Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fitness -- Weight for Me

I have noticed that I am not getting any younger, and, by way of my keen intellect, I am fairly certain that none of us is. A little study tells us that, as the body ages -- and without our intervention -- two things happen:

  • our aerobic fitness is reduced
  • our strength declines
It is critical to offset these factors for a long -- and enjoyable -- life. 

You remember I wrote a bit about maintaining fitness back in December of 2009, at that time relative to climbing a bunch of steps up from the viewing platform at a pretty place nearby called Whitewater Falls. Here is a shot of the falls from back then: 
...and here are the stairs, from the bottom:

To refresh your memory, here are excerpts from that posting:

"Even though I am advancing in age at an alarmingly rapid pace, I don't baby myself when it comes to exercise. For example, these 154 steps certainly make my heart rate climb, but I make it a point to continue climbing all the same rather than stopping to rest periodically on the way up. 

"I am also one who tends to park a long way from the retail store so I can get in a little more walking, and I usually choose the stairs over an elevator whenever I can. I have recently read the book Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge. Crowley is an old guy who was seeing his body deteriorate with age and wanted to slow that down. Lodge is a doctor who helped figure out how to do that.

"Anyway, they advocate one hour of exercise six days a week from now on. Weights two days, cardiovascular, the other four. Well, I have been trying to follow that prescription, which is a huge change for me, particularly in the lifting weights department. The last time I lifted weights was in high school about a hundred years ago, and I was pretty scrawny then. ...and I still am, but I think I am beginning to feel a bit stronger as evidenced by the slow progression in the amount of weight I can handle -- and maybe becoming slightly more muscular looking according to my wife.

"The idea is that the cardio makes your heart and other innards work hard and slow their aging, while the weight lifting makes your extended life worth living; keeps you from getting dottery and falling all the time like so many old people do."

I must admit to you that I did not continue to lift weights for long after that posting.  One reason was that I could not find a basic strength training regimen for overall improvement that did not seem gimmicky, promising rippling muscles in three weeks, and the like.  Some seemed too complex, or required a lot of equipment.  I needed something basic for the beginner.

I tried going to a nearby gym, but the trainer there did not appear to understand enough about the methods of instructing an old guy, so I did not continue.  He also lost the book I lent him describing my goals, so it was not a good start.  ...and a gym costs money, after all. 

Well, I have again begun to be concerned of late about the strength portion of my overall fitness.  This has, in part, been brought on by the proximity to three score years of age, and noticing some difficulty lifting things when doing yard and mechanic work or moving furniture around the house at the request of my bride. 

I searched online amongst thousands of weight training videos and recommendations, but finally found what I was looking for in a magazine at the grocery store, Muscle and Fitness.  The January 2011 issue contained an article called Beginner's Luck by Myatt Murphy

Despite the fact that the article is illustrated with photographs of a muscular young fellow lifting weight that is roughly equivalent to that of a small piano, it seemed to be a basic primer even for those of us who are not very strong to start with.
from Muscle and Fitness magazine
So I started in again.

I have been at this for a few weeks now, and I am building up to heavier weights slowly to allow my tendons, joints, and ligaments to gain strength and flexibility first, since muscle strength rises faster than these other things, and the latter could be injured if I proceed too quickly. 

I am also working on my form, both so I don't injure myself and so I get the most from the seeming tons of cast iron I am slinging and toting. 

The weight program in the magazine consists of the following, done successively, every other day. (You don't lift every day because your muscles need time to rebuild after each session.)

The article recommends the number of repetitions and the number of sets of repetitions for each type of exercise.  It also recommends the increment of weight, week to week.

Note that squats, bench presses, and deadlifts are included on each weight training day.  This is because these work a large number of muscles.  All of the exercises help to gain not only strength but also to develop neurological pathways and improved balance. The exercises besides the squats, presses, and deadlifts are for a bit of additional training on more specific muscle groups. 

I can vouch for the improvement in balance.  The first few times I lifted some weights, it was as if I were already that dottery old man I spoke of earlier.  With a few weeks of practice, though, I am much more stable. 

Now, here is a picture of my weightlifting setup: 

Not much to it: Just a barbell, some dumbbells, and assorted weights that came from thrift shops and sporting goods stores.  (The latter on sale only, by the way.)  The weight bench nearby but out of sight -- another thrift shop find -- has several attachments for leg and arm workouts, but I use it with the free weights instead.

The black thing on the center of the barbell is a section of foam rubber pipe insulation.  It helps soften the bar's bearing on my Trapezius muscles when doing squats.

The use of free weights instead of machines requires that muscles and nerves peripheral to the main muscles being exercised also come into play for that balance and stability.  Machines stabilize the weights and tend to prevent this important growth.

Here is what Steve Kamb at NerdFitness has to say about the use of free weights:

  • "When you use free weights, your body has to use every single muscle to keep the weight stabilized as you raise and lower it. Because you’re using these extra muscles (that you’re not using if you’re on a machine) to keep things steady as you lift, you’re getting more done in less time!
  • "Because you’re using free weights (like dumbbells) you get to work both your left arm and right arm independently, instead of using a barbell, you can find out if your body is out of balance.
  • "Machines often put your body in weird positions or at odd angles, which can cause injury (shoulder press machines, pec deck machines, etc.) I’ve learned to stay away from because they put unnecessary stress on ... muscles and joints....
  • "Free weights make you feel better about yourself.  You see a weight, you pick it up.  The next time you’re there, you either try to pick up that same weight more times than before, or pick up a heavier weight.   If you’re on a machine, you’re just pulling a pin or turning a dial.  It’s not as easy/fun to see the growth."
I will say that lifting weights is not much fun for me, usually, right now.  I have to keep referring to the instructions and videos to maintain good form so I don't injure myself, and so the exercises are most effective.  I probably do not push myself as much as I should, but they say that the last few repetitions, when you can hardly complete the movement, are the ones that are most effective in building strength.

So, I try to push harder, and my muscles burn a bit toward the end of each set.

Not being experienced with weight lifting, I am surprised how much it induces sweating and increases my heart and breathing rates.  I mean, this is a real workout, with sweat sometimes running in rivulets down my furrowed brow.  The ceiling fan in the room, running on high, is vital to evaporate the sweat and keep me cooler.  (It also helps blow away any odoriferous aura that may develop.) 

I will say that there is a certain feeling of accomplishment when I graduate to a heavier weight.  And, in the muscles I worked the day before, I can feel a slight warmth/tightness/soreness that, surprisingly, is not unpleasant.  They say this is an indication of the muscles' rebuilding after they have been intentionally damaged by the exercise.  Great.  That is what I want to happen.  . 

Here are my current capabilities on the three basic exercises:

  • Squat         80 lb., 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Bench Press   75 lb., 4 sets of 5 reps   
  • Deadlift      80 lb., 2 sets of 5 reps
(Now don't be chuckling like that, you musclemen out there. Keep in mind that I'm an old, scrawny guy with no experience lifting weights whatsoever until now.)   

I will never look like Charles Atlas, but if I can maintain a level of strength and coordination greater than I would have had without the workouts, that will be a good thing.  It should help me to remain active and healthy into my 90s -- maybe even riding a motorcycle!

If so, look out, all.  



    Anonymous said...

    Hi Bucky
    I am 55 and have hit the gym. I have a program that works for myself. I have Parkinson's as well but if I can improve anyone can. Every other day , 30 minutes on the bike and supersets. I look and feel better. Forget free weights, isolation is safer and more effective. Read how the fellow that is 58 trains and is in great shape on Terra Nova. I will never be huge and ripped as my 21 yr old son I train with, but I will be a better 55 and hopefully at 65.

    bobskoot said...


    WOW, you are three score already. I am just over three Score and I am feeling very weak.

    I am getting sweaty just reading your words above

    Riding the Wet Coast

    Stacy said...

    Congratulations on starting a strength training program! The best part is that all the core-strength work will help you with your riding, too.

    I started a circuit weights program about a year ago (as someone who'd never exercised regularly before and had a few false starts in the past) and it was a rude awakening. The hardest part was sticking with the routine after workouts left me feeling awful. But three or four weeks into the program I started looking forward to my workouts and I've loved it ever since.

    I feel for you about all the literature talking about "getting ripped" and such. But if you can imagine, women have it even worse: all of the articles are about "beach bodies" and "toning" -- when what I want is building strength. It's disheartening that women are so afraid of building muscle. No ladies, you're not going to look like a 'roided out female bodybuilder if you start lifting weights...

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