I’m a retired moocher who’s become annoyed with the increasing aches that come as one goes out of warrantee. That, and I’m trying to hold Homer Simpson’s Big Blue Pants and the sawbones at bay. To that end, I resumed lifting weights about a year ago and have revised my diet. In the spring of 2015, I dropped 10 pounds as the vernal equinox approached. In the fall, they all came back as the autumnal equinox approached. It could be a seasonal thing or it could be the fall candy corn crop.
There’s a lot written for training high school and college athletes but not much for training retired moochers. The 17 year old trainee is still under warrantee and and still growing. Almost anything works. The 60 year old trainee is most likely returning to training with different goals aimed more at quality of life and remaining active than athletic performance or appearance. And the 60 year old trainee is in need of an overhaul so a soft start and systematic training protocols are important to success.
Aches in hip flexors, difficulty entering and leaving cars, knees complaining on stairs, etc told me I needed to resume training as did a waist size that was getting hard to fit with pants.
I’ve been lifting for about a year would like to pass along what I learned by returning to the gym. Especially in the past 20 years, researchers have taken an interest in researching strength training in a systematic way. Michael Matthews grew up during the start of this period. Being a skinny active kid, he wanted to look more substantial and began weight training in an ad hoc fashion following articles in “fitness” magazines. With limited results, he set out to review the scientific literature and compile from it training and eating plans that actually worked. Michael Matthews has written Muscle for Life to chronicle his journey from skinny fat to sanely muscled, has started the associated website, and has developed a following.
When I returned to lifting, it was after reading Muscle for Life. Although I had borrowed some ideas from it, primarily reduced training volume and emphasis of the primary compound lifts, I was not systematic about it. I trained for about 3 or 4 months, then stopped when the remodel project began. Once things had quieted down and the lounge was mostly stowed, I resumed lifting.
Since finding Muscle for Life in late 2014, I found Stronglifts 5×5 this fall. It had similar recommendations for training volume and diet but a simpler workout scheme and an iPhone app that supported the workout protocols. I also found the Reddit Fitness wiki which explained the dietary design simply without footnotes. The Reddit piece was particularly interesting because it explained how to manage your diet day by day taking into consideration left overs and other pragmatic matters that the meal plan approach ignores.
I need to get my weight back down but I have no idea what it should be. In my early 40’s I lifted and actually managed to put on some leg size and chest volume but got fat in the process. Never looking good with my shirt off, I have no idea what a proper weight should look like. The only reliable guide I have is my high school waist size. Even then, I was skinny fat so shirtless appearance is not a guide. The best indication that my weigh is about right is that I’ve lost the fat out of my waist notches between hips and ribs. When that happens, I should have about a 35-36 inch waist. I think.
- Fixed the more obvious word goofs and typing errors.
- Added more introduction
- Cleaned up the Reddit Fitness URL which had been double pasted
- Added to the learning to squat explanation
- Explained proper breathing
- Added some guidance for recognizing that weight was now proper.
- YouTube CanditoTrainingHQ channel
- YouTube Qwin Vitale channel how to squat video
- YouTube Bodybuilding.com channel Layne Norton how-to videos
Benefits of Lifting Weights
- Weight bearing exercise strengthens muscles, ligaments, etc making one less prone to injury.
- Weight bearing exercise increases resting metabolism making it easier to control weight.
Last year, I joined Norfolk Fitness and Wellness Center, our city-operated health club favored by retired moochers and impoverished students. I began lifting weights but was hit and miss about it. Finally, in fall 2015 I found the Stronglifts 5×5 program. Five by five is five sets of five lifts. Stronglifts has refined and popularized the protocol backing it up with research. Since starting stronglifts 5×5, I’ve been exercising twice a week (usually, 3 times is optimum) following the linear progression program.
Introducing Stronglifts 5 by 5
Stronglifts 5 by 5 is a linear progression beginner’s program first advocated by Reg Parks, a competitive bodybuilder from the ’50s and ’60s. Reggie intended this program to develop foundation strength for sports or as a base from which to start advanced training for Olympic or power lifting and bodybuilding competition. Reggie advocated doing the 5 compound joint exercises five sets of five. The five lifts are
- The squat
- The bench press
- The standing barbell row
- The military press
- The deadlift
The protocol uses A and B workouts. The A workout is squats, bench press, and barbell row. The B workout is squats, military press, and dead lift. Because the B workout does squats and deadlifts in the same workout, only one set of deadlifts is specified.
In the beginning, you start with just the bar and linearly increase weight by 5 pounds with each workout. Eventually, you will reach a weight at which failure occurs short of the 5th repetition of the movement. When you stick, you repeat the same weights the next time the workout comes around. If you stick on several workouts, you reduce the weight that movement on the next go.
Initial Experience with Stronglifts 5×5
- The program is simple
- The program is time-efficient
- It takes some practice to learn the movements
- Shoes matter: Chuck Taylor sneakers or Adidas Powerlift 2 shoes
In the beginning, you do just the basic lifts without warmup sets. The 15 sets take about 25 to 30 minutes. As the weight increases, the protocol requires warmup sets starting with the bar and adding weight in increments until the working set weight is reached. It is still possible to complete a stronglifts workout in about an hour.
I really like the planned progression and early failure de-load protocol. Because I had lifted in the past, I’m still recovering former performance. I’ve stuck once while relearning the military press form. I’ve yet to reach the criteria for de-loading. The Stronglifts 5×5 program offers a workout tracker that has the training program progression and de-load built in. It calculates the weights for each workout, times the rest between sets, and calculates de-load when it is needed. The app also calculates warm up sets and can figure plates for those who can’t make change by counting up.
Learning to Lift
What could be simpler than lifting weights? You pick them up, you put them down. What could be hard about that?
Most people who lift weights have had no coaching. They don’t know how to lift and they do it badly. Including me. To make things worse I’m the last guy in gym class, one of the athletically inept. So I’ve had to put some effort into learning to do the 5 lifts correctly. Fortunately, that is relatively easy given the training videos available on YouTube. Jonnie Candito and Layne Norton’s videos are particularly good as they demonstrate the proper form and explain common beginner mistakes that lead to back and shoulder injury.
The squat is the king of exercises. To be fit, you must squat. Squats are safe if you learn proper technique for carrying the bar, maintain spine curvature, and take a proper stance with proper foot alignment.
One of the hardest things to learn is how to take up the bar for squats, where on the back to carry the bar, and proper foot position for knee stability. The recommended technique for training is the low bar squat where you carry the bar above the shoulder blades and behind the deltoids rather than on the trapezius muscles.
Carrying the bar on the cervical spine (low on the neck) not only feels nasty but compromises balance and risks cervical spine injury. If you feel you have to pad the bar, you are carrying it too high. Learn to high bar squat with the bar on the traps or low bar squat with the bar just above the shoulder blades and low on the deltoids.
Layne Norton and Jonnie Candito, between them cover these subtleties quiet well with a relaxed presentation style and good videos. Jonnie Candito is a rising star power lifter in his early 20’s. Layne Norton is an older experienced lifter and researcher who approaches coaching in an orderly fashion that clearly explains and demonstrates proper form using well-produced videos.
In the beginning, I was having real trouble learning how to carry the bar resulting in shoulder soreness and lost training time. After carefully watching how these experienced power lifters were addressing the bar, I finally figured it out and the shoulder aches are a thing of the past. The grip is the important bit. Use a narrow grip with the hands inboard on the engine turned area. Thumb and fingers are together. The bar rests along the hand’s outstretched thumb in the pocket that is naturally there. Once the bar is settled in the pocket, bring the thumb up with the other fingers.
The second key bit is to address the bar by bending at the waist to put your head and shoulders under the bar. Pull your shoulder blades together to position them and the deltoids to support the bar. Come forward until the bar is resting above the shoulder blades and behind the deltoids. Take the bar up by straightening the back lifting the bar with the big back muscles. Think bringing the hips forward to be between feet and bar.
Settle in a balanced posture with the back tight and step back to clear the squat rack. Feet are in a natural stance under the deltoids and pointed out a bit with feet about 45 degrees apart as they would be in your natural stance. When you squat, your knees should be stable with rotation occurring about the hips, at the knees, and at the ankle. These joints fold smoothly and naturally as you squat. If your knees move laterally, the feet are out of alignment. If you take a narrow stance, turn the feet out a bit. If you take a wider stance, they should be turned out less than they are, maybe almost parallel. The deadlift videos show this clearly.
With squatting shoes, and a proper foot set, and a tight curved back, it is easy to squat to below parallel. Breathing technique influences the back curve as I’ll cover next. Thanks to the Jonnie Candito
Learning to Breathe While Lifting
Breathing technique is important to each of these exercises. Proper breathing helps to maintain the natural back curve that makes the back strong. Qwin Vitale’s How to Squat video is particularly good at explaining the breathing technique and the set up of a belt when you begin using a lifting belt. The trick with the squat is to take a deep breath at the top and hold it for the down and back up. This helps the abdominal muscles to support the core to maintain the back’s natural curve. At the top, take two more breaths, hold, and do the next repetition. Breathing is similar for the other exercises. Take two, hold, do the technique, exhale, and breathe to set up for the next repetition.
This is a change in protocol from 20-30 years ago which wanted an inhale on the way down and an exhale on the way up. The concern was to reduce the blood pressure transient that resulted from holding the breath. Like much old training knowledge, this way of breathing is now deprecated. Basically, the power lifters and olympic lifters figured out what worked and began coaching it. The breathing technique described above works for all of the exercises that require a natural back curve. That is all 5 of these lifts.
In the past I had trained wearing typical cross-trainer shoes with spongy bottoms needed to protect the runner’s foot or the basketball player’s foot from repetitive use injury. The springy bottom reduces the impact forces experienced by the foot during these sports. The problem is that the springy material in the thick raised heal makes for a wobbly support when lifting. It becomes much harder to perform the squat or military press while wearing running or court game shoes. Switching to a shoe designed for lifting offers proper arch support, a natural foot posture, and a stable base for lifting. Squats feel much better when wearing the Adidas or Nike shoes designed for lifting.
Learning to Eat, Yet Again
My weight had been creeping up during the fall and winter so it became time to manage eating more carefully than I had been. Much of the dietary guidance of the last 40 years has proven not to be durable. The recommendations to reduce fats resulted in starches and sugars taking their place. Similarly, the replacement of sugar with artificial sweeteners appears to be related to the increase in type 2 diabetes and its ever earlier onset. The one size fits all diet protocols of the past 40 years failed to produce the changes in eating habit needed to keep weight off. The meal plans of these diets are completely unworkable as they do not account for other members in the household or lack of same and the realities of preparing and using the recommended recipes.
The Today’s recommendations are to eat a whole foods plant based diet with meat planing a minor role as a condiment rather than as a staple. This is how we ate before electric power made refrigeration continuously available and with it, meat. T0days’s recommendations stress balanced macro nutrients, an increase in protein to promote satiety, and designing the meal around 2 parts protein, 2 parts carbohydrates, and 1 part fat using whole foods and plant based proteins to the extent possible. Meal planning consists of picking foods to meet first protein, second fat for essential fatty acids, and carbohydrates to fill out the balance for energy. Start using whole foods and plant based proteins adding some fish or, occasionally, meat to keep things interested and fill out the protein quota using protein supplement powder.
Using My Fitness Pal, I estimated the maintenance calories based on weight and activity level. Be honest about your desk job and account for exercise in the daily diary entry using the calculator for that purpose. If you take your iPhone with you, it will figure out activity calories using the healthkit library routines. So you only need to enter your strength training activity.
The trick to loosing weight is to eat less than you expend and to manage the macronutrient ratios such that 1/3 of calories are from carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The modern approach to diet taken in the Reddit wiki  is to design the diet adding first protein, adding fat rich foods to reach total fat goals, then adding carbohydrate rich foods to meet total energy goals. The foods used are whole food plant based with meat and protein supplements as needed to make the protein goal. To gain weight, reduce the maintenance calories by about 500/day. To gain weight, add about 500 per day.
For protein, I’ve figured 1 gram of protein to 1 KG of body weight. The rule of thumb for high school and college strength athletes who are still growing is to allow 2 grams protein per KG to permit development to continue. The trick to planning diet is to do the protein items first, then the fat items so that you cover essential fatty acids, then make up the balance with fruits, vegtables whole grains, and beans for fiber, energy, and anti-oxidants. It helps to have a tool to do this. Reddit  recommends My Fitness Pal.
I started out by tracking my meals for a week. With that info, I reviewed the macro nutrient split. Here I found I was low on protein, high on fat, and high on sugars. My triglyceride stats reflected the abundant fats and sugars. Although not eating sugary foods, apples and oranges were pushing the sugar up and Mitica Parmesan cheese and butter were pushing the fat up.
Given this macro nutrient split information, I changed lunch from fruit, home made bread, and cheese, to tuna salad sandwiches for more protein and less sugar and added an evening berry smoothie made with unsweetened Greek yogurt and protein power to increase antioxidants and protein. I stopped ice cream, chocolate, and beer to reduce calories. I suspect something in the beer was interacting with my evening antihistamine because I’ve needed less while not having an IPA or Imperial Stout with supper.
I’ve been on the diet for about 2 weeks but salt effects are masking diet effects. Changes in water inventory are masking the slow 1 pound per week weight loss. This week’s chicken bog and last week’s lentils and sausage soup are both salty causing fluid retention. I can see it by looking at the little veins at the wrist and the wrist flexor tendons. Detail fades out whenever I’m salted up.
The interesting effect of adding protein smoothies as a planned evening snack is that i’m not nibbling in the evening and don’t miss the ice and chocolate. The beer, chocolate and ice, and raiding the dog’s pilling peanut butter were adding evening calories I could avoid with a planned evening snack taking the place of the high calorie low nutrient foods I’d eliminated.