Older But Stronger

Fitness expert Dale Barr reflects on turning 40



Beer belly, hair loss, gray hair, wrinkles and stress all forming a “dad bod” is what I had heard would start to occur with a man once he turned 40. I have experienced the milestones of job changes, new cities, marriage, buying our first home and having kids. What hasn’t happened is the terrible aging process I’d seen and heard about while growing up. Why hasn’t 40 beaten me up like some others?

My approach to aging is nothing revolutionary—I sleep well, eat well, lift weights and move a lot. This wasn’t always the case. When I was in my late 20s my wife worked in the bar industry in Chicago, which meant a lot of access to baseball and football games, concerts, late night burritos and a lot of free booze. Believe me, it was a lot of fun. But one cannot continually make the poor decisions of a 20-year-old and not pay the price in some way. The booze, the burritos and the late nights will win eventually. Luckily, we saw the writing on the wall, and in 2005 we both quit our jobs and started doing things we enjoyed. The job change was just the tip of the iceberg. It led to us eating better, sleeping more and getting back into an exercise routine.

At the time, my exercise routine was all about endurance. I trained 15–20 hours a week for events like the Half Ironman and marathon. Eighty percent of my training time was spent doing endurance activities like running, swimming or biking and only 20 percent strength training. I was skinny, I weighed about 160 pounds, carrying a body fat around 13 percent, and though I could run, bike and swim all day, I couldn’t lift more than my bodyweight in any lift. I felt good, but I was weak.

As we go through our 30s we start to lose muscle and our metabolism slows down. Marriage, kids and work start to claw into that time spent training. I had to make another change. I needed to be as efficient as possible with my training time. I came up with Train Smarter, my training philosophy on how to get the most out of your gym time. I now train only 4–5 hours a week.

That is how I’ve been able to give the big 4 0 the big double birds! As I write this, I’m a week past my 40th birthday. My diet is pretty much the same as when I was 30, which was and is pretty clean, although, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t or, more accurately, can’t drink alcohol like I once did. This is both because I can’t handle it anymore and because my two young boys don’t seem to care if I’m hungover or not; they’re ready to play at 6 or 7 a.m. either way! I currently weigh 177 pounds and my body fat is down closer to 10 percent. Ninety percent of my training time is spent on strength training and 10 percent doing some kind of conditioning.

In 10 years I’ve put on weight like a lot of people going through their 30s, only I’ve gained 20 pounds of muscle while losing 3 pounds of fat! How? Remember the body fat change from 13 to 10 percent that went with the weight gain? That equates to an extra 20 pounds of muscle that is burning anywhere from 80–500 additional calories PER DAY. Focusing my training time on lifting has given me those extra hours to be a dad, husband and business owner … only with that extra muscle I can now deadlift 2.5 times my bodyweight at 445 pounds. I can squat 2 times my bodyweight at 375 pounds and bench press just shy of 1.5 times my bodyweight at 255 pounds. I tell you these numbers not to brag, but to illustrate how changing the mindset from burning calories by doing repetitive cardio to getting stronger through lifting weights can have a huge and lasting effect. This 40-year-old version of myself is far stronger than the 30-year-old me both physically and mentally, while being leaner and having better mobility.

That strength carries over to each of the other phases of life. I’m far more patient, I have much more energy, and I can recover from long work and travel days better. The gym has become the place where I get “me” time. It’s just me and the weights. No other distractions, kids, wife or phone calls for that hour. This will all be there when I’m done. It’s my form of meditation.

Now I’m in a position to enjoy sports and activities with my boys as they grow up. Being able to travel, hike, boat and do whatever my kids are into at various points in their life is enough motivation to keep me on this path of eating clean, sleeping and training smarter.

Dale Barr is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE), as well as a Certified Venice Nutrition Coach and CrossFit Level I and CrossFit Endurance Coach. For more information visit d3fitness.com.