Is Lifting Twice a Week Enough for the Senior Weightlifter?

Here is a a link to a thread I started a while ago on the Starting Strength forum concerning training programs designed for elderly. It seems even if you are in your 40’s you may have to adjust your program to take into account the slower recovery ability.

-Jerry

overhead press rippetoe
Photo: pjmedia.com

Jerry made this comment on yesterday’s blog post and it dovetails with my plans to reduce my weightlifting frequency after I finish the current 5/3/1 exercise cycle.

It was a timely comment for more than one reason. In the WordPress admin, I can see the statistics for my blogspot including my most popular posts, and Am I Lifting Weights Too Often is the third all time viewed article after “Monday is Chest Day” and my homepage. Apparently, it’s a significant concern.

Jerry started a discussion thread last July by asking:

Anyone tried using the post program on page 223? I have been doing a sort of linear progression work schedule focussing on the four lifts. I have either WO two days a week doing sqt and bench one day two days later press and DL. I usually threw in one other lift on each day, curls, pull down, rows, triceps push downs. I tried sets across, ascending, descending, 531, back off,etc. I have made some progress but feel it,is,going slow. I am 65 5’10” ( used to be 5’11”) weight around 210. I anyone cares to look I have a log under the name PapaJerry. Been taking creating,BCAA, beta alaline and whey protein. Only thing lacking is 8 hours sleep.for some reason most nights I only get six solid hours.i have been looking at that page for a while and at times thought it was to short of a program,but maybe the extra things I have been doing are what’s holding me back on the main lifts. I deadlifted today,it went ok. I think I will start using the program as written using the progression schedule on the page.i have to accept the fact that I am sixty-five and don’t recover like I used too.

Page 223 refers to Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, 3rd edition which I’ve read once but don’t own (I checked a copy out of my local library).

starting strengthIn response to Jerry’s question, several people replied with their own experiences and advice. You can click the link I provided to read the entire discussion, but one of the links provided (by Jerry, in this case) was Every Other Week Squatting and Deadlifting written by John Sanchez at LIFT-RUN-BANG. In this write-up, Sanchez proposes the radical idea of squatting during one week and then deadlifting on the following week. He recommends never squatting and deadlifting in the same week, and also suggests lifting only two days a week such as Saturday and Sunday.

Do not perform a squat workout on one day and a deadlift workout on another day during the same week. Read this again. It is not a typo. This is the one thing that will save your adrenal glands, regain your manhood, and earn you some semblance of respect on the platform.

Squat one week and do deads the next. Continue to alternate. Once every 14 days is all most (natural) people need for good gains with either lift.

Yikes. I’ve been planning on lifting 3 days a week, squatting on all three days, doing deadlifts once a week and rack pulls once a week. According to Sanchez, I’m going overboard.

With the twice every 7 day approach that some people use, the most significant shortcoming is impaired progress on the squat and dead due to incomplete muscular recovery. 72-96 hours is not always enough recovery time for lifters, especially non-druggies. Both of these lifts have many prime movers in common, yet a lot of people will give one lift 96 hours of recovery while the other only gets 72. Why not throw an extra day in there and give both lower body movements an equal 96 hours?

According to Jerry, page 233 of Rip’s book suggests squatting twice a week and doing deadlifts once a week.

55 yr old man deadlifts 315 lbs
Photo credit: Youtube.com

At the end of the thread, I found a couple more links that led to relevant information.

The first led to a particular comment (#6) on the forum thread TM for Tired Guys. The specific takeaway I got in that comment was:

My only recommendation would be that you consider performing Light Squats every other week on your #3 Squat-Deadlift Day and then doing heavy deadlifts every other week.

That because performing intense squats before you deadlift kills your deadlift.

I don’t currently squat and deadlift on the same day, though I do squats on Sunday and deadlifts on Monday, then Squats on Wednesday and rack pulls on Thursday, so the strain on my lower back and legs is back-to-back, so to speak.

The other link led to another specific comment on the discussion thread Why is the deadlift so hard to recover from compared to other lifts. I found a number of takeaways on this one:

Deadlifts and The Lower Back

It overworks the lower back. It requires longer recovery periods between training sessions. In the July 1981 Powerlifting USA article, “The Biomechanics of Powerlifting”, Dr Tom McLaughlin cautioned, “…whatever you do, DON’T OVER TRAIN THE LOWER BACK. These muscles fatigue faster than almost any other muscle group in the body and also take more time to recover.”

Note that the webpage he’s quoting from no longer exists, although the parent website does.

deathliftsThe Dead Deadlift

Another factor is performing a movement from a dead stop for each rep is very taxing, which can lead to overtraining.

Lower Back Training

The lower back is heavily involved in squatting. Thus, if you are deadlifting three times a week and squatting three times a week, you’re working your lower back hard six times a week. That too much.

The lower back is also involved in the standing shoulder press, standing curls and somewhat in bench pressing.

Training Frequency

Due to the amount of work involved with the lower back in squatting, deadlifting, standing shoulder pressing, etc, less deadlift training frequency usually work best.

Deadlift training sessions of once every 7-10 days usually allows the lower back to recover adequately for the next session.

Assuming I stick with my plan and make no changes until after the current cycle is completed, I still have a couple of weeks to think, plot, plan, and scheme about all this. I really enjoy my time in the gym, and even cutting back from 4 days a week to 3, as far as lifting is concerned, is somewhat distressing.

On the other hand, so is limited progress and overworking my body.

I’ve read any number of articles about how the risk of overtraining has been blown way out of proportion, but that may be true more for younger bodybuilders and strength trainers than guys and gals over 60.

If I rework my strength training routine based on all this, I won’t be doing deadlifts and squats in the same week let alone on the same day. That effectively means I won’t be doing a 5/3/1 routine anymore, at least not as Wendler designed it.

Speaking of Wendler, I found an article at his website called Q/A – Advice for an Older Lifter which he wrote earlier this month.

Among other things, he said:

Anyway, with an older lifter there are a couple of things that need to be addressed/looked at. First is recovery – that is BY FAR the most important issue. I’ve written numerous things about recovery, its importance and what to do – in fact we have a whole guidelines for what to do for the 5/3/1 program. But regardless of what program you use, you must follow the basic guidelines of recovery. Stress is stress and you have to be able to recover from it regardless of if you do full body, etc. Within the scope of recovery is sleep, diet, mobility/flexibility and aerobic work.

side leg lift
Credit: strivehere.com YouTube channel

He also addressed and expanded the role of assistance work:

Assistance work for an older lifter doesn’t have to be “normal” exercises, rather movements: agility ladder, jumping rope, cone drills – stuff that gets your body to do shit you normally wouldn’t do. The more you train like an “athlete” (balance, not just lifting) the better, stronger and healthier you will be. Your body is like your brain; you need to challenge it in different ways or you will become physically stupid. Training should be functional (squat, deadlift, press) and also include unfunctional movements – these are things you normally don’t do in training or even life that can help you stay healthier (agility, mobility). The latter is done to make the former easier. You don’t need to spend more than 10 minutes/day on the unfunctional stuff to reap the benefits.

“Balance, not just lifting.” Reminds me of my Kasey the Chiropractor core work.

So we have the same advice from the guy who created the 5/3/1 program. This doesn’t work, or at least it doesn’t work as effectively, without allowing adequate time for your body, including your muscles and nervous system, to recover from the strain you put on yourself when you lift.

Redesigning my workout to accommodate lifting only twice a week and not squatting and deadlifting in the same week would look something like this:

Week One

Sunday

Back Squat
Bench Press

Thursday

Overhead Press
Bench Press

back squat
Photo credit: Tribe Sports

Week Two

Sunday

Deadlift or Rack Pull
Bench Press

Thursday

Overhead Press
Bench Press

Of course, this plays hell with Week One = 5/5/5+, Week Two = 3/3/3+, and Week Three = 5/3/1+ with an optional Deload week at week four.

Alternately I could:

Every Week

Sunday

Bench Press
Deadlift

Thursday

Back Squat
Overhead Press

But that violates the no squats and deadlifts in the same week rule.

All this still feels like it’s not enough work, especially doing squats only once a week and either alternating deadlifts and rack pulls every other week when I’m not squatting, or doing deadlift or rack pulls once a week.

The only way to try it is to try it. This schedule would give me a lot more flexibility in incorporating cardio, mobility, and core work, including having more total rest days available during the week.

It also means that guys like Joe, who’s in his 70s, may not be doing himself any favors by lifting (using weight machines) 4 days in a row. He might get more mileage lifting only twice a week and doing cardio 2 or 3 times a week instead.

No, I’m not going to start telling people at the gym what to do, but if I try this and it works, then it becomes a powerful template to apply to working out as a senior strength trainer.

Professor X
Professor Charles Xavier

Another reader on yesterday’s blog post remarked:

Why not switch to strength training just twice per week (more recovery time) with a couple of light cardio says for active rest?

He must be a mind-reader.

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

Randy Pausch

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Is Lifting Twice a Week Enough for the Senior Weightlifter?

    1. I think I’m going to change horses in mid-stream, so to speak, and shift down into lifting only twice a week, Sundays and Wednesdays, for the next two weeks of this cycle. That’ll give me Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to work on cardio and some core and mobility work. I feel I’ve been neglecting cardio work too much and need it to increase my oxygen uptake, which should help with endurance during heavy lifts.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve been lifting only twice per week going on 8 years now and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    It’s plent for most endeavors especially powerlifting. Life is short. And I’m convinced the only legit justification for spending more time in the gym than that should be saved for professional competitive bodybuilders.

    For everyone else? Train hard when you go to the gym. Get strong. Enjoy the rest of your time outside of the gym. Live your life. You only life once.

    Like

    1. Thanks for that, Glen. Actually, I only went to the gym twice this past week. Normally, I go more often, not to lift, but for cardio, ab, and mobility work. Cardio’s good not only for the obvious reason, but there’s some research supporting the thought that it helps produce new brain cells in the area of the brain that controls learning and memory. I’d like to keep all or most of my marbles as I get older.

      Like

    1. Actually, I update this blog just about twice a week when I lift. It’s generally going great. Seems to be the right period of time for me to recover and lift again.

      Like

  2. Hi I’m 62 and I’m making great gains with the following.
    Monday
    Squat
    Bench Press

    Thursday
    Deadlift
    Bench Press (80% Monday’s weight)

    I usually do 5×5 sets across, but sometimes do 5×3. I sometimes throw in some rows or overheads. My workouts take 50 minutes. I do easy cardio, often just walking, but sometimes treadmill, rowing machine or nordic walking machine. I have continued to improve, albeit slowly, for more than a year on this routine and I’m happy with it.

    Like

  3. Paul, I do a variation on what you’re doing. I use a 4-days-a-week upper/lower body split with upper body workouts on Saturday and Tuesday, and Lower body on Sunday and Thursday, except I only squat on Sunday and deadlift on Thursday. This gives my low back a chance to recover from the deads. All other leg work is done on “leg day.”

    James, what’s up? Are you doing okay? I know the weather is tough right now, but you have been AWOL for quite a while now.

    Like

    1. Yeah, I’ve been AWOL for awhile. The weather is finally getting warmer, but the darkness in the early a.m. has been kicking my but. I need to get back to the gym, but the gravity keeps sucking me into bed. I got up like at 8 this morning. I was that worn out.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s