymore. We were talking about, “Can you run the eight-minute mile? Can you run the six-minute mile?” I don’t know.

There is a lot of talk about comparison as the thief of joy. Comparing to other people is a natural thing that humans do, but it can keep us stuck. There is also a lot of comparison to self that comes up with a lot of the people I work with. They were like, “I used to be able to do this and that.” It is okay to be honest and say, “I used to be able to back squat almost 300 pounds. I don’t do that anymore.” That is fine.

Comparing to other people is a very natural thing that humans do, but also can really keep us stuck. Share on X

To not use that as a constant self-flagellating with like, “I used to be able to do this and that.” You are not looking ahead at all the other possibilities of new things. We were talking about rucking. Maybe you are like, “What is this cool stuff out here that I could try?’ I feel like being able to allow that identity, those goals to evolve, shift and change, is hard because our brains don’t like change. The secret to athletic longevity is that evolution and flexibility.

I sometimes have to play games with myself because I have come back from many injuries. In 2022, my record was 43 pull-ups in one set. It is going to be depressing to get on the bar and only be able to do eight. That gives me a big barrier, like, “I don’t want to do this set. I’m going to be disappointed.” I have to shift.

I will make up a new game and be like, “We are not trying to see how many I can do in one set. We are going to see how many minutes it takes me to get to 100.” Scale for yourself. Give yourself a different bar so you can’t compare to before, and you get to try to beat this new game. I have to manipulate my own psychology to make everything a game and make it fun.

Can I ask you about dumbbells? You are a big fan of dumbbells. Why?

They are a little bit underappreciated. We got street parking. They are doing a workout at some point. You can ask her how many people were on the field with them because I heard they did not even have enough dumbbells for all of the people.

You could not see the grass over there where those people are.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

It was 150 people. It was a huge number. I train with all sorts of equipment, but I think dumbbells are accessible for people, versatile, and underappreciated in a lot of ways. Sometimes people say, “They are not hard and heavy enough.” There is going to be an upper limit for some things. If I wanted to back squat 25, I had to have two 120 or one 200-pound dumbbells. I’m going to have to get them both up the shoulders, and that is going to be hard. There are ways to train them and make them clever.

A lot of people still, after the pandemic, didn’t go back to the gym. Maybe they don’t have enough money. It is not in the resources to build a full garage gym, or they don’t have the space. We don’t have outdoor or indoor space. We don’t have a garage. We work out outside. We live in San Diego. That is a nice thing too.

You can get a lot of work done with a simple piece of equipment. Sandbags, barbells, and cable machines are great. They all have a place. It is such a simple way to begin. If you are getting started, it is one of the easiest points of entry, especially for some of the upper body weight stuff for women that can feel hard. We are talking pushups. A pushup is going to be easy for people like us. If you are just starting and you are like, “I remember when I couldn’t do a pushup.”

How are we going to work on upper body pressing, horizontal pressing, vertical pressing, pulling, and build that upper body strength? Dumbbells are a nice way to add some load without having to go into that full plank position and do pushups. If you are starting out, it is a nice way to get acclimated. They are also great for people who are a little bit older and struggle or have had past injuries. Struggling to get into a back squat position to have that thoracic mobility. For a lot of people, it is difficult. Maybe getting here into the front rack with a barbell is challenging on your shoulder.

Being able to have the independent movement of those dumbbells to bring it into maybe more of a neutral grip opens things up for a lot of people. Being able to work that unilateral stuff, especially a lot of people realize they have discrepancies between the right and the left. Working unilateral upper body, as we age and get older, it is important to notice where we have those discrepancies. Even lower body stuff, working balance, and stability is another key thing as we are getting older. They are a great training tool.

One of the things I like about dumbbells is you need more stability if you are doing a bench press than you would if it were a bar. I have gone through that progression a lot of times. When I come back from two shoulder surgeries, I can’t do a pushup. It started with moving my arms through that range of motion, and my little two-pound dumbbells were my best friends for a long time. You can progress that way until you can bury your own body weight.

We worked out with CrossFit CEO Don Faul. I could not do a pushup when we were done. What is next for you? What is the focus going into the rest of 2023?

I am beta-testing a new strength program.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

Is that a program you do one-on-one with individuals, a group, or online?

No, it will be an app-based online templated program mixing some barbell work, accessory work, dumbbells, and getting people to even do a little bit of isolation exercise to help build up the shoulders, including plyometrics. Thinking about 40 plus is always on in the back of my mind. A couple of things in the program to make it a little bit more tailored would be including that plyometric work a few times a week.

Plyometrics is the chef’s kiss for building bone. We think it is always an impact. There is some interesting research that came out about things like running being a weight-bearing exercise or rucking weight-bearing exercise. We are getting that impact. After a certain number of cycles, the bone cells turn off for a little while. We are not getting a continuous bone-building response.

Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.Things like plyometrics, including hopping, jumping, and things of that nature, are great because they are short-punctuated. They work power. They help us keep our Type II fibers or explosive fibers, which we also tend to lose as we age. This is one of the reasons why we tend to have slower reaction times. We are not able to jump as high or move as quickly.

For those of us fitness people, we were like, “That is such a bummer.” We live in a place with elderly housing down the street, so we see everybody walking to the grocery store to and from. One day, there was a lady crossing the street. The light started to change. She’s an older lady. She started to do that shuffle. I could see her upper body start to go, and I was like, “No.” She caught her foot and started to fall. She did the world’s longest stumble, trying to catch herself, and fell. We went to help her. She was fine. Even stuff like that, can you recover if you stumble? Will you stub your toe? That quickness of response is why that Type II fiber is important. Plyometrics are fantastic.

The other thing I’m including is a little bit more frequent deload for the main heavy lifting to give people a little bit more of that undulating. We are going to lift heavy. We are going to back off a little bit. We take the percentages or the intensity down. You are still moving to allow that recovery time, and we go again.

The tricky part for me is knowing when to deload.

At least once every three months or sooner. It depends. A lot of that stuff is played by ear, Get to know yourself, your body, and your training, especially as somebody who competes. Working with a competition athlete is different because even when I was working with my Olympic weightlifters. We are peaking for a meet. We have to plan out. What does the year look like? When are we going to be in more of a low-rep, high-weight block? When are we going to back off and do some more hypertrophy, restart the season, and do some GPP?

It depends a lot on the individual. For people who are training continuously, it is like having that mind, “When am I going to back off? When am I going to do a little bit of a deload and come back stronger?” People are always shocked. They are like, “I thought something bad was going to happen in a deload. I didn’t train to that intensity level.” When we understand how we go through that, how do we get compensation and allow for that recovery, especially now that we’re in this stage of life where there is a lot of responsibility and stress? For a lot of people having that little program downtime is a clutch.

With plyometrics for someone older, if they haven’t been jumping, how do you make it safe? As you age and lose that plyometrics explosive response, can you rebuild it, and how do you protect it?Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

If somebody has something like bone loss, it is important to work with somebody who knows their individual situation. It is going to be a collaboration between the medical team and the PT trainer, seeing what is appropriate for that person. If you are not used to jumping, you have to think about past injuries.

It can be something as simple as the motion of jumping rope and starting off with small increments of time or even support it. We don’t need to turn a rope because that could be a tripping hazard for some people. Can we mimic that slight jump off the floor? We don’t maybe need to be doing max height box jumps. That won’t be appropriate for everyone.

Learning to land is key. With a lot of athletes, it is teaching them how to land softly before they ever start to do any rebounding. I’m coming down a step. I’m learning how to absorb that force. Taking it slow and progressing as always, starting with small hops and small jumps. If a person is not used to a weight transfer, like hopping back and forth laterally side to side, is being able to do that, stop and reset rather than having to go back and forth the whole time.

There are tons of ways to keep it lower to the ground, slow it down, or use something for balance or support. Probably bilateral working two legs first is easier for a lot of people. There are upper body plyometrics. People automatically think of plyo pushups. Do you someone have that strength at the moment to add in the explosiveness? If not, can we take a med ball, find a brick wall and have them throw this med ball at the brick wall? Ball slams, supine ball toss. There are tons of ways to work that upper body. Let’s not forget that. That is important.

Finding what is accessible and what makes sense is the next small step for that person. Get all that medical clearance and stuff ahead of time. I’m always forever telling people I’m not a corrective exercise person. You might need to work with that team and say, “What is the next best step for me?” Especially if somebody is in treatment for osteoporosis, they have to be a little more mindful of things like balance and having support so they don’t fall, which is important.Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

Steph, as we close out, Jedburgh, in World War II, had to do three things every day to be successful. They call them habits and foundations. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. If they did these three things with the utmost precision because they focused on it in their preparation, they could apply their attention to more complex challenges that came their way. What are the three things you do every day in your life to be successful?

Getting some movement is important and connecting with other people. I’m having some morning rituals. I don’t have that big long list like the morning must include all these things, but having that grounding element is important. Also, coffee is delicious. It is a great thing to be able to share with people. You think, “What do we do? Let’s get a coffee, sit down and chat.”Steph Gaudreau joins Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff on The Jedburgh Podcast to discuss fitness over 40, dumbbells and the toilet trust fall.

I would hesitate the same way as you. I don’t want that to be one of my core things, but it 100% is. I have to have my morning coffee.

Thanks for spending some time with us. It was a few days in the making. I’m glad we were able to spend time and learn from you. It is informative. I love what you are doing. We are big fans. We wish you the best. We hope to see you here next week.

I appreciate it. Thank you.

Thank you so much.


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