Tips to Help You Remake Your Middle-Aged Physique
In the emergency room with heart attack symptoms, I was realizing that my years of sedentary lifestyle were finally catching up with me. Working as a college instructor and recording engineer had provided very little physical activity and even less free time to use for getting in shape.
So at 46 years old, I had become a statistic; I was now the average unhealthy middle-aged American male - overweight, out of shape and having typical middle-aged health problems. I tipped the scale at 185 flabby pounds with 35 percent bodyfat.
The doctor told me that my blood levels of unhealthful cholesterol and triglycerides were dangerously high. With triglycerides over 650, I was going to have to start medication to get them under control.
Fast-forward to today.
Five Years Later...
Over the past five years I have turned my health and physique around, shed 35 pounds of fat and added 25 pounds of muscle. Looking in the mirror, I now see my 51-year-old head sitting on a muscular physique that appears to be that of a 20-year-old athlete.
The scale shows 175 lean muscular pounds at 14 percent bodyfat. Shirts that used to pop buttons around my waist are now tight in the chest and arms instead, and my jeans have had to be replaced because my muscular thighs were too tight for the pants legs.
The doctor says I now have healthy blood counts across the board and the heart of a young athlete. And so we arrive at the heart of the matter. Strength training is the primary factor in my health and fitness turnaround. It's the catalyst that activates my other positive lifestyle choices and sits at the core of my present vibrant health and well-being.
I am evidence that adding healthy, lean body mass is a central component of a healthy life. Over the past five years of strength training, I've made a lot of mistakes, studied a lot, learned a lot, and now have some pointers to share.
So, how does a flabby, middle-aged guy turn his physique and fitness around?
If you will never see 50 again, most fitness and strength training information doesn't apply to you. Nearly all of the Web sites, magazines and books I've found about strength training are intended for younger people. Potential ability, hormone behavior, lean-body-mass ratios, energy and metabolism all peak before we reach middle age.
Younger trainees may be able to get away with the traditional bodybuilding foolishness that our culture worships, but we can't. Our older joints and added years of neglect or abuse we have subjected our bodies to won't permit us the luxury of strength-training abuses.
I've injured myself more than once trying to follow information that was actually intended for someone half my age. So be sure to qualify your source of information before you try to apply it to your own situation.
As with training, most nutritional information out there doesn't apply to you. Stop and think about it for a minute. The nutrition, lifestyle and fitness magazines at the checkout counter in the grocery store are full of advice on losing weight and getting fit. They're intended to be bought and read by the vast majority of the population who are sedentary, overweight, undernourished and not involved in athletic or strength-training activities.
So even if by some miracle the information in the magazine ends up being true for its intended audience, more than likely it does not apply to a strength trainer. The calorie, vitamin, mineral and other dietary requirements of a sedentary person differ greatly from those of an athlete.
Strength training is one component of being in shape. A healthy lifestyle is essential for meaningful, ongoing fitness and strength-training results. For me, the four essential components of a solid strength-training program are proper nutrition, proper hydration, proper rest and proper exercise. If one of those is lacking, the results will suffer.
Strength training is the catalyst that animates the other components and makes the whole program work correctly. I look at it like this: If I work out for an hour, I want to see an hour's worth of results. Would you be happy with 25 percent results? Or how about a half hour's results from each hour in the gym?
I don't think so. I'm not willing to waste the time or my body's resources on something that works only partway. If you want maximum results, pay attention to your overall lifestyle.
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The Four Essential Components Of A Solid Strength-Training Program Are Proper Nutrition, Proper Hydration, Proper Rest And Proper Exercise.
My experience is evidence that strength training is a dynamic process. The amount of weight you move and the exercises you use will vary from year to year, while the principles of safe training and good technique always remain a constant.
The routines and exercises that I used two years ago have changed as my strength and overall fitness have increased. What worked for me when I started out no longer works. As your body adapts, your training methods must change as well.
Great gains with full body routines. After my wake-up call at the emergency room, I began studying and reading up on fitness and learned that strength training is important for achieving meaningful long-term fat loss, adding lean body mass, raising metabolism and improving physique.
I read the muscle magazines and Web sites, tried all sorts of workout machines and dozens of routines I saw others doing and wound up straining my shoulders, elbows, back and knees. Ever wonder why there's such a turnover in fitness-club memberships? Because people don't get results. It's only a matter of time until poor training leads to getting hurt or discouraged, so most quit within a few months.
After floundering around like that, I finally started having success when I applied the training suggestions from Ellington Darden's great book Living Longer Stronger, written specifically for out-of-shape middle-aged guys.
The exercises were the big, multijoint free-weight movements-squats, deadlifts, chins, bench presses, shoulder presses, rows, pullovers-one set of 12 slow reps to failure. I used full-body routines Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Total time per workout was 30 minutes.
I did no aerobics and was strict with my calories and quality of food, drank a gallon of water daily and slept eight to nine hours each night. During the first 16 weeks on that regimen I dropped 35 pounds and began adding muscle and filling out in the right places.
Click Here For A Video Demonstration Of Barbell Deadlift.
Overtraining with full-body routines. I continued with the full-body routine three times a week and continued adding pounds of muscle and pounds to the bar, but the amount of weight I was lifting began to tax my joints and recovery ability.
I noticed that I was no longer able to progress as I had been, and I wound up leveling off, stagnating and not recovering fully. I was learning about overtraining.
My body had responded well to my workouts for many months, and I'd made progress, but it was certainly not working for me now. Not seeing any further results, I figured that I must have reached my genetic potential, so I stopped strength training.
I was happy with my physique, was in great shape and had even inspired and helped friends and relatives to get into shape. During the next few months I jogged a couple of times a week, continued to watch calories, drank a gallon of water a day and slept eight to nine hours each night.
Unfortunately, after a few months without strength training, it became painfully obvious that I wasn't keeping my great shape and robust health. During those months I lost the buff muscular look, my metabolism slowed, I began to add fat pounds, and I just didn't feel nearly as good overall.
The switch to traditional split routines. I knew that I'd have to return to strength training, and I slowly and carefully started over with very little weight, using the same three-days-per-week full-body routines I'd used before. My strength returned quickly, and all went well for a few months.
Then I began to recognize the symptoms of overtraining again, which didn't make sense. If I could train that way when I was weak and in poor shape, shouldn't I be better able to handle it now that I was much stronger and in better shape?
I went back through my training logs and realized that my overall strength had tripled since I started training, which meant that my body was now having to deal with three times the stress and strain on my joints and my recovery system, as well as my muscles.
At my present strength three full-body workouts a week were now too much for me. I'd have to revise my training, so I began experimenting with split routines. I tried a number of different splits, all with way too many exercises, and made only small progress during the next year.
Switching routines every six weeks or so became necessary because of sore joints or minimal progress.
Great success with abbreviated training. As a more advanced trainee I was now searching for the balance needed to continue gaining strength at a good rate while not stressing my joints or recovery ability. I found the Hardgainer Web site and began reading about abbreviated training. Finally, here was a welcome voice of reason.
It made all the sense in the world, especially to this 50-year-old guy. I took a three-week break while on vacation in the summer, read Stuart McRobert's Beyond Brawn and The Insider's Tell-All Handbook on Weight-Training Technique and started over from scratch, working with little weight to perfect slow and correct technique on a two-days-per-week full-body routine.
I made great gains, added pounds and got much stronger working in 12-week cycles - with no joint or recovery problems.
In the groove and making gains. That brings us up to today. As I have aged, I notice that I'm still adding mass, even though I'm not adding as much weight to my lifts. My definition and muscle size are better than ever, but I realize that I'll probably never be lifting the pounds that the younger guys do.
The tried-and-true big, multijoint movements done slowly - about five seconds per rep - and with good form are my mainstay. I've been using a three-days-per-week split: upper body on Monday, lower on Wednesday, and different upper-body movements on Friday with about two cardio sessions per week, jogging or bicycling.
Then I take two weeks off and begin a new eight-week cycle using a two-days-per-week split. By alternating the routines as outlined above, I keep my joints less stressed, and I keep adding muscle.
Having had the opportunity to help train other people, I feel confident in recommending the following beginning steps for a typical out-of-shape middle-ager:
- Use a full-body routine of one slow set of 12 reps to failure; stick with the big, multijoint free-weight movements.
- Use perfect form, slow reps and light weight.
- Add weight slowly; don't get greedy for fast gains, or you'll injure yourself.
- Train three times a week.
- Be consistent with keeping records, eating a healthful diet and getting enough sleep, and drink plenty of water.
Follow that advice, and you'll add lean body mass and soon be an inspiration to the younger generations.
Editor's note: For articles similar to this one, visit Bodybuilding.com. IM
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