I mentioned in my very first blog post here at The Old Man’s Gym that the most recent occasion of my return to the gym, which was about two years ago, my son David and I started with an exercise routine he found at Bodybuilding.com called The Bizzy Diet 21-Day Fitness Plan.
He chose this one because it seemed to yield results fast and because it was specifically designed for people who don’t have a lot of time to spend at the gym. That said, to do every exercise listed in exactly the way the plan requires would take 75 to 90 minutes on most days and David and I had an hour tops (and that’s pushing it) to get in and out.
You can click the link I provided above to get all of the particulars of the plan. Today, I’m going to describe how we adapted it, what happened, and what it means for you as a beginning weight trainer.
Before I go on, I’m only using “Bizzy” as an illustration of how David and I got started. I’m not saying this is the plan for you or a good plan for seniors. I’m only giving this as an example and telling you how it worked out.
Oh, I also should mention that while I was 58 years old and hovering around 230 lbs, at the time, David was 26 and probably weighed more. We both have the same body type and tend to be tall and, when we’re in shape, have a thin frame. But he sustained a number of injuries while serving in the Marines which still inhibit some of his ability to exercise and which also resulted in him gaining quite a bit of weight.
I say this so that you’ll know neither of us was in particularly good shape (though “round” is a shape) on the day we first walked in the gym. We still have goals we want to achieve two years later, but we’ve both achieved quite a bit already.
It’s never too late to start working out, and improving your health and vitality isn’t a lost cause.
There are three parts to the Bizzy plan:
- Nutrition and Supplements
- Workout A: Upper Body
- Workout B: Lower Body
We pretty much set aside the supplements and diet part of the plan because we didn’t want to spend a lot of money upfront and, at least for me, I like to eat, so the thought of restricting my food intake or performing some sort of calculation involving grams and calories wasn’t appealing. David eventually did adjust his diet, which made a big difference in how these workouts affected him vs. me.
Although this is a 21-day plan, we simply followed our adaptation week after week for quite a number of months.
The weekly workout from a high level view is:
- Monday: upper body and cardio
- Tuesday: lower body and cardio
- Wednesday: Cardio or rest (depending on if we felt ambitious or lazy)
- Thursday: upper body and cardio
- Friday: lower body and cardio
Saturday and Sunday are rest days.
The plan was to do a 20 minute warm up on a cardio machine, then hit the weight training, performing three sets of each exercise. Then we’d return to the cardio machine for 10 minutes of high intensity cardio involving 30 seconds of moderate walking/running, and 30 seconds of going as fast as we could, doing sets of 30 seconds of low intensity immediately followed by 30 seconds of high intensity for the entire 10 minute interval.
After the high intensity cardio, we were supposed to go through the same weight training exercises again, but doing only one set each.
Like I said, we had to make some adaptations, so we ended up doing the high intensity cardio first and as our only cardio on weight training days, then go through three sets of each weight training exercise. That’s all we’d have time for. On Wednesdays, we’d do a longer, less intense cardio.
I think I powered through exactly one high intensity cardio as described, and the scaled back, doing up to five minutes of high intensity work and spending the rest of the cardio session at a moderate pace.
As I’ve said before, looking back knowing what I know now, I think I’d leave the high intensity cardio out of the routine entirely since it got my heart rate and probably my blood pressure to really high levels. If I already had suffered from high blood pressure or had a cardiac problem, I could have been staring an emergency room visit (or worse) straight in the face.
As I look at my workout log from those days, I’m shocked to see that I bailed on going to the gym quite a bit. David suffers from chronic insomnia and whenever he phoned me in the morning saying he didn’t sleep and needed to take a break from the gym that morning, I often didn’t go either.
Laziness doesn’t produce results, or more accurately put, it produces unhealthy results.
But eventually, we got better in our attendance and I started seeing my weight drop and went from a 38 to a 36 inch waist (I’m down to a 34 inch waist at present).
But David lost a ton more weight than I did because he started changing his diet and I didn’t.
It galled me and I resisted it for a long time, but eventually, I started eating differently (I’ll talk about food and supplements in a later blog post). It helped but not as much as I wanted, so ultimately, I started making further adjustments to Bizzy and finally abandoned it altogether. I continue to adapt my workout routine, partly because it keeps me from getting bored, but also because I want to keep challenging myself and making betting gains in building muscle.
I’ve lost and consistently kept off 20 pounds but have hit a plateau, which is discouraging. My doctor says even if I don’t lose any more weight, I should continue to regularly exercise, but that’s not good enough for me. I know I’ve made muscle gains just by looking at myself in a mirror, but how much in what body parts is impossible for me to say. I’m not huge, but the difference shows, especially when I wear a snug t-shirt.
But my problem is I’m still not rigorously disciplined about what I eat, and no matter how hard you workout, you can almost always overeat an exercise program (the possible exception is endurance athletes like marathon runners and triathletes who burn insane amounts of calories, but relative to what I’ve said before about cardio, they’re likely creating other health problems for themselves).
When I really want to shed the next 10 to 20 pounds of fat off my body, I’ll do what is necessary, which means further adjusting my diet, increasing exercise duration/intensity or both.
Remember the basic goal is to build muscle mass and strength, since we lose so much as we age, to dump unwanted body fat (we need some fat for a number of health reasons but the spare tire has to go), to gain more endurance, have more vitality, and possess an all around better quality of life as we get older.
Bodybuilding.com has just jillions and jillions of plans, most of which probably aren’t for you, at least as a beginner.
Most of them are a limited duration, from one week to 14 weeks or more, and a number of them are designed to mirror the workout routines of expert bodybuilders or other professional athletes.
However, even a casual Google search returns some pretty good results for those of us who want to not only exercise, but to really work ourselves hard and discover the younger body trapped inside our older shell.
A guy named Brian Konzelman chronicled his own progress across five years, from chest pains sending him to the emergency room to a shredded, lean 51-year-old strength trainer. See what he has to say in his article Strength Training for the Middle Aged Guy.
I’d love to be 51 again. Knowing what I know now in a 51-year-old body, I’d tear the gym apart. Well, not literally, but you get the idea.
Bodybuilding.com has a more detailed set of plans for 60 year olds but a lot of them are designed and used by amateur bodybuilders. I also found Harrison Ford’s workout and nutrition plan when he was getting in shape for his most recent Indiana Jones movie.
There’s also 70-year-old weight trainer and bodybuilder Sam “Sonny” Bryant Jr who started lifting when he was 44 years old and who says:
In my opinion, age does not dictate how you should train, or what exercises you should, or shouldn’t do. Choosing the appropriate training program is based on your body condition, not your age. If condition and strength are the same, the workout of a 60-year-old and a 25-year-old can be exactly the same.
I think you’d be hard pressed to find a 60-year-old with the body condition of a 25-year-old unless the 25-year-old had lived a very hard life. On the other hand, I agree that you have to be very aware of the condition of your body as you start an exercise program. Some 60-year-olds are in better condition than some 50 or even 40-year-olds depending on a variety of genetic, experiential, and lifestyle factors.
The Bottom Line
So how should you begin? If I had to give a general answer, I’d probably suggest adapting something like this.
If I were just starting out again and needed to get used to exercising, I’d likely visit the gym two to three days a week to start. I’d begin each workout with a brief warmup on a cardio machine, and then move to resistance training for all my major muscle groups. Don’t worry about “splits” until later. Then I’d go back and do 20 to 25 minutes of mild to moderate cardio including a five-minute cooldown at the end. Finally, I’d finish my workout with some mild to moderate stretching.
Click the link I provided above to see a list of recommended exercises. You don’t have to do all of them but I would recommend starting with up to 10 reps of 1 to 3 sets of the following:
- Leg Extensions
- Leg Curls (seated or lying)
- Leg Press
- Machine Bench Press
- Machine Chest Fly
- Machine Lat Pulldown or Medium-Grip Lat Pulldown
- Seated Machine Rows
- Machine Tricep Extensions
- Machine Bicep Curl
- Machine Shoulder Press
- Machine Ab Crunch
Set the weight light at first, lighter than you think you can lift or push. You’ll have to go through a bit of trial and error before you find a weight you can manage for the number of reps and sets you want to start out at. Also, you don’t have to do the exercises in the exact order I laid them out in the bulleted list above. You can switch around working different body parts and see which combination works best for you.
Of course, this is just a generic plan. You may have to adapt it for your physical condition and certainly as you become more fit, you can increase the weights you use, the intensity of your cardio, do a split body plan, and whatever other adaptations that challenge you.
At this point, if you’ve read my blog posts about seniors getting started at the gym, and rules of the gym Part 1 and Part 2, you should have enough information to begin an exercise program. I hope some of this inspires you to start going to the gym or to return as an older person (or even if you’re not that old) and learn that you really can accomplish more than what you may have thought reasonable or even possible.
Live strong and let me know how it goes.
Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.