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Weightlifting Basics for the Middle Aged Man

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Weightlifting Basics for the Middle Aged Man

This article is aimed at those guys who have never used resistance training as part of their fitness routine.  The good news is that it is never too late to start, and you will yield a tangible, and noticeable, health and wellbeing benefits from resistance training if you are committed to your training and remain committed.  Check out The Midlife Man article Benefits of Weight Training for the Middle Aged Man

Also  check out The Midlife Man article Starting Weight Training In Middle Age for a guide on what to consider before starting weight training program, including a medical evaluation, and finding a gym.  Finding a gym that is a good fit for the middle aged man can be hard work.  But it is also important to find the right gym, one that feels right for you, and is convenient to access, otherwise you won’t use it. Check out The Midlife Man article What a Middle Aged Man Should Look For In a Gym.

Hire a Personal Trainer, if only for the initial phase,   to get you started on the right track. If not done correctly weight training can be dangerous, correct lifting techniques and using weights within your capability are important in avoiding injury.  Check out The Midlife Man article Why You Should Hire a Personal Trainer for Weight Training.  A Personal Trainer will help develop a  program more tailored to you, and also provide encouragement and motivation and keep you on track.

Other resources for gaining knowledge in weight training are the internet, smartphone apps and watching and talking to other gym users (just remember to filter out the BS)

It is important to keep a weight training journal when you are starting out, firstly to help you remember your routine and also to track your progress so that you can see your gains over time. 


Work Out Basics  for the Beginner

When you sign on to a gym you will be given your first program, and a gym instructor should give you one-on-one guidance on how to perform each exercise, and how to complete a full work out.

Any weight training program should include:

Stretching and Warmup

Stretching and warmups are essential to minimise the risk of injury, and must be done properly. Warmups should also leave you with an elevated heart rate ready for the main program of lifting weights.  Stretching is normally performed on a mat and should follow a set of stretching exercises, placing the body in certain positions and holding for some time, not just a “free for all” kind of stretch.

Warmups may typically be a light cardio such as treadmill or rowing machine.  Warm ups should also be done for each specific weight lifting exercise (see below)  

The Program

  • A weight lifting program normally divides the routine in groups by body part to exercise.  For the beginner middle aged man a good weight lifting program would likely be:
  • A full body program i.e. all major muscle groups are exercised on every work out, legs, back, biceps, chest, shoulders, triceps
  • 1-2 sets with very light weights as a warm up for each exercise (not included in the overall set count)
  • 2-3 exercises per body part
  • 3 sets per exercise
  • 8-12 repetitions per exercise for each set
  • A total of 20-30 sets per work out
  • Typically the larger muscle groups are exercised early in a workout when your energy levels are highest, e.g. legs and chest

Generally speaking heavier weights build bigger muscles, but this only generalisation and let’s face it at middle age you are not  aiming to break any records.  Muscles can also be overloaded and encouraged to develop using lighter weights.  Lifting too heavier weights leads to poor form and invariably injury. 

Older weight lifters need to train smarter, which generally means thinking more about each exercise and how much to load your body.  This illustrates the importance of keeping a record of your workouts, as knowing what you lifted previously for the same exercise gives you the basis for selecting a load the next time.  It is also important to listen to your body for early signs of injury or over stressing.   Check out the tmm article Middle Aged Man Weight Training-Signs of for a guide on what to look for.

 Pushing yourself to the extent of overtraining is not stupid, in fact finding your personal limits is one of the attractions of weight lifting.  However, identifying the signs of and not modifying your program to suit is stupid.  How many body builders have done this and ended up with a long term injury? Probably all of them, I know I have.   The middle aged man needs to lift weights smarter, with the pragmatic knowledge that only an older man can have.

Weight lifting programs should be changed every 3 months or so, to avoid your muscles getting used to a program, and also to keep you feeling fresh with your training.  Your gym instructor should be able to help you with this.  Also, as you improve your program will need to change to accommodate the increased capability your body has to handle load, likely after a period of about 6 months.

It also pays to have a week off from weight lifting every so often if you have trained regularly, every 3 months or so.  This doesn’t mean don’t exercise for a week, it means do something else other than weights.

It is amazing how quickly gained muscles will atrophy when you stop exercising.  Even after only a one week rest you will notice your strength diminished when you return to the gym.  This is fine, your strength and size is regained quickly though.


What Not to Do

  • What are the most common mistakes in a weight lifting routine:
  • Going too heavy to quickly
  • Going too heavy too often
  • Doing too many sets each workout
  • Doing too few  sets each workout
  • Insufficient effort
  • Insufficient  rest between workouts

I am sure you will make some of these mistakes, but you are an older, wiser man, so you will work it out sooner rather than later and correct accordingly.


Training Frequency

Lifting weights to the point of muscle overload requires a rest period of about 48 hours between exercising that body part again in order for the muscle to recover.  So if you are working out to a full body routine you should only train every second day, and training each body part 3 times a week is about the limit.

This means that for a beginner following a full body routine, time needs to be found in your schedule for at least 2 (preferably 3) training sessions per week with at least 48 hours rest between each exercise.   Monday/Wednesday/Friday is a common full body training schedule, and it leaves your weekends free.    

As your body strength and fitness improves over time, you may want to change to a split routine, where only part of your body is trained during each work out.  A common split is Legs/Back/Biceps in one workout,  and Chest /Shoulders/Triceps in another.  You still need 48 hours rest between exercising a specific muscle group, but you can work out on 2 consecutive days if different muscle groups are trained on each day.  Each muscle group should still be trained twice a week.  A typical split program might be:

  1. Legs/Back/Biceps - Monday/Wednesday
  2. Chest /Shoulders/Triceps - Tuesday/Friday

The downside with a split program is that you need more sessions in the gym every week, but because each session only covers part of the body the sessions are shorter.

In any case let’s not run before we can walk, my preference for a beginner is a full body work out performed 3 days a week, or something similar.

Getting to the gym regularly for a workout takes time, which can be difficult for middle aged men many of whom have a growing family or a demanding job.  Basically something needs to be adjusted in your life to make room for working out.  The good thing about weight lifting is that it is concentrated effort, you should be able to be in and out of the gym in 60-75 minutes.  Some simple planning can make squeezing in a workout a lot easier.  For example:

  • Train on the way to work or on the way home.
  • Train at lunch time.
  • Do one of your workouts on the weekend to lighten the schedule during the working week
  • If you have some flexibility with work hours, leave work a little earlier on gym days, and make the time up by arriving earlier the next morning.  Anything to avoid the main gym rush hour will get you home earlier.
  • If you are pushed for time, rather than skip a workout completely do a reduced workout.  For example miss a couple of sets, or body parts, or use lighter weights with shorter rest in between sets.

Be on the lookout for Signs of Injury or Overtraining.  Check out The Midlife Man article Weight Training for Middle Aged Men-Avoid Injury.  Acknowledge that you are older and therefore more prone to injury than a younger person, you need to be vigilant for signs of overtraining or injury. 

I spent most of my early weight lifting years trying to find the perfect workout program and best supplements, but I can tell you with all honesty is  the secret in making real gains is mostly in the effort of the lifter.  If you are serious about improving your fitness and strength, and are prepared (good diet, plenty of sleep) you will make gains.  Forget about the snake oil salesmen offering “the prefect weight lifting program” on the internet or at the gym.  After lifting weights for 38 years I can tell you the principals and exercises are pretty much the same today as they were 28 years ago.  The only real advancements in the sport of weight lifting have been made with a better understanding of nutrition and supplements.

Good Luck!


Disclaimer: The content of this article and other articles on this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute professional advice. Please seek advice from a professional in the relevant field, in relation to any specific matter. Refer to the website Terms and Conditions. 



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