WEIGHT TRAINING FOR THE GROWING BOLDER GENERATION (S)
I have always been a proponent of weight training. In my younger years, I approached weight training from more of a body building perspective. When I returned to competitive athletics in my mid thirties, I transitioned to weight training programs more oriented towards enhancing my sports performance. I don’t think you will find a world-class athlete who does not incorporate weight training into his or her training regimen.
Weight training for the masters athlete (or anyone over 50) takes on even more importance. As we age, we tend to gain fat and lose muscle mass and bone density. A regular routine of proper weight training can and does reverse that process. At the age of 73, I have approximately 4% body fat, so I can attest to the results of proper weight training. Weight training will not only help you maintain muscle and bone mass, but will quite simply make you look and feel better. Needless to say, it will make you stronger and a stronger athlete (or non athlete) is a better performer.
In my younger days, I had the mistaken impression that more is better. I would often work out with weights 6 days a week, and have sessions as long as a few hours in duration. When I transitioned from “cosmetic” weight training to a program to enhance my running, I still worked out three times a week exercising each body part at each session. I was fortunate enough to discover arguably the best book ever written on the subject of weight training, Stuart McRobert’s Beyond Brawn. The book changed my weight training life by not only enhancing my results, but allowing me to do so in substantially less time. I would highly recommend that you make this 496-page treatise a part of your library. The author has also published a “how to” book on proper form to perform each of the recommended exercises.
I don’t intend to go into great depth on the subject of weight training, but I will outline the basic principles and guidelines that will allow you to preserve muscle mass and enhance your performance in the sport of your choice, or simply allow you to have a fitter, stronger, more pleasing looking body if you are not a competitive athlete. One of the ways that you will spend less time without compromising your results will be through utilizing compound rather than isolation exercises. The former is comprised of multiple joint movements and the latter involves single joint movements. An example of a compound exercise, and one of the most effective exercises that one can perform, is the squat. When a squat is performed, multiple joints are involved, as are multiple muscles groups, i.e., the quadriceps, gluteus and erectus muscles. An example of an isolation exercise is the leg extension, which involves only one joint and targets only the quadriceps muscles.
The most overused isolation exercises are the various triceps extension and press down exercises. Your triceps will be exercised adequately when you perform various compound pressing movements such as the bench press and overhead press.
Probably the most startling revelation of all is the fact that great progress can be made (in many cases better progress) by exercising each body part once as opposed to multiple times per week. The keys are regularity, intensity and progression. By progression, I mean that one should add some weight to each exercise every week. Intensity should be self-explanatory. If you do not exercise with reasonable intensity, the body has no reason to adapt and progress either ceases or you regress.
The most important group of exercises that you must incorporate into your routine(s), are the so-called core movements. These core movements are the compound exercises that must be the foundation of any successful program. These core movements are comprised of various compound leg/back movements such as squats, leg press, various types of dead-lifts, and upper body exercises such as the bench press, pull-up and pull-down movements, various types of rowing and shrug movements, and the overhead press. The typical routine will have between 2 to 5 core movements.
It is also important to incorporate secondary exercises into your routine. Examples of secondary exercises are exercises that work the abdominals, calves, neck, and lower back.
Exercises can be spread over multiple workouts in a week, or every body part can be exercised on the same day. I enjoy the multiple workout variety which I find to be quite convenient in that I have a fully equipped home gym. I typically do my weight workouts on my recovery cycling days.
My favorite approach is what I call the Push/Pull method. On one day, I will do pushing compound exercises such as the bench press and the overhead press, and on the next workout I will incorporate the pulling movements – rows, pull-downs, etc.
Progress is made through the adaptation process. Muscle tissue is torn down and the body repairs the tissue and adds extra tissue in preparation for the next workout. The bottom line is that the muscle gets stronger.
Let’s say that you do bench presses on one workout day and on the next you do overhead presses. The problem is that both workouts utilize the triceps; therefore they don’t get the necessary recovery of that muscle group. Hence, the rationale for my push/pull approach to training. Note, that I am not saying that you cannot do those exercises on the same day, but if you do, there is no need to do them again for approximately another week.
Weight training should be accomplished in cycles. Cycles are typically 10-12 weeks in duration. The beginning of the cycle will feel easy in that a weight will be chosen for most exercises in which 12 repetitions can be readily performed. Each week, weight will be added to each exercise – more on heavier exercises such as the squat and less on others. Finally, towards the end of the cycle at the point at which it is impossible to add further weight without doing less than 8 repetitions, it is time to start a new cycle. The new cycle is commenced by cutting back the weight on all exercises about 15-20%. It is also a good time to substitute exercises. For example, you might substitute a lat pull-down exercise with a rowing type exercise or do an incline bench press versus a standard version.
Once you get into the meat of the program and are doing less than 12 repetitions, I believe in exercising to failure. That is the point where you either cannot finish the rep or are incapable of doing another. Be sure to do this safely incorporating a spotter (training partner) or a device like a Smith Machine, which has safety features to capture a barbell when only a partial rep can be completed. Here is a photograph of the Smith Machine that I utilize in my home gym:
As you progress through multiple cycles over time, you will notice that the point at which you must start a new cycle will be when you are lifting heavier than you were at the end of your last cycle.
Keep a log book of your workouts as a reference tool. Record the weight that you use for each exercise so that you have a good reference source for your next workout. I also suggest taking before measurements and then repeating at regular intervals as one way to track your progress.
I think one of the most valuable exercises that one can perform, is the 20 repetition, so-called breathing squat. When I was lifting weights for the purpose of body building in my twenties, I found it very difficult to make progress. I was the typical ectomorphic body type with a rather slender frame – not the kind of build where muscle is easily added.
I discovered an incredible system called, The Perry Rader Squat System. Perry Rader was the founder of one of the first body building magazines – Iron Man. There is no resemblance to that magazine and the current one that bears its name. Rader published a pamphlet describing his system. His philosophy was, “If you want to build your arms, do squats.” He indicated that squats so stimulated the whole body, that when properly executed, the total body would make progress in strength and size. He promulgated the 20 repetition breathing squat, which was basically a barbell squat in which 3-4 breaths were taken between each repetition. The system included 5 other basic exercises: 1) Bench Press, 2) Overhead Press, 3) Rows, 4) Barbell Curls and 5) Calf Raises. It was basically a two or three time a week routine. I was delighted when I gained 7 pounds of muscle in a couple of months on that regimen. To this day, I do 20 repetition squats when I am not peaking for a cycling competition.
While on the subject, the best approach to 20 rep squats is to perform them once a week, go no lower than upper legs parallel to the ground, and warm up properly prior to doing the 20 rep work set. I warm up by doing some “free squats” without weights, and then one set of 12 reps with 155 pounds. 20 rep squats are not easy. Often times when you have completed the 10th rep, it will seem impossible to do another 10 – you can (and must) do it! With this particular exercise, I add 5 pounds per week in weight, until I can absolutely no longer complete 20 reps. I then decrease the weight by about 20% and start another cycle.
It is vital that you keep good form. Do not bend forward as you squat – keep your back straight. Again, do not go lower than upper legs parallel to the ground. If you do so, it stresses the knees unnecessarily.
Here is my current rather effective, but rather simple routine that I can easily complete each day in less than 30 minutes:
Day 1: Some form of abdominal work – I prefer hanging leg lifts
1 warm-up set of 12 repetitions of squats
1 work set of 20 repetition breathing squats
2 sets of seated calf raises
Day 2: 1 warm up set of 10-12 reps bench press
2 work sets bench press
3 sets of seated overhead presses
Day 3 3 sets of pull downs
3 sets of barbell curls
A very simplistic routine that does not take a lot of time, but is very effective. As I mentioned earlier, I have a home gym so it is quite easy for me to conveniently take a short workout, and stretch my routine over 3 days. If you are a member of a gym and need to travel, or have only weekends available for weight training, here is an example of an effective one day routine:
After a warm up, the following exercises are performed – 2 to 3 sets each:
Parallel bar dip
Pull-down or Pull-up
This is a full-body workout routine with which you can make great progress utilizing it once a week. Needless to say, each exercise can be substituted for many other exercises that accomplish the same mission.
The foregoing was meant to be anything but a complete tutorial on weight training. My mission was to convince you of the importance of weight training, and to offer some basic guidance to get you started. Read the McRobert book, which is 496 pages of detailed information. Remember, it’s never too late to start and no matter what your age, you will make rapid, measurable progress. Now just do it!