Since my early 30s, I’ve been in and out of the gym, but mostly out.
I was a skinny kid in high school but the minute I got out, something changed and I blew up like a balloon. I’ve been battling my weight ever since.
I first started taking working out seriously a few years after I got married. My wife and I joined a gym near where we lived in Southern California and I felt great. I was in my early thirties then and my body responded wonderfully to weight training and aerobic machines. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I never took advantage of the free weight room, but I was young and just using weight machines made me strong.
But I got lazy. It’s the story of my life as far as fitness is concerned, and that laziness followed me into my 40s and 50s. As I started getting older and fatter, I realized I had to get back to work. With my wife’s encouragement, I returned to the gym. By now we were living in Idaho and I found a little gym about five minutes drive from our house.
I must have gone and quit two or three times. Each time I went back after being inactive for a while, it was harder to recover what I had before. The weight didn’t come off as easily and the muscle didn’t build back as much. That’s the cost of not only being lazy but getting older.
I’ve been back at the gym for the past two years now, but for most of that time, I wasn’t really working hard. My son David challenged me and started out as my gym partner, which not only motivated me to start working out again but to overcome the feeling of being intimidated walking into the free weight room. We adapted something called the Bizzy Diet 21-Day Fitness Plan but instead of stopping at 21 days, we just kept up with the modified routine. We only had an hour to workout, between when the gym opened at 5 a.m. and 6, to do our workout and then rush home and get ready for our jobs.
The real turnaround for David wasn’t the gym but modifying his diet. This is something I really didn’t want to do. I like to eat.
But he was losing weight and I wasn’t, or I lost a little weight then gained it right back. Also, I hit the law of diminishing returns and “Bizzy” wasn’t producing the results in my body that I wanted. So I begrudgingly started listening to David’s and my wife’s advice about what I should be eating and in what amounts.
I also started researching other workout routines and came to the realization that most books and web content on weight training are written for much younger men. There’s almost nothing out there for men older than 40, 50, and certainly nothing for men over 60.
I was wishing older bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno would write about how they’ve changed their workouts as men in their 60s, but no such luck. I did find a book called Gray Hair and Black Iron: Secrets of Successful Strength Training for Older Lifters by Brooks Kubik, but Kubik is a powerlifter and he lifts crazy heavy weights that I don’t trust myself with. Some of what he wrote gave me new directions to go in, but there was no way I was going to attempt anything (or almost anything) he was suggesting.
A guy named Logan Franklin maintains a website called Senior Exercise Central and I signed up for his Gray Iron Fitness email newsletter. However, even with those few resources available to me, it was up to me to design my own workout program for my older body.
I decided to start a blog chronicling my experiences as an older weightlifter not only to keep track of my own progress but hopefully as a resource for people like me who want to do some serious work at the gym with an older body. By “serious” I don’t mean going crazy with insane weights or ultra-high intensity cardio. Like my doctor said, “It’s good to rev up an old engine once in a while, but remember, it’s an old engine.”
There are plenty of people out there with more experience at the gym than I have, but, especially for people in their 50s and 60s, there aren’t a lot of them that know what we need. That’s the gap I want to help fill.
If you’re an older person and are thinking of getting back to the gym (or going to the gym for the first time) and you want some virtual advice and encouragement, I hope I can help.
First things first. My medical insurance pays for an annual general medical check up. That’s where I’d advise you to start. Weight training is anaerobic, which means that it is brief and pretty high intensity, depending on how heavy you’re lifting and the number of sets and reps involved. Your heart rate and blood pressure can spike pretty significantly, and as an older person, you really want to know that you’re walking into the gym without a significant risk of heart failure or a stroke.
Also, as you get older, you start becoming less flexible and there’s an increased risk of tearing tendons, ligaments, and such if you lift too heavy.
Fortunately, my doctor’s only a few years younger than I am and he’s pretty athletic, so I can talk to him about what I’m doing and he can let me know if I’ve lost my mind or not. He actually told me to back off the intensity of my aerobic workout, not because there’s anything wrong with my health but because of the “old engine” comment I mentioned above.
In the days and weeks ahead, I’ll take you through a tour of what I do at the gym, trace some of my history, and share my progress and what I’ve discovered about exercise and the “old guy.” In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a great “starter” article written by Jack Gerard called How Can a 60-Year-Old Man Lose Weight & Build Muscle.
I hope you leave a comment letting me know what you think and feel free to ask questions. Like I said, I’m no expert, but I know what it’s like to be 60 and to work hard.
“Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own.”