Revisiting Lou Ferrigno’s “Fit After 50: How the Champs Keep Their Gains”

Lou Ferrigno performing dumbbell curls
Lou Ferrigno performing dumbbell curls

I’ve read this article before. In fact, I even commented on it last February. However, with my recent back tweaks and how it’s affecting my workouts, I decided to take another look.

The FerrignoFit article highlights five points we folks over 50 should pay attention to:

  1. Use Correct Form
  2. Warm Up & Cool Down
  3. Rest
  4. Take Care of Your Joints
  5. Moderation

You can read the details in the original article, but most of them are “common sense” suggestions (not that I’ve always been prone to listening to common sense).

Lou Ferrigno, who wrote this piece, also had a few more bullet points that the older gym rat should attend to:

  • Muscles don’t repair as quickly due to a decrease in enzyme activity.
  • Tendons stiffens as their water content decreases.
  • Ligaments become less elastic, reducing flexibility.
  • The heart cannot pump as effectively nor as quickly, causing fatigue and slow recovery.

The first three have a direct application to my still aching lower right back. After my trainer Chase worked with me yesterday to help strengthen my lower lumbar area, I work up this morning, started moving around, and realized it was more tender than when I went to bed last night.

I suspect everything gets stiff when I’m inactive in bed, but it’s also a reminder that my muscles don’t repair as fast as when I was younger, and any tendons and ligaments involved are less plastic and thus more prone to injury as well as limiting my mobility.

Photo credit:

The fourth item speaks to how out of breath I get between sets when Chase is putting me though my paces, or for that matter, when I’m working out alone.

Now what about the numbered items above?

Use Correct Form: Correct form is more crucial now than ever. Ligaments and tendons have LOTS of wear on them. Lift incorrectly and you could be down for the count for a good while.

Yeah, that’s why I hired a personal trainer. I haven’t been using correct form and have been living with the consequences.

Warm Up & Cool Down: ,Put more time into warming up and stretching before you hit the weights. Some cardio plus some light stretching will get you ready. After each set, stretch that body part.

I’ve heard some contradictory information that states stretching before lifting doesn’t allow you to lift as heavy as you could, although stretching after lifting is beneficial. I also tend to believe that it’s better to do cardio after you lift than before, if you’re going to do both in the same session.

As far as warming up goes, that’s what warm up sets are for. Lift light to warm up the areas of the body involved, then go into your working sets.

I have to admit, stretching, even after lifting, is something I’m terrible about. Usually my routine is right around 60 minutes long, which is just about as long as I’ve got before I have to get back home, have breakfast, and get ready for work.

rest day
Photo credit: Fitness Exercises

Rest: I get it. It’s fun to say, “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” but rest is huge. If you’re not 49 anymore, your body isn’t as resilient as it used to be. You take a lot longer to come back from an injury after 50. Since building and keeping muscle becomes harder as you grow older, you have no time to waste.

This is my wife’s favorite mantra. She believes I don’t get enough rest and she’s probably right. I took a rest day today, both because Chase worked me well enough that most of my muscles, in addition to my lower lumbar area, are sore, but I’ve also had a heck of a busy week at work and I’m just plain tired. I’d love to have spent more time in bed this morning. As it was, I “slept in” until about 5 a.m.

Take Care of Your Joints: Take Calcium and Magnesium for your joints. Stay consistent with daily vitamins and minerals. Giving your body the extra help it needs to repair can mean the difference between a satisfying trip to the gym or a painful one.

My wife has a row of bottles lined up in the kitchen pantry for me to open and consume every morning. These are the supplements she’s decided I need. I don’t know if calcium and magnesium are among them without looking. Well, I do take vitamins D and K to assist with bone density.

Moderation: Lift moderate weight. By the time you’re 50, you should know your body very well. It’s important to listen to it… and not the ego.

Yes and no. If my goal was to construct a bodybuilder-style body, then that’s probably correct, but for sheer strength, you have to go heavier. True, my dreams of going really heavy may never materialize, and what I consider “moderate” may be around the range I was lifting before I became injured, if that.

But Lou’s been lifting most of his life and he has a really definite idea of what “moderate” means for him. I’ve been lifting for a relatively short period of time and doing research into older weightlifters less than that, so I’m still attempting to define my limits.

On the other hand, Lou’s been lifting most of his life and I haven’t, so I have to believe that he knows what he’s doing a lot better than I do. Why shouldn’t I listen to his advice more than some guy half his age or less who writes for and trains 25-year-old mass monsters and powerlifters?

she hulk lifting
She Hulk

The rest part I’ll keep on with until Sunday when my wife and I go to the gym together. Then I have to decide on what to do next. Even if my back feels fine by then, it’s no guarantee that it is completely healed. Deadlifts and rack pulls are the most dangerous lifts for me, since I don’t have the flexibility to easily hold my body so that I maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift.

I suppose I could substitute stiff-legged deadlifts with lighter barbells or just keep my rack pulls in the 200 pound range (or less) rather than trying to really ramp it up.

Other than that, Chase gave me a roadmap on what to lift and how to lift to strengthen my lower back.

Maybe another piece of advice Lou could have given is to listen to your body every time you get ready to lift. Some days you’ll be a big, green monster, and some days you’ll just be a flesh and blood person, guy or gal.

You are going to have bad days and have good days.

Lou Ferrigno


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