Your First Workout Plan for the Gym

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.

bizzy
Photo credit: Bodybuilding.com

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.

Adaptations

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.

elliptical machinesThe 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.

Performance

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.

Results

James
This is me after cardio.

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.

The Plans

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.

harrison ford
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

Lifestrong.com has articles for weight training applying to 50-year-old men and 60-year-old men, but they aren’t particularly detailed. At best, they’re enough to marginally get someone started.

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:

  • Legs
    • Leg Extensions
    • Leg Curls (seated or lying)
    • Leg Press
  • Chest
    • Machine Bench Press
    • Machine Chest Fly
  • Back
  • Arms
  • Abs
    • 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.

Women's GymOf 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.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

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4 thoughts on “Your First Workout Plan for the Gym

  1. I am a 58 year old male in Las Vegas that needs to gain weight at the gym. What do you think about the whey protein powder smoothies after the gym and the additional protein in my diet? Good idea for my age to add muscle?

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    1. The consensus opinion is that consuming protein in some form within about 30 to 60 minutes after resistance training will help to build lean muscle. For we older guys, it’s probably even more important to build up muscle then for younger men, because after about age 30 or so, men lose 1% of their muscle each year. Resistance training can help us get some back, so yes, please do lift and consume adequate protein.

      I think the reason whey protein powder after a workout is so commonly recommended is that it digests pretty fast and gets into the bloodstream while protein acquisition by the muscles is optimal.

      I’ve also heard as a general rule that you should eat as many grams of protein per day at the weight you’re shooting for. For some people, that’s a heck of a lot of protein. I probably don’t always hit that target, but in addition to a protein drink after I lift, I consume some protein regularly throughout the day as my muscles are recovering.

      I’ve written in more detail on this subject in Protein, Testosterone, and the Older Weight Trainer, The Mystery of How Much Protein is Too Much, and The Day the Barbells Won (scroll down in that last article to read about 5 food myths, which includes info about protein intake).

      Hope this helps, Gary. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  2. Nice article.

    I’ve been a moderate fitness guy since 1987…I joined my first gym in May of that year after I quit smoking. I’m not a gym rat by any means, but I did work out 3-4 times a week. In 2007, due to a heavy work schedule, my workouts were mainly restricted to bodyweight exercises, (when I remembered) or riding my bike 15-20 miles at a time once or twice a week. BTW, Bike riding has been my favorite activity since receiving my first bike when in 1966/67.

    Due to odd circumstances, I retired from work at the beginning of this year after 30 yeas with a wonderful company. Recently, after getting more bodyweight activity going, I decided the time had come to once again join the ranks of gym goers. It’s only been a week, today was my 3rd full-body workout, but it does feel good, (in spite of sore muscles) Now all I have to do is keep motivated to keep going 3 – 4 days a week.

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  3. Thank you for a most informative site and all the great comments which I have found most helpful and dare I say inspiring. Just retired at 75 and advised to enlist on a Pre Diabetes program which contrary to my expectations is excellent. Have joined a local gym mostly running for an hour to two hours but am also using in a gentle way yet various other equipment.

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