by Robert Maxwell
I’m almost 80, very stiff in the joints, have a poor range of motion in my arms and legs, bad flexibility, and I’m very weak. I wish I had done something about it years ago, but I want to do something about it now. I read articles on your website about you and others lifting hundreds of pounds. What would you recommend to an old guy like me who just wants to feel better, be able to move pain-free, and get a bit stronger?
This is a fantastic question, and the fact that you’re asking it shows you’re already on the right track to improving your body. Taking on strength training doesn’t mean you have to lift hundreds of pounds. It just means you want to get stronger, and I hope you recognize that. Everyone has to start somewhere, and each starting point is different. You’ve made the right call in turning to strength training to achieve the goals you mentioned. Here’s what you should do to get started, laid out step-by-step.
Step 1: See a Doctor
Although I’ve got a working knowledge of human anatomy (many successful long-term strength athletes do), I’m not a medical professional by any means. The first step for a man of your age and description is to get your doctor’s go-ahead to start some light strength training. Get an exam done, and tell your doctor what you’d like to do. Have him ensure there’s no medical reasons other than age and underuse for your poor flexibility and any joint pain you’re experiencing. If these problems are caused by an injury, it’s best to know now rather than forge ahead with strength training, possibly making things worse. Depending on your condition, the doctor might give you the go-ahead to start some light training right away, or might refer you to a physiotherapist to work on your joint mobility first.
Step 2: Eat for Success
It’s crucial for everyone into strength training to eat in a way that supports their goals, but it’s especially critical for older trainees. The reason is simple – proper nutrition means better recovery from training stress, and better recovery means more strength and less chance of injury. You won’t be doing any workouts likely to injure you, since at your stage of life even a minor injury could take you out of commission for a long time. I could write thousands of words describing the best nutritional approach, but I’ve done that in plenty of articles on this site already. If you’ve read these and still want more detail, talk to me about my online coaching service. Basically, eat plenty of protein every day, some healthy, slow digesting carbs like whole grain bread, plenty of veggies, and some healthy fats of the sort found in cheese, eggs, or beef. Also, supplement with a good daily multivitamin, along with an oil rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, like flax or fish oil.
Step 3: Start Very Slow
Once you have your doctor’s OK to train and have adjusted your food intake, it’s time to start practising the movements you’ll use to get stronger. If you’ll be training at home, you’ll need to outfit yourself a proper home gym. Here’s an article on how I recommend doing so (you probably don’t need to purchase all the weights mentioned). Since you’re new to strength training and fairly weak, you’ll need a few additional items in your home gym: a very light training barbell weighing no more than 15 pounds, pairs of thin bumper plates of full diameter weighing 5 pounds, 10 pounds and 25 pounds each (1 pair in each weight) fractional plates weighing 1 pound each (so you can advance in very small increments), and a large supply of firm foam gym pads roughly 0.5 inch thick, designed to stack up and form a platform of a particular height. You’ll use these to squat down onto until you’re strong and stable enough to do regular squats without the pads’ support. Warm up and stretch for around 20 minutes, or as directed by your physiotherapist, then start your workout. Begin squatting with no barbell, by sitting down and back onto your foam pads. Stack the pads up high enough so you can stand back up without using your hands. This will most likely be too high for a proper squat at first, but you’ll gradually be removing pads from the stack as your strength and mobility improve. Start deadlifting with your empty 15 pound training bar resting on 2 stacks of foam pads to simulate the height of weight plates. Breathe and brace correctly and be careful to observe proper form. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the training bar, begin adding small amounts of weight. Follow the same principles with bench press and overhead press. Above all, be very cautious to observe proper lifting technique, and don’t train through pain.