Friday, June 3, 2011

Working Out: Back to Basics

I found this article at Men's Journal titled Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie to be quite the revelation.
Muscle withers away if you’re not constantly building it, and muscle withers faster as a man ages. Fading muscle mass gives way to fat gain, stiff joints, stumbling-old-man balance, and a serious drop-off in weekend fun, not to mention self-esteem. But if you fight back right, it can all go the other way. And this means getting strong. The bottom line is that not only can lifting weights do as much for your heart health as cardio workouts, but it also provides you with a lean-muscle coat of armor against life’s inevitable blows — the way it did for my own father, who broke his back in a climbing accident at age 69, spent months in bed, and recovered strong only because he’d been lifting for 35 years.
First a little background - I first got into weightlifting at the tender age of 29.  I know this is rather late in the game, but back then I was just interested in gaining strength and mass.  You see, I've always been a tall n' skinny sort a guy with very little strength.  Weightlifting started to change all of that.  After a year of working out, I went from 165pds to a solidly-built 200pds.  I was getting strong too and my confidence level soared.

Then I got married and we had a son.  My chance to workout became less and less with every passing month.  Soon my interest dropped all-together.  I gained weight, lost muscle and got generally unfit.  Sure, I made some half-hearted attempts at working out again, but I could never stick to it very long.  The results I was getting from my old workout routine didn't seem to be doing anything - sure I would get some strength and mass, but nothing like I was getting back in the old days.  When I turned 40, I knew that age was starting to catch up with me.  I'm no gym rat, but I didn't want to become weak and enfeebled by the passing years.

After excitedly reading Everything You Know About Fitness Is a Lie, I went out and bought the recommended book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.  Normally in the past, I would only use the Barbell for straight and inclined bench-pressing, preferring to use dumbbells to "isolate" my biceps and triceps.  Also, the squat was an exercise that I used to ignore, thinking the last thing I would want to do was increase my thigh and lower back strength.  Anyways, I wanted big arms!  So I foolishly ignored this ancient exercise. 

Starting Strength takes a different approach - by using a set of simple muscle-building exercises, you are trying to work your entire body as a whole instead of using isolation to target specific muscles.  This is definitely a more 'old-school' approach, but it works!

Now three times a week I do a simple routine consisting of three different exercises - back squat, bench-press, and the dead-lift.  Each exercise set is done five times, with the first two sets done 10x with lighter weights.  The final three sets are done 5x with heavier and heavier weights.  Total workout time is 35-45 minutes, depending how much time I dawdle with changing records on my stereo system.

In a short six weeks, I've already been able to squat 70 more pounds than I started at.  My bench-press has increased by 50 pounds too.  After I'm done, I feel exhausted in a way that I never felt with my old routine. However, I'm really feeling stronger than before.  My body is changing too with wider shoulders, stronger hips and thighs, and increased arm girth.  My back, normally a little sore from middle-age, is now free of pain.  The squats also have a side-effect of improving my balance - as a whole, I feel more 'grounded' when I walk.

Highly recommended!  I'll be following this plan from now on, with the idea of spicing it up in the future with some different types of exercises.


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