flabby at 46 to the best shape of my life at 51"
the emergency room with heart attack symptoms, my years
of sedentary lifestyle were finally catching up with
me. Working as a college instructor and audio recording
engineer had provided very little physical activity,
and even less free time to use for getting in shape.
So at 46 years old, I had become a statistic; I was
now the average unhealthy middle-aged American male,
overweight, out of shape, and having typical middle
aged health problems. At five foot eight inches tall,
I tipped the scales at 185 flabby pounds with a body
fat of 35%. The doctor told me that my blood levels
for unhealthy cholesterol and triglycerides were dangerously
high. With triglycerides over 730 I was going to have
to start medications to get them under control.
letís fast-forward 5 years. Over the past 5 years I have turned
my health and physique around, shed 35 pounds of fat, and
added 25 pounds of muscle. Looking in the mirror I now see
my 51-year-old head setting on a muscular physique that appears
to be that of a twenty-year-old athlete. The scale now shows
175 lean muscular pounds at 12% body fat. Shirts that used
to pop buttons around the waist are now tight in the chest
and arms instead, and my jeans have had to be replaced because
my muscular thighs were too tight for the pant legs. The doctor
says I now have healthy blood levels across the board, and
the heart of a young athlete.
so we arrive at the heart of the matter. Strength training
is the primary factor in my health and fitness turnaround.
It is the catalyst that activates my other positive lifestyle
choices, and sits at the core of my present vibrant health
and well being. I am evidence that adding healthy, lean body
mass is a central component of a healthy life. Over the past
5 years of strength training, I have made a lot of mistakes,
studied a lot, learned a lot, and now have some pointers to
how does a flabby middle-aged guy turn his physique and fitness
around? Strength training is the focus of this article, but
first Iíll briefly summarize some important main points relevant
to middle age guys, followed by my strength training experiences.
A few important pointers for middle-aged guysÖ..
of the fitness and strength training information out there
does not apply to you. Nearly
all of the websites magazines and books I have found about
strength training are intended for younger people. Potential
ability, hormone levels, lean body mass ratios, energy, and
metabolism all peak before we reach middle age. Younger trainees
may be able to get away with the traditional bodybuilding
foolishness that our culture promotes, but we canít. Our older
joints and added years of neglect or abuse we have subjected
our bodies too will not allow us the luxury of strength training
abuses. I have injured myself more than once trying to follow
information that was actually intended for someone half my
age. So be sure to qualify your source of information before
you try to apply it to your own situation.
of the nutritional information out there does not apply to
you. Stop and think about it for
a minute. The nutrition and lifestyle/fitness magazines at
the checkout in the grocery store are full of advice on losing
weight and getting fit. They are intended to be bought and
read by the vast majority of the population who are sedentary,
overweight, undernourished, and not involved in athletic or
strength training activities. So even if by some miracle the
information in the magazine ends up being true for itís intended
audience, more than likely it does not apply to a strength
trainer. The caloric, vitamin, mineral and other dietary requirements
of a sedentary person differ greatly from that of an athlete.
Again, be sure to qualify your source of information before
you try to apply it to your own situation.
training is one component of being in shape. A healthy lifestyle is essential for meaningful and
ongoing fitness and strength training results. For me, four
essential components of a solid strength-training program
are proper nutrition, proper hydration, proper rest,
and proper exercise. If one of these is lacking, results
will suffer. Strength training exercise is the catalyst that
animates the other components, and makes the whole program
work correctly. I look at it like this; if I work out for
an hour, I want to see an hourís worth of results. Would you
be happy with 25% results? Or how about a half hourís results
from each hour in the gym? I donít think so. Iím not willing
to waste the time or my bodyís resources on something that
only works partway. If you want maximum results, pay attention
to your overall lifestyle. But this article is about the strength
Now we get to the good stuff. Strength training, what worked
is evidence that strength training is a dynamic process. The
amount of weight you move, and the exercises used will vary
from year to year, while the principles of safe training and
good technique always remain as a constant. The routines and
exercises that I used two years ago have changed as my strength
and overall fitness have increased. What worked for me when
I started out no longer works for me. As your body adapts, your
training methods must change as well.
year 1: great gains with full body routines. After my wake-up call at the emergency room,
I began studying and reading up on fitness, and learned that
strength training is important to achieve meaningful long-term
fat-loss, add lean body mass, raise metabolism, and improve
physique. I read the muscle magazines, muscle websites, tried
all sorts of workout machines, dozens of routines I saw others
doing, and wound up straining my shoulders and elbows, back
and knees. (Ever wonder why there is such a turnover in the
fitness club memberships? Because they donít get results!
It is only a matter of time until poor training leads to getting
hurt or discouraged, so most people quit within a few months.)
floundering around like this for months, I finally started
having success when I applied the training suggestions from
Ellington Dardenís great book LIVING LONGER STRONGER, written
specifically for out of shape middle-aged guys. The exercises
were the big multi joint free weight movements, squat, dead
lift, chins, bench press, shoulder press, rows, pullovers,
one set of 12 slow reps to failure, full-body routine Monday,
Wednesday, and Friday. Total time per workout of 30 minutes
each session. I did no other aerobics, and was strict with
my calories and quality of food, drank a gallon of water daily,
and slept 8-9 hours each night. During the first 16 weeks
on this regimen, I dropped 35 pounds, and began adding muscle
and filling out in the right places.†
2: over training with full body routines. I continued with the full body routine 3 times a week.
I continued adding pounds of muscle, and pounds to the bar,
but the amount of weight I was lifting began to tax my joints
and recovery ability. I began to notice that I was no longer
able to progress as I had been doing, and wound up leveling
off, stagnating, and not recovering fully. I was learning
about over training.
body had responded so well to these workouts for many months,
and I had made such progress, but it was certainly not working
for me now. Not seeing any further results, I figured that
I must have reached my genetic potential, so I stopped strength
training. I was happy with my physique, was in great shape,
and as a result had inspired and helped many friends and relatives
to get into shape. During the next few months I jogged a couple
of times a week, continued to watch calories, drank a gallon
of water a day, and slept 8-9 hours each night. Unfortunately,
after dropping strength training for a few months, it became
painfully obvious that I was not keeping my great shape and
robust health. During those months, I lost the buff muscular
look, my metabolism slowed down, I began to add fat pounds,
and I just didnít feel nearly as good overall.
3: The switch to traditional split routines. It became obvious that I would have to return
to strength training in my fitness plan, so I slowly and carefully
started over with very little weight, using the same 3 per
week full body routines I had used before. My strength returned
quickly, and all went well for a few months. Then I began
to recognize the returning symptoms of over training. But
this didnít make sense to me. If I could train this way when
I was weak and in poor shape, shouldnít I be better able to
handle it now that I was much stronger and in better shape?
I went back through my training logs, and realized that my
overall strength had tripled since I started training, which
meant that my body was now having to deal with three times
the stress and strain on my joints, on my recovery system,
as well as my muscles.
my present strength, three full body workouts a week were
now too much for me. I would have to revise my training, so
I began experimenting with split routines. I tried a number
of different splits, all with way too many exercises, and
made only small progress during the next year. Switching routines
every six weeks or so became necessary because of sore joints,
or minimal progress.
4: Great success with abbreviated training. As a more advanced trainee, I was now searching for
the balance needed to continue gaining strength at a good
rate, while not stressing my joints or recovery ability. I
found the HARDGAINER website, and began reading about abbreviated
training. Finally, here was a welcome voice of reason. It
made all the sense in the world, especially for this 50-year-old
guy. I took a three week break while on vacation in the summer,
read Beyond Brawn, and The Insider's Tell-All Handbook
on Weight-Training Technique, and started
over from scratch, working with little weight perfecting slow
and correct technique using a two-day per week full body routine.
I had great gains, added pounds, and got much stronger, working
in twelve-week cycles with no joint or recovery problems.
Year 5: In the groove and making gains. And that
brings us up to today. As I have aged, I notice that I am still adding mass, even though I am
not adding as much weight to my lifts. My definition and muscle
size is better than ever, but I realize that I will probably
never be lifting the pounds that the younger guys do.
tried and true big multi joint movements done slowly (about
5 seconds per rep) and with good form are my mainstay. I have
been using a three day per week split, upper body on Monday,
lower on Wednesday, and different upper movements on Friday
with about 2 cardio sessions each week, jogging or bicycling.
Then I take 2 weeks off, and begin a new 8 weeks or so cycle
using a two-day per week full body routine. By alternating
the routines in this way, my joints seem to be less stressed,
and I keep adding muscle.
had the opportunity to help train other people, I feel confident
in recommending that for a typical out of shape middle ager,
start with a full body routine of one slow set of 12 to failure,
using the tried and true big multi joint movements with free
weights three times a week. Read and apply Stuartís books
Beyond Brawn, and The Insider's Tell-All Handbook
on Weight-Training Technique. Use
perfect form, slow reps, and light weight. Add weight slowly,
and donít get greedy for fast gains, or you will injure yourself.
Be consistent with record keeping, a healthy diet, enough
sleep, and drink plenty of water. You will add lean body mass
and be an inspiration to the younger generations.
Footnote, 2005.....in the two years since this article
was written, Brian has further improved his health and
physique, and at 53 years of age weighs 175 with a bodyfat
of 11% and even greater strength than at 51 years of