by Robert Maxwell
I recently received an excellent question from longtime Man Factory reader Phil:
"Before I get to my question I’d like you to know how much I enjoy your weekly articles. I’ve followed your Dad for years and as with his weekly articles yours always contain at least a nugget of valuable information. I would like you opinion/advice.
I’m 67 years old, 6 foot, 180 lbs and have arthritis in my knees and left shoulder. I’ve led a fairly active lifestyle since my 20’s and have tried not to let my aging affect me too much. I’ve had to quit running but have replaced that with stationary bike and speed walking on hilly terrain 4-5 days per week.
I go to the gym twice a week for between 90-120 minutes per visit. I have five upper body exercises using both free weights and machines, five lower body exercises mostly on machines and five abdominal/back exercises. In between I do light exercises at home along with my biking and walking.
Because of my arthritis I find it difficult to increase my weights as the ‘clicking’ in the shoulder and knees gets somewhat painful the more weight I add. The physiotherapist told me not to do overhead military presses as they would aggravate the shoulder so I essentially do flat bench/incline/decline presses, lat, tricep and arm work. On my legs I do low weight squats (100 lbs), presses, leg curls and extensions, abductor/adductor and glute exercises.
My objective is to stay fit enough that I won’t be unduly fatigued cutting wood, shovelling gravel and other jobs around the rural homestead. Further I want to maintain the physical and mental health that I enjoy from working out and exercising.
Now to my question. Given this rather high level summary do you think there is something more I could do to stay healthy, agile/flexible, mentally and physically fit?
Your thoughts and consideration would be appreciated."
It sounds like you're doing a whole lot right. Not being a medical professional, I can't speak to your particular conditions with absolute authority, but it sounds like you're optimizing your training quite well despite these obstacles. Certainly, you're far ahead of most guys your age in strength and fitness. That said, there's always room for improvement. Understanding that I'm not a doctor or physiotherapist, here are a few points to consider. You're free to accept or reject this advice – I won't be offended if you decide it's not for you.
1) Less biking and walking. You're doing A LOT of cardio, and that's great for overall conditioning, but all that high-volume stress and strain could be contributing to your joint pain when lifting weights – particularly pain in your knees. Stationary cycling AND hilly walking 4-5 days a week is a lot of repetitive strain on your knees, and you may find things feel better in the gym if you dial cardio back a little. This brings me to the next point – optimizing your strength training.
2) Do everything you can to get stronger. It sounds like you've been mainly a cardio guy for a long time. Along with your cardio, you're doing some strength training, and that's excellent. By the time men reach 60-plus, muscular atrophy very often strips them of muscle and strength if they don't work hard to maintain these. You're already miles ahead of most 67-year olds just by picking up weights at all – most retirees don't. But you'd do well to do everything you can to build some more strength and muscle, rather than just maintaining what you've got. At 6 feet and 180, you're pretty slim. Obviously you don't want to bulk up like a bodybuilder, and I'm not suggesting that. What I am suggesting is that you start eating more food, particularly protein and healthy carbs, to fuel your weight training and hopefully build a little muscle and some additional strength. This will go a long way to not only maintain but improve your ability to do all the homestead activities you mentioned. As for your arthritis, try lowering overall cardio volume as I said, combined with drinking at least 3 litres of water a day, a daily multivitamin for athletic men including lots of vitamin C, and a turmeric supplement, which can help with joint inflammation. If after doing all this, you still find squats heavier than 100 lbs. are painful, try a variation of regular squats, like box squats. These are a great alternative to the standard barbell squat, involving sitting back with the bar onto a box of your chosen height. The advantage is that you can regulate the squat to be slightly shallower, which takes some stress off the knees and allows them time to accustomize to heavier weights. Heavier weights combined with more calories consumed means more muscle and strength, and less atrophy (muscle loss) as you age.
3) Start doing deadlift. If I had to pick one movement for overall strength development, it would be deadlift. No other exercise works and strengthens so many different body parts at once. Start very light and add weight slowly, monitoring how your body responds.
4) If you haven't already, start stretching. None of the above advice will be possible if you can't move correctly. Strength and mobility can disappear very quickly in aging men, and your job is to combat this as long and effectively as possible, so you can keep doing all the stuff you want to. Find a good, full body stretching routine that doesn't take too long and works for you. Make sure it includes stretches for quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip abductors, spinal erectors, pectorals, and deltoids. In addition to helping you exercise better and safer, stretching regularly to maximize your range of motion might help with some of your joint issues, too.
This should give you enough to chew on for a while. If you want to take things to the next level, I have a 1-on-1 online coaching service specifically for guys 50 and up. It involves 2-way video chat and workout video analysis where we do everything possible to optimize your training, strength, and health.
Thanks for reaching out Phil!